CCCB Pastoral Letter on the Elimination of Poverty

Thursday, October 17 1996

Ottawa — (CCCB) As part of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty,the Episcopal Commission for Social Affairs of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops today issued a Pastoral Letter on the causes and effects of poverty.

The letter was released at a news conference in Halifax this morning by Commission chairman Bishop François Thibodeau of Edmunston, and Commission member Archbishop Marcel Gervais of Ottawa. The other Commission members — Archbishop Bertrand Blanchet of Rimouski; auxiliary Bishop Nicolas De Angelis of Toronto; Bishop Pierre Morissette of Baie-Comeau; and Archbishop Peter Sutton of Keewatin-Le Pas — were also signatories to the letter.

The letter is a call to people of good faith to reflect seriously on the causes and effects of poverty. “The struggle to eradicate poverty,” the letter opens “constitutes, in our eyes, a sign of the times by which God calls us, as well as a sign of hope for our world.”

The letter recalls United Nations figures that show in the South 1 person in 3 (about 1.3 billion people) lives in poverty, and more than 12.5 million children die each year from easily preventable diseases. In Canada, in 1994, 4.8 million Canadians were living below the poverty line. The bishops insist that “poverty must remain the top priority on the social policy agenda — and not only after the debt or other social ills have been addressed.”

“In 1994, the number of poor children was more than 1.3 million and the poverty rate was 19.1 per cent. To think that almost one Canadian child in five lives in poverty in one of the richest societies in world history is nothing less than a damning indictment of the present socio-economic order.”

The Bishops, inspired by the privileged place occupied by the poor in God’s plan, both in the Old and New Testaments, wish to remind Christians “that it is God’s Will that our brothers and sisters be freed from oppression and from insult to their human dignity.” And they continue that this “liberation requires not only daily action on the part of individuals and groups, but also legislative action.”

“The main issue in the coming years,” says the letter, “will be how to distribute equitably the wealth of the world that has been created, as we maintain the ecological balance that should be the inheritance of all peoples. To meet this seemingly immense challenge, what is called for is a new global ethic in this era of globalization. It is no longer logical to blindly equate economic liberalism with social advancement. The current catastrophic state of the world eloquently shows what happens when neoliberal economic policies impoverish women and men.”

In order to address the social and economic difficulties of our time, the Bishops propose the following initiatives: a major reduction of the debt of poor countries, already proposed by Pope John Paul II; more equitable and just commercial policies for the countries of the South; a reduction in military spending; implementing fair tax reforms and ending corporate tax loopholes; creating dignified jobs and preventing the gutting of social programs.

“What prompts us to write this letter,” say the Bishops, “is the urgent need to adopt a preferential option for the poor. So that we might truly become a Church that serves the poor, all Christians must know how to recognize the poor today, furthering the liberating work of God, work for justice and take up the path of solidarity.”

“We invite Christian communities to live intensely the social teachings of the Church on human work,” says the letter, “to renew periodically our committment to socially just policies, compensation systems, affirmative action policies, as well as participatory decision-making structures.”