Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
March 8, 1999
Jubilee a chance to resist growing economic apartheid
The new economic order (some would call it disorder) might have lowered the price of commodity imports and filled our Wal-Marts with cheap merchandise, but there is a price to pay for such a bottom-of-the-barrel philosophy.
Cheap is costly in terms of human lives. We are not just talking about the lives of our brothers and sisters in the poor South, although they form the majority of suffering humanity, but now we are also talking about our neighbour next door or down the street.
Old Isaiah had something to say about that: "This is a people pillaged and plundered, trapped in caves, hidden in dungeons. They are looted, with no one to rescue them, robbed with no one to say, 'Give it back!'"
But providence has given us another chance. The year of jubilee is our opportunity to resist the growing economic apartheid that is crippling our societies. One of the most oft-heard arguments in favour of abolishing assistance to the poor in distant lands is: "Charity begins at home!"
Good enough. Let us start here, because our record is dismal.
In December the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights criticized Canada for its shabby treatment of the poorest amongst us. They expressed concern "That such a wealthy country as Canada has allowed the problem of homelessness and inadequate housing to grow to such proportions that the mayors of our 10 largest cities have now declared homelessness a national disaster."
The committee was "perturbed to hear that the number of food banks has almost doubled between 1989 and 1997 and that these are only able to meet a fraction of the increased needs of the poor."
Six years ago already, the Canadian bishops told our governments and all good citizens that "widespread unemployment is a gaping wound in Canadian society."
Since then the wound has widened and is beginning to fester. There are 1.5 million Canadian children in poverty, 26,000 more than last year and an increase of 60 per cent since 1989. The number of families earning less than 20,000 a year has increased by 65 per cent since 1989.
In Toronto alone, 31,000 children are in families waiting for social housing. The statistics for First Nations people are off the Richter scale.
If that is the situation in the second richest country in the world, try to imagine what it is like in some god-forsaken country that everybody has written off.
According to Canadian pollster Angus Reid, there are 2.5 billion unemployed or underemployed people in a world of 5.5 billion. And still we are subjected to optimistic economic forecasts by those who pillage the earth.
Here is an anonymous prayer that came out of a 1972 Taskforce on The Future of Mankind which might be appropriate as we slither into the next century: "We who have not been careful with the world you love, ask now not to be too careful with us whom you love. Break us if you must.
"Break our unnecessary and misplaced rigidities. Break the dams behind which energies puddle. Break our castle walls and let people in. Or, bend us at least.
"Flex our sensitivities, our affections, our expectations, our generosities. Don't be gentle. Be tough with us who have been rough on the earth and on each other. For Jesus' sake and for ours. Amen."
That was 1972, and the alarm bells have been ringing for a long time before that and since. We just have not been recognizing it as a wake-up call and still believe that donating a can of beans to the food bank and baking cakes for charitable bakesale benefits will somehow make up for the systemic pauperization that we are witnessing all around us.
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