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Canada's Bishops on 40 Years of Solidarity

"Communicating Christ's Love"

OTTAWA, JUNE 3, 2007 (Zenit) - Here is the pastoral message issued by the Canadian bishops' conference on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the foundation of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.

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Communicating Christ's Love Through the Mission of Development and Peace

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

None of us may ever know the full international impact that the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace has made. Nor will any of us likely ever know the ways in which 40 years of this labor have assisted families and communities in some of the most impoverished areas of the world. These achievements reflect something tangible about the reality of faith working through love, and ultimately God's astonishing desire to use the human person as an instrument of his peace.

In 1967, Pope Paul VI recognized that "extreme disparity between nations in economic, social and educational levels provokes jealousy and discord, often putting peace in jeopardy."[1] This is why he affirmed that development is the new name for peace. Peace on earth is founded on justice, solidarity and unwavering respect for the dignity of human life at every stage, in every condition, in relation to the common good.

1. The Prophetic Call to a Civilization of Love

This call of Paul VI moved the Catholic bishops of Canada to create the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace in 1967, with its twofold role to provide development assistance in the global South as well to educate and sensitize Canadian Catholics about peace and justice issues. In their subsequent pastoral letter to mark this achievement, the bishops of Canada insisted the new organization was not to take account of "the religious belief or ideologies of the people to whom aid is given. The only consideration will be the intrinsic value of the projects, their conformity with criteria of priority, and the evaluation of their human and social effectiveness. We are convinced that we who dare to call ourselves [Christ's] disciples must share his universal love and compassion, embracing generously the sacrifices that love entails."[2]

The bishops of Canada called for a joint effort "for the creation of a renewed humanity."[3] The goal is to build a world where men and women "can live truly human lives, free from discrimination on account of race, religion or nationality, free from servitude ... or ... natural forces which they cannot yet control satisfactorily."[4] Thus, the mandate of Development and Peace is totally consistent with the appeal of Paul VI and Pope John Paul II to build a "civilization of love."

2. Witness to Love in Action

Through its many activities, Development and Peace is an effective means for the Catholic Church in Canada to express its preferential love for the poor, the marginalized and the oppressed. Today, in communion with the universal Church and in fidelity to the Gospel, the Catholics of our country affirm with renewed determination their declaration of loving service in the work of Development and Peace.

This commitment is a living manifestation of the intimate love that God bears for the human family. For this reason, it can never be reduced to solely technical service. A few years before he died, John Paul II wrote: "In Christ, God has truly assumed a 'heart of flesh.' Not only does God have a divine heart, rich in mercy and in forgiveness, but also a human heart, capable of all the stirrings of affection."[5]

Over the past 40 years, Development and Peace has rendered an extraordinary service to the impoverished people of the global South. It has provided $500 million to support 14,665 projects and programs in 70 countries of the South. Of this amount, $120 million was allocated as emergency aid in response to natural disasters or to assist refugees in the wake of wars and civil disturbances.

One example: Following the tsunami that devastated Southeast Asia in 2004, Development and Peace entered into partnerships with communities throughout the region to build thousands of new homes. Overall, the projects Development and Peace has supported in developing countries include peace-building and civic education programs, community development, fostering the social economy, improving agricultural production, promoting human rights, providing education, and campaigning against destructive policies such as the patenting of seeds and the privatization of water.

None of this work would have been possible without the solidarity and generosity of Catholics in Canada -- their donations, time, prayers and commitment. Such solidarity affirms the dignity of the human person who is suffering because of natural disasters and the depredations of war, famine and poverty. The bishops of Canada express their esteem and gratitude to all people of good will who have faithfully supported Development and Peace since its creation in 1967.

3. A Globalization of Solidarity

The challenges of development are many and they remain daunting. Our age continues to witness the humiliation and marginalization of vast numbers of people -- people loved by God and created in the divine image, but spurned and excluded by society. As John Paul II insisted in "Ecclesia in America," the world is faced with the reality of "social sins which cry to heaven" for justice: the drug trade, the recycling of illicit funds, corruption at every level, the terror of violence, the arms race, racial discrimination, inequality between social groups and the irrational destruction of nature.[6] "These sins are the sign of a deep crisis caused by the loss of a sense of God and the absence of those moral principles which should guide the life of every person. In the absence of moral points of reference, an unbridled greed for wealth and power takes over, obscuring any Gospel-based vision of social reality."[7]

There are "profound links ... between evangelization and human promotion" because the human person "is subject to social and economic questions."[8] The "Gospel-based vision of social reality" is by definition a sign of contradiction against neo-liberalism and its "purely economic conception" of the human person.[9] Christ laid down his life as a sacrifice for all, to win the authentic freedom of the human family and each of its members.

