Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
January 17, 2005
Look for a rainbow in the storm
The human tragedy from the South East Asian tsunami has been staggering - more than 160,000 dead and millions left homeless. It is a natural disaster with few peers.
But out of this disaster, maybe we can see a flicker of light. The response of the Western world has been overwhelming, with billions of dollars pledged, both by governments and individuals, to aid the recovery of shattered nations. Will this disaster on Boxing Day - normally the year's greatest day of consumer frenzy - be the catalyst that turns the Western world from its me-first hedonism into a society that puts a greater emphasis on meeting the needs of others?
Perhaps that is too much to expect. Previous disasters have been the focus of the world's attention for a few short weeks or months before our minds moved on to other things. During the massive 1984 famine in the Horn of Africa that killed nearly a million people, people gave generously and rock-star celebrities sang We Are the World.
But "we" were only the world for a short time. After the famine subsided and attention drifted elsewhere, the underlying problems in East Africa went unaddressed and people there continued to live desperate lives. The 1980s are now remembered chiefly as the decade of the yuppie rather than the era of We Are the World.
This time, Canadians at least may hope that our federal government uses the outpouring of humanitarian zeal engendered by the tsunami to chart a new course. Prime Minister Paul Martin has often talked about promoting new more democratic international structures and the human development of those who live in the poorest nations. Now is the time for him to walk the talk.
Large numbers of Canadians appear ready to walk with him if he would but provide positive leadership on the issues that are most pressing for our world. Issues that include, but go beyond, providing relief for the latest disaster. Those issues include promoting fair trade as vigorously as free trade, eroding the AIDS epidemic, and narrowing the huge gap between the rich and poor.
Political leaders often have good intentions. But more than good intentions, they need a stronger will to confront the scandalous problems that disturb humanity. They need to recognize that we are all, as Pope John Paul observed in his World Day of Peace message, citizens of the world. As citizens of the world, all have a responsibility to work for the common good.
In a speech on the Dec. 7 feast day of his Milan Archdiocese's patron, St. Ambrose, Cardinal Diogini Tettamanzi spoke of the need for civic leaders to confront the social ills in Milan. Tettamanzi spoke of the need for solidarity which he defined as "placing in common the welfare and the goods of all, material and immaterial, physical and spiritual."
This is an expansive definition of solidarity and the cardinal has been criticized as communistic for espousing it. But, stripped of any form of compulsion, it could more properly be called stewardship.
The challenge for the coming months and years is to transform the heart-felt compassion millions have shown for the tsunami victims into lasting solidarity or stewardship. This will not be an easy task should our leaders be bold enough to assume it. Passing legislation will be only a secondary matter; the main job will be to form consciences and inspire selfless action among a critical mass of society.
In the Edmonton Archdiocese, we have resolved to stir up stewardship. Stewardship involves much more than being active in one's parish, although it certainly can mean that. Today, it must also mean seeing oneself as a citizen of the world. As citizens, our primary role is not to gripe about the way things are, but to take responsibility for making them better. If that comes to pass then the deaths and suffering of those huge numbers of tsunami victims will not have been in vain.
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