Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
March 19, 2001
Church must make Jesus' message real
I'm writing this as the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) negotiators are meeting in Quebec City. I do not know what is in the document under discussion. At this point there is no formal agreement, but we have listened to and read the arguments for and against greater liberalization of trade.
What we do know is that we have entered a new economic era, characterized by global trade pacts, diminishing national boundaries and jurisdictions, growing corporate control and a widening chasm between a minority rich and a majority poor. Even those who favour liberalized trade will have to admit that much.
We also know, or should know that "as disciples of Christ, all of us have a responsibility to play a role in the creation of a social order based on justice." These are words taken from the 1976 Labour Day message of the Canadian Catholic bishops.
They add: "For the Christian community this struggle for justice is not an optional activity. It is integral to bringing the Gospel to the world."
The mission of the Church is not so much to increase membership through proselytizing, but to concretize the message of Jesus to bring peace and justice to the world. If this is true, Christians will have to decide whether the FTAA will further the realization of the reign of God.
Since the impact of this agreement is so far reaching, affecting millions, Christians cannot remain neutral.
We've been here before. This time, the opportunity to be informed is far greater than in previous times. In 1967, Pope Paul VI wrote: "Free trade is not enough to regulate markets. Free trade between unequal states can be disastrous. Agreements lack freedom, unless they rest upon the natural law of justice."
Corporations are motivated by profit, not by eradicating inequalities.
You should be familiar with what the current pope has said about the "structures of sin" in his 1988 encyclical Solicitudo Rei Socialis. He was referring to social systems which enslave, oppress and marginalize people.
If the FTAA facilitates the creation of unheard-of wealth for the few while it enslaves a growing mass of people to endemic poverty then we must conclude it is a sinful structure.
As to the equality of states, we have to remember the hemisphere is dominated by an economic giant, the like of which has not been seen in history.
The three NAFTA countries account for 89 per cent of the hemispheric GDP. The largest economic entity in South America, Brazil, comes in at four per cent of the total GDP, while the Andes countries combined account for about three per cent, which leaves another four per cent spread out among the other 30 countries.
Within the wealthiest nation, the U.S., the notion of freedom and equality is loosely defined. Since 1980 there has been a 600 per cent increase in imprisonment, in spite of falling crime rates. It is the only industrialized world where the death penalty still exists, with Texas rivaling Saudi Arabia for people per capita executed.
Thirty-three million people are living below the poverty line. Around 25 million Americans suffer from hunger. Almost 10 million of these are working poor, who don't earn enough to make ends meet.
One in five Americans, according to the 1995 census, lived in households whose members could not satisfy their basic needs. Hunger has increased in this nation of plenty by 50 per cent since 1985. An estimated seven million Americans are homeless, 43 million citizens are without health care.
This is not a model upon which to build a system that protects the common good.
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