Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 3, 2008
Apartheid fuelled Caritas executive’s passion for equality
Secretary General Lesley-Anne Knight fights for basic human rights
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
“Getting aid right is a big issue.”
Knight wants Caritas to hone a global voice for complex world problems in an increasingly globalized world. She expects the confederation to take global positions on pressing problems such as the devastating effects of climate change on the poor, on migration, human trafficking and HIV/AIDS.
Aid effectiveness is another focus. Knight was in Ottawa with Canadian Catholic Development and Peace executive director Michael Casey and international programs director Gilio Brunelli to attend meetings at the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Development and Peace is part of the Caritas confederation.
“Getting aid right is a big issue,” she said, noting the importance of civil society, especially churches, in aid effectiveness. This is something often overlooked by governments and international relief agencies, she said.
She pointed out how dependent aid in Africa is on the Catholic Church’s infrastructure of hospitals, educational institutions, parish-run clinics and agencies helping AIDS orphans. Depending on the country, the Catholic Church provides 30 to 70 per cent of the work in these crucial areas. Other Christian agencies and churches pick up the lion’s share of the rest.
When it comes to AIDS orphans, the Catholic Church and other faith-based civil society groups are providing 25-30 per cent of the care, but they only receive about 2-3 per cent of the total United Nation’s aid assistance, she said.
“That’s a crying shame,” she said.
The Catholic Churches stress on AIDS prevention based on behavioural change has a higher success rate than other program, she said.
Knight gained her grassroots experience in the 1980s, working for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and OXFAM in Central America during the 1980s, when civil war wracked several countries and created hundreds of thousands of refugees.
“I don’t think that I am without scrutiny.”
She went on to serve with Caritas England and Wales, also known as CAFOD (Catholic Agency for Overseas Development). Before her election last June, Knight served as CAFOD’s international director, overseeing a staff of 230 and a budget of about $120 million.
Born a British citizen in 1956 in what was then Rhodesia, Knight witnessed first hand the struggle against white colonial rule.
“I think that left me with a sense of wanting to make an option in my life for those who either had no voice or who were struggling simply to ensure they that had their basic human rights respected,” she said.
She attended the University of Cape Town in South Africa during the early 1970s, at the height of the struggle against apartheid. Knight also recalls how the Catholic Student Society at her university found inspiration in Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Populorum Progressio. That encyclical 41 years ago led to the founding of Caritas development agencies like Development and Peace by Canada’s Catholic bishops.
That encyclical marked her with a desire to devote herself to social justice.
Increasingly, Catholic and Christian agencies are operating in parts of the world where Christians are in a minority: India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Somalia. The work these agencies are doing is “second to none,” she said.
Though Caritas agencies have not been involved in overt evangelization she believes the example of helping others simply out of a belief in their human dignity, whatever their religion, is “some of the richest evangelization we could be doing.”
Though they do not hand out Bibles or pamphlets, she pointed to Pope Benedict XVI’s Encyclical Deus Caritas Est and how important he said it was for Christians to know when it is time to speak and when it is “important to be silent.”
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