Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
September 13, 2004
Poor South judges rich North
Twenty years ago this week, Pope John Paul visited Edmonton. It was a marvellous time. The pope was a vigorous man in the prime of his life. More than 100,000 people celebrated Mass with him in a farmer's field north of the city. And while it turned into one of those windy, cold days so common in Edmonton at this time of year, the rain held off until after Mass. There were good vibes all around and we all had the feeling that we had been a part of something significant.
The pope gave a rousing, even angry, homily, about the obligations of the wealthy nations of the world to give concrete assistance to the poorer nations of the South. That homily was one of the great highlights of Pope John Paul's 10-day tour across Canada. It was delivered with such passion and force that no one who was there could ever forget his globalized reflection on Christ's words, "Truly, I say to say, as you did to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:45).
The pope thundered ominously, "In the light of Christ's words, the poor South will judge the rich North. And the poor people and poor nations - poor in different ways, not only lacking food, but also deprived of freedom and other human rights - will judge those people who take these goods away from them, amassing to themselves the imperialistic monopoly of economic and political supremacy at the expense of others."
The poor South will judge the rich North! Twenty years later we are seeing that more and more. Sept. 11 is no longer just a date on the calendar but a sinister symbol of dark forces rising up against "the imperialistic monopoly of economic and political supremacy."
It's not just economic poverty that is the source of this rising up. It is a badly distorted world order where there is also a horrendous imbalance of power. If anyone in a position of power heard the pope's words - "Development is the new name for peace" - they have been forgotten or were never taken seriously.
Today, the war on poverty of the 1960s has been transmogrified into the war on terrorism. We were not serious enough about the first war and so we're stuck with the second. Worse yet, the money for fighting terrorism has sometimes come by draining the budget for overseas development aid. In Canada in 2003, we gave about $2.9 billion in some form of overseas development assistance. That was 0.26 per cent of our gross national income, well below our target of 0.7 per cent. We ranked 13th out of 22 Western donor nations.
In Alberta, we thump our chests about being debt free. But at what cost? Our social problems within our own borders are growing and our government no longer does anything to promote development in poorer nations. We fail to realize that our province's resource wealth imposes great responsibilities on us.
We cry out for rebates and tax cuts, but do we hear the cry of the poor?
Do we not hear the cry for basic human equality? Equality. It is a word to which we pay lip service. But when we look at the world around us, how can we say that we have begun at all, . . . at all . . . to create anything resembling equality among the peoples of the earth.
Today, the richest five per cent of the world's population receives 114 times the income of the poorest five per cent.
And so Pope John Paul asked us, "Is the global balance not perhaps ever increasing - the global balance of what we 'have not done for one of the least of the brethren'? for millions of the least of the brethren? for billions?"
Our prayer . . . and our action must be for human development, for treating the least of our brothers and sisters as though they were Jesus himself. It is the only hope for humanity. It is the hope to which our faith calls us.
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