WCR PHOTO | GLEN ARGAN
Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga makes a point in talking with local media following a Feb. 18 session at the Catholic Pastoral Centre.
The Church’s leader in Central America’s second poorest nation has challenged Canadians to combat global injustice.
Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, said in the developed world, there is a tendency to “be happy with what you have.”
“It’s a blessing to have this country, but it’s also good to think of other nations that are not so blessed and need your help,” Rodriguez told more than 100 people at a Feb. 18 noon-hour session at the Catholic Pastoral Centre.
“Faith is not only believing in God, but putting into practice Christian love,” said Rodriguez, who is also president of Caritas Internationalis, the Church’s central relief and development organization.
Caritas is known for its work on humanitarian emergencies, fostering volunteerism and campaigning against poverty.
“Caritas is the way of the Church, involving 165 nations, to do what is necessary to help your neighbour in situations of tragedy or emergency or even trying to fight against poverty,” he said.
Rodriguez, a 68-year-old Salesian, has established a reputation as a strong voice on social justice issues and as a staunch defender of human rights. Ordained a bishop at age 35, he became Honduras’ first-ever cardinal in 1991. At the 2005 conclave, he was touted as a possible successor to Pope John Paul II.
President of Caritas since 2007, he continues to challenge leaders of the world’s richest nations to keep their promises to improve development aid to the world’s poorest countries.
Rodriguez came to Edmonton to speak at a session of Nothing More Beautiful, the archdiocese’s series for the new evangelization. (See stories on Pages 3 and 7.)
“In 2010 we had nearly 20 emergencies, very big ones, including the earthquake in Haiti, the earthquake in Santiago, Chile, the flooding in Pakistan, and many other problems such as hurricanes, and food crises in some places of Africa.
“This is one of the main goals of Caritas Internationalis, to coordinate the help in these situations of difficulty,” he said.
Joining Rodriguez was Michael Casey, executive director of Development and Peace, the Canadian partner of Caritas Internationalis. Casey is originally from Edmonton and a former member of Assumption Parish.
WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Michael Casey, executive director of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, spoke at a Feb. 18 session along with Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga.
Casey said Development and Peace was formed in 1967 to work in solidarity with the poor all over the world, especially in developing nations.
Another part of its mandate is “to educate and inform the Canadian public and the Canadian faithful about international solidarity and the challenges of development.”
Development and Peace has always defined itself as a social justice organization, looking at the structural causes of poverty and the root causes of the injustice, he said. Humanitarian assistance was a secondary priority.
It strove to develop long-term ties with local partners in developing nations with the goal of addressing their deep-rooted problems, Casey said.
But since the early 1990s, because of a greater frequency of severe disasters, the organization has shifted toward providing more humanitarian aid, he said.
This trend has continued unabated. Emergency aid was required last year in Pakistan, Chile, Haiti, Congo, Chad, Cambodia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Angola, Casey said.
“The magnitude of these disasters has been exponentially increasing,” he continued. “Even as a self-proclaimed social justice organization, we couldn’t ignore the fundamental humanitarian needs that had to be met before any progress could be made.”
This ongoing trend led to Development and Peace joining with the Caritas Internationalis federation in 1999, working together as “agents of social change in challenging times” – the theme of Casey’s talk.
“The advantage of joining with Caritas Internationalis is that we always receive a tremendous outpouring of generosity whenever there is an appeal for humanitarian disaster,” he said.
“As an example from last year, with the terrible earthquake in Haiti, Development and Peace raised over $20 million in contributions from the Catholic faithful, from the Church here in Canada, that we used to put to work in Haiti.”
Casey announced that Development and Peace was the third leading contributor among humanitarian agencies to Haiti’s reconstruction, behind only the Red Cross and World Vision. That drew a round of applause from the Pastoral Centre audience.
Canada has always had a special affinity with Haiti, given that religious communities are responsible for most of the schools, hospitals and orphanages there, he said.
“It was a disaster that had a special resonance with the Canadian public, and as you can see from the generosity extended there, it was extraordinary.”
Caritas Internationalis has systems in place so that when disaster strikes, it has networks in place to respond, including people right down to the parish level.
“When we need to mobilize to provide aid and relief, we already have a distribution network in place, run by locals, run by the Church in the country,” he said.
“We don’t need to send volunteers here from Canada, put them on a plane and send them down to Haiti and start distributing aid because we can react immediately through our partner network.”