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Thursday, February 23, 2017
Text: Cardinal Cormac addresses economic injustice conference
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¬†Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor Archbishop of Westminster has just given the following opening address this morning at the Conference on Economic Injustice, organised by the Vincentian Millenium Partnership and Zacchaeus 2000 Trust. "May I first say thank you for inviting me to be with you at the start of your conference today. I consider it a privilege to be among you, and I am pleased that you are among us, the diocese of Westminster. Looking at the extraordinary diversity of organisations represented here today, it feels a bit like a gathering of the clans. I sense something of a warrior spirit in the room. I suspect you mean it when you say 'Fighting economic injustice'. I am reminded of the Duke of Wellington ≠ surveying the battlefield at Waterloo and particularly the serried ranks of the Guards regiments he remarked 'They may not frighten the enemy, but by God they frighten me!!' "I would like to pay a small tribute to the organisers of your seminar, notably the Vincentian Millennium Partnership and the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust, with the support of Caritas - social action. It is hugely encouraging to see organizations such as these working together to fight injustice. The Vincentians I know well of course. Hundreds of thousands of volunteers all over the world, as well as a range of religious orders, have worked with and for the poor, for well over two hundred years ≠ all inspired by the example of St Vincent de Paul. On the 9th of November Sister Rosalie Rendu, who became a Daughter of Charity in 1802, was beatified. "Not everyone here today will be inspired by a specifically Christian commitment. You are all fired by the values of the Gospel. "Some say that faith is caught not taught. We could argue about that. I suspect though that a passionate commitment to campaigning for justice is certainly caught, rather