Photo courtesy of Development and Peace

D&P still seeks to put the Gospel in action

By  Ronald Breau
  • April 24, 2012

The April 15 column by Brian Lilley celebrated the decision by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to reduce the traditional funding of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, funding that helps address hunger, poverty, violence and social injustice around the world. The decision will impact the struggle for development and justice of communities we support, leaving many unfinished projects in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Is this what Catholics in parishes from coast to coast in Canada expect from our government? Created by the bishops of Canada 45 years ago to address social injustice, Development and Peace remains committed to the Gospels, to the rich tradition of Catholic Social Teaching as embodied in 13 papal encyclicals from Leo XIII to Benedict XVI, and to the thousands of Catholic members whose faith is lived out in the solidarity actions of our partnerships throughout the world. Our organization has never left the fold — it remains faithful to our founding Mission: “To support partners in the Global South who promote alternatives to unfair social, political and economic structures. . . . (Development and Peace) educates the Canadian population about the causes of poverty and mobilizes Canadians towards actions for change.”

Pope John Paul II pointed out: “... the social message of the Gospel must not be considered a theory, but above all a basis and a motivation for action.” The Canadian bishops have repeatedly reaffirmed that this exhortation to put the Gospels into action must be the core of the work of Development and Peace.

The work of Development and Peace goes beyond corporal works of mercy.  It addresses the structures of sin and injustice that make the former necessary. Such work is often misconstrued by those who find it threatening. Readers have to look no further than the words of the late Dom Helder Camara, former Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, Brazil, an outspoken critic of the excesses of the Brazilian military dictatorship:  “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint.  When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.” 

Development and Peace knows well that giving food to the poor is not enough. This is why our work seeks to put the Gospels into action. Bringing good news to the poor, freeing captives, opening the eyes of the blind and setting free the oppressed (Luke 4:18) is not always welcomed by those who have benefitted from centuries of unequal economic and social structures.

The organizations that Development and Peace works with in the Global South are often thorns in the side of local elites and many have thus been labeled “leftist.” Some, such as Blessed Oscar Arnulfo Romero, former Archbishop of San Salvador, and six Jesuit priests working in El Salvador, have been assassinated for their defence of the poor.  Others, from South African ANC leader Nelson Mandela to Guinean women and trade unionists who opposed a recent military dictatorship, have been incarcerated and tortured. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Bishop Belo of East Timor was the victim of attempted poisoning by the Indonesian army. 

All these people have been part of movements and social organizations supported by Development and Peace. In the Philippines, the message of the bishops that poor people have land rights and the right to say “No” to mining projects that pollute and damage the community does not necessarily go down well with local governments. In Brazil, the Catholic bishops’ work to free modern-day slaves has brought murder and death threats to Church workers.

While the CIDA reductions are a blow to the struggling communities that benefit from Development and Peace’s partnership, the cuts will not extinguish hope, nor will they stifle the struggle of the poor for human dignity and rights. These communities ask Development and Peace for solidarity and support in their struggles to bring about the Kingdom of God in Bolivia, Brazil, the Philippines and other countries where we work.

We appreciate the ongoing support of the Canadian bishops, clergy and the Catholic faithful, as evidenced in the recent Share Lent Campaign. We continue to work closely with the CCCB Standing Committee on Development and Peace in responding to the expectations and social justice aspirations of our Church.

(Breau is the President, National Council of Development and Peace.)

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