Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
July 16, 2001
Priest for the poor
Edmonton's Fr. Denis Herbert has been a Latin American missionary for 32 years
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — For 32 years an Edmonton priest has witnessed and embraced raw poverty in Central America and the Caribbean.
"I have to preach the Gospel and I do, but I also have to help people with their other needs because nobody does," said Father Denis Hebert, 70, who is in St. Albert for the summer.
"There are a few things that get better but the living condition of the people has not improved."
In Lima, Peru, Panama, St. Vincent Island and in Managua, Nicaragua, Hebert has observed that there was no effort to eradicate poverty.
"There would be a few improvements here and there. That did not mean there's an intention to solve the problems."
This priest of the Edmonton Archdiocese, who was born in Villeneuve, has been doing pastoral and social work in Managua, population 1.5 million, for the past 10 years.
He helped found cooperatives and formed youth groups to keep young people away from drugs and street gangs.
"For me, the priesthood is a vocation of service to people. I believe God wants me to serve his people this way," he added.
"For the past years, I became more and more connected to the people. I like to share their struggle, insecurity and disappointments," said the soft-spoken Hebert.
He discovered the strength of the Nicaraguans, their faith, hope and solidarity while trying to help them in education and health. Hebert raises money and helps families so their children can stay in school.
"Whatever money is given to me will be given to them, because they are in need," he said.
One group he formed helped dig wells, and built and repaired irrigation systems.
Small companies like these are incapable of maintaining themselves. They are left to die while big organizations thrive.
"Globalization has no use for cooperatives," Hebert said. Cooperatives are either destroyed or their privileges taken away, privileges that had been incorporated in the constitution of the country.
In Hebert's pastoral work with Nicaraguans, 75 per cent of whom are unemployed, he tries to help them see the importance of honesty, solidarity, hard work, working collectively and trusting each other.
"We encourage them not to look for privileges but to see how to serve best their organization so that they become strong."
At some level Hebert's and his co-workers' efforts in guiding these people have been successful.
Apart from providing pastoral direction, Hebert helped the farmers in Nicaragua get a loan of $30,000 from Canadian International Development Agency. This money serves as a revolving fund for the farmers to grow crops for local use and for export.
The farmers export sesame and coffee but they are well aware that they do not control the price of these commodities in the international market. Last year, when coffee prices dropped sharply, producers were on the brink of losing their land.
Farmers want the government to be their voice in the international market. But the government is evasive.
Hebert believes globalization is to be blamed for the worsening plight of the poor throughout the Third World.
"I think it's the trend to put everything in the hands of multinational companies, which control everything," he said when asked his opinion on the major cause of poverty.
With modernization there seems to be less and less need of the workforce because multinational companies can do away with personnel as science and technology provide better and cheaper service.
"People are considered an obstacle to development," said Hebert.
"In Nicaragua we are really concerned with the decision taken at the Quebec Summit," he said. "This mega-decision will take away rights and freedom of the people. It is a clear process of marginalization."
Governments are being transformed for the benefit of the multinationals and not for the people, he said.
After the summit, talks began in Mexico and Panama on how to get more multinational companies operating in Latin America.
"The people of these countries will be called to submit to the form of government that multinationals will be creating," Hebert emphasized.
As the multinationals draw up plans, they call on individual governments in Latin America to implement those plans.
"They do not want the government to oppose their plans so the multinationals are making sure that those who are elected will fall into their plans," he added.
Privatization of basic services in Central America has become people's hemlock. As a result of this process, education, electricity, telephone, water system and health care are but a few of the services available only to a minority who can afford them.
"It is disturbing," said Hebert. A lot of money invested by multinationals is not invested in people but rather in structures that control people and keep them far away from possible solutions.
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