Reflection by the Commission for Justice and Peace of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) for the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty - October 17, 2010

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On this day, when the world reviews the situation of poverty globally, the Justice and Peace Commission of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops senses a need  as in past years, to offer Canadians a brief message of concern, reflection and hope.  

The challenge to struggle against poverty and to live with our fellow human beings in equality is not a new message. Centuries ago, God promised the chosen Israelites that if they observed God’s covenant sincerely, then “there shall be no one in need among you” (Deuteronomy 15.4).  The laws of the ancient covenant binding God’s people to God’s heart urged economic sharing and equality in many far-sighted ways. Jesus, when he came to open up to all humanity the way to God,  insisted on a life of active generosity as a fundamental way of being on the way to God’s Reign. “Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down and running over, will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back” (Luke 6.38).

It is good news that millions have been lifted out of poverty in recent decades, especially in China and India.  It is profoundly disappointing that in spite of verbal commitments by governments to realize the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, and although many non-governmental and religious groups are struggling to end poverty in every corner of the world, over 3 billion people remain impoverished and 1.3 billion in absolute poverty, living on less than one dollar a day.

Even in Canada, over 3 million people live in poverty. Most of them are children. Some of their parents struggle to make ends meet in part-time and low-wage jobs. Many are unemployed. A good, steady job remains a frustratingly distant dream for far too many adults in this country, whether they are skilled immigrants searching for a break-through into their line of work, or members of First Nations watching with frustration as someone else’s economy grinds by relentlessly, ignoring their communities. 

It’s not true that nobody cares. Many voices are raised to say we can’t leave things as they are. It’s the next step that we often fail to take: the serious agreement to act together to bridge that gap between those who are well served by the way the economy is currently run, and those who are ground down by it.

At certain inspired points in our history, we Canadians have supported public initiatives that really did succeed in loosening the grip of poverty on whole sections of the population: Old Age Security legislation, the Canada Pension Plan and a publicly supported health care system are some examples. But at other times we seem to tire of trying to shrink the rich-poor gap. We drift into thinking that the problem is beyond us. We hand over our future to the whim of free or unregulated markets, which serve those who have power or money, and thrive on individual greed and selfishness. We become unfriendly to forms of joint struggle to make the economy treat us more equally. We become too anxious to share, too cautious to dream.

Is the second decade of the new millennium a nervous, worried time that refuses to reach for equality?  Today, most new wealth is going to those who already have more than enough.  Inequality is increasing in Canada. The growing rich-poor gap is threatening the economic and political power of our middle class and our treasured participatory democracy.

Yet this is no time to despair.  Millions of people in Canada and around the world are working perseveringly to make hope and resources more available to people who have been shut out.  Many groups, such as Make Poverty History, are working for a national strategy to reduce poverty and increase economic equality.

So we invite Canadians today to join us in calling on our federal government to emulate the efforts of many provincial governments and develop a national anti-poverty strategy. Similarly, we also urge every believer to work in their own lives, professions and neighbourhoods in ways that open doors for the poor.

In his most recent social encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI offers an exciting challenge. He calls on all the members of the Church to help civilize the emerging global economy through the energy of love, based on the truth of the Christian vocation to live as one family under God. He encourages everyone —employers, workers, scientists, framers of international laws and regulations, teachers and students—to discover how to use the dazzling new possibilities of  today in ways that can heal, not worsen, the paralysing gap between rich communities and poor ones.

Difficult? Unspeakably so. But not impossible. Because God is for it. And God made us capable of living wisely and faithfully, from the heart, as gifts for each other. That, and nothing short of that, is the vocation of humanity. That is why we must never tire of working, with God’s grace, to close the terrible rich-poor gap that still divides our world.

15 October 2010

Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

The Most Reverend Brendan M. O’Brien, Kingston, Chairman
The Most Reverend François Lapierre, P.M.É., Saint-Hyacinthe
The Most Reverend David Motiuk, Edmonton
The Most Reverend Valéry Vienneau, Bathurst

Last Updated on Wednesday, November 03 2010  
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Canada’s oldest diocese, the Archdiocese of Quebec, was established in 1674. Most Reverend François de Laval was its first Bishop.