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Message for Pentecost 2000 to Canadian Catholics from CCCB President Bishop Gerald Wiesner, OMI

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Dear friends:

Almost a year ago, many of you signed a petition that called for debt cancellation for the poorest countries. You likely saw this petition at your parish church, local school, a community or trade union meeting, or at any number of other venues. You joined more than 640,000 Canadians in this activity, making the Canadian Ecumenical Jubilee Initiative (CEJI) campaign more successful than any other in Canadian history. Please accept my heartfelt thanks, and that of all my brother bishops, for your tremendous response to this initiative.

Almost a year ago, many of you signed a petition that called for debt cancellation for the poorest countries. You likely saw this petition at your parish church, local school, a community or trade union meeting, or at any number of other venues. You joined more than 640,000 Canadians in this activity, making the Canadian Ecumenical Jubilee Initiative (CEJI) campaign more successful than any other in Canadian history. Please accept my heartfelt thanks, and that of all my brother bishops, for your tremendous response to this initiative.

Perhaps the process for many of us as we learned about this issue of international debt was similar to what Mary Magdalene went through as she found the tomb on that first Easter: changing from disbelief, to faith, to bearing witness (John 20. 1-18). That is exactly the path that our celebration of the Easter season, culminating once more in that Pentecost miracle of transformation and solidarity, calls us to embark upon today.

Certainly, we were all shocked to understand the magnitude of the problem: that so many countries spend as much or more on interest payments as they do on desperately needed services in healthcare and education. We wanted to respond to situations of immense disparity in our world, such as in Tanzania, where a third of the country's children are malnourished and fewer than half are able to attend primary school. We wanted to respond to the call of many world leaders, including the Holy Father, who urged us to make the Jubilee of the Year 2000 a time for "reducing substantially, if not cancelling outright, the international debt which seriously threatens the future of many nations" (Tertio Millennio Adveniente, n. 51).

Through the Jubilee education and advocacy campaigns of churches and their allies around the world, we came to believe that change really could come about. Over 17 million signatures were collected and delivered to the leaders of the rich countries, the so-called G-8, at their meeting last year in Cologne, Germany. The Bishops of Canada not only fully supported this campaign, but subsequently thanked the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP) for showing tremendous leadership in organizing so many of these positive responses. Together with CCODP, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops delegated Most Reverend Pierre Morissette, Bishop of Baie-Comeau, to go to Cologne to meet with other bishops from around the world and with the German Chancellor before this crucial G-8 meeting.

At Cologne, the rich countries made much of their announcement to cancel up to US$ 100 billion of the debts of the poorest and most highly indebted countries. Canada's Prime Minister, in March, had already announced that our country would cancel 100 per cent of the (bilateral) debts owed by some of the poorest countries. Other countries, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, France and now this year Japan, have also announced some bilateral debt relief under certain conditions. So have we been successful in ending the scourge of debt for the poorest people of the world?

I am sad to report to you that the concise answer is no. The General Secretary of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan, stated on March 14, 2000, that "The deeper, faster and broader relief promised last year has yet to materialize." Canada's promised bilateral debt forgiveness has been granted to only one country, Bangladesh, for a mere $600,000. Even after last month's meetings of the world's finance ministers in Washington, only five countries (Bolivia, Uganda, Mauritania, Mozambique and Tanzania) had begun to receive relief under the initiative agreed to in Cologne. As the Jubilee 2000 campaign reports, "The prospects for progress before the end of the millennium year are equally alarming." Apparently, the World Bank thinks that only 19 countries may receive debt relief this year (and it has firm plans for only 14 of these)!

As Pope John Paul II stated, "We have to ask . . . why progress in resolving the debt problem is still so slow. Why so many hesitations? Why the difficulty in providing the funds needed even for the already agreed initiatives? It is the poor who pay the cost of indecision and delay" (September 1999 meeting with Jubilee 2000).

The Bishops of Canada are continuing to monitor the situation with mounting concern. We do not want to see this opportunity to achieve global social justice pass by without an adequate response.
Be assured that we will continue our efforts to educate and advocate for the debt cancellation so necessary to the countries and peoples of the South. This is a commitment that we have made on several occasions, including most recently at the Meeting of the Bishops for America this past February in Vancouver.

There are two specific ways that you can help:
1) Deepen your own understanding of, and commitment to, the celebration of the Jubilee 2000 as a moment of justice for all the world. Continue to meditate and pray on the texts of Leviticus 25 and Luke 4 in your homes and parish communities.

2) Communicate your concern that debt cancellation be faster, broader, deeper. And that it be made through transparent processes that include the poor in decisions about their own lives. There will be at least three opportunities to do this, in June, July and August of this year, as you will be able to see from the Canadian Ecumenical Jubilee Initiative web site. Most important, it seems to me, is that the leaders of the wealthy countries hear from all of us before their July meeting in Okinawa, Japan.
As we prepare for a new Pentecost of transformation and solidarity, let us pray that the grace of the Risen Jesus be with each and every one of us in this Jubilee Year. May we celebrate with faith and witness to the justice that all humans and the entire creation deserve!

Fraternally in Our Lord,

Most Reverend Gerald Wiesner, OMI
Bishop of Prince George
President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops



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Last Updated on Wednesday, August 16 2006  
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