For this reason, as Benedict XVI has taught, "the relationship between the eucharistic mystery and social commitment must be made explicit."[10] Catholics are thus called to "a globalization of solidarity in the name of the inalienable dignity of the human person, above all when defenseless people are struck by natural catastrophes, laid low by the indiscriminate machinery of war and economic exploitation, and confined to refugee camps."[11]

The Christian vocation is to share in the life of God and to build a community that promotes the Gospel of life. The work of Development and Peace flows from this vocation. The forces and systems that conspire against human dignity cannot have the last word, because of the definitive reality of Christ's work of salvation.

From this it is clear that the role of Development and Peace cannot be strictly analogous to the work of secular organizations. Through Development and Peace, Catholics are challenged to give not just out of their surplus but out of their substance. This is the challenge of the Gospel: "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on" (Mark 12.43-44).

As we journey together as the People of God, our challenge is to live an ever deeper communion and dialogue with communities in their moments of greatest hardship and vulnerability. Thus, it is not "ideologies aimed at improving the world" and their necessarily contingent theories that motivate Development and Peace, but the resolute promise of the beatitudes. It is only in this way that the work of social justice is in fact effective and substantively just, because it refuses to marginalize the vulnerable and the stranger.

Instead, Development and Peace helps the Church in Canada to grow in love. In the words of our Holy Father, Benedict XVI: "Accepting [Christ's] love ... is not enough. We need to respond to such love and devote ourselves to communicating it to others. Christ 'draws me to himself' in order to unite himself to me," and so we learn to love our brothers and sisters with the love of Christ.[12]

Since 1967, there have been substantial advances in a growing social awareness on the part of many people. Today there seems to be a richer dialogue of human rights, a continuing restlessness for justice and equality. Nevertheless, one must be candid in recognizing that the past 40 years have not delivered any radical change -- the poor are more numerous, and their conditions of life more intolerable. This situation continues to call for renewed commitment to seek a more just social order through concrete initiatives such as those of Development and Peace. The social challenges of justice and peace can never be kept at arm's length from one's life as a Christian.

Faith demands the gift of one's whole being through works of love, as so well stated by Benedict XVI: "Practical activity will always be insufficient, unless it visibly expresses a love for man, a love nourished by an encounter with Christ. My deep personal sharing in the needs and sufferings of others becomes a sharing of my very self with them: if my gift is not to prove a source of humiliation, I must give to others not only something that is my own, but my very self; I must be personally present in my gift."[13]

The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace must continue to grow and to flourish. It is a significant means by which the Church in Canada touches the lives of our sisters and brothers in humanity. Clearly, the Lord recognizes himself in the poor: "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink" (Matthew 25.35). May the Lord advance the work of Development and Peace as a manifestation of divine love. May Catholics continue to receive and share this love with everyone in need.

André Gaumond
Archbishop of Sherbrooke
President Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
Fifth Sunday of Easter, 6 May 2007

[1] Paul VI, "Populorum Progressio," No. 76.
[2] Joint Pastoral Letter of the Bishops of Canada on Development and Peace, March 14, 1968, p. 5.

[3] Joint Pastoral Letter of the Bishops of Canada on Development and Peace, p. 3.
[4] Paul VI, "Populorum Progressio," No. 47.

[5] John Paul II, "Rosarium Virginis Mariae," No. 26.
[6] John Paul II, "Ecclesia in America," No. 56 (citing Proposition 70).

[7] John Paul II, "Ecclesia in America," No. 56.
[8] Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, No. 66.

[9] John Paul II, "Ecclesia in America," No. 56.
[10] Benedict XVI, "Sacramentum Caritatis," No. 89.

[11] The Eucharist: God's Gift for the Life of the World: Foundational Theological Document for the 49th International Eucharistic Congress, 2008, p. 59.
[12] Benedict XVI, Message for Lent 2007.

[13] Benedict XVI, "Deus Caritas Est," No. 34.

[Text adapted]


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Canada, Bishops, Solidarity, Christ, Love, Peace, Development

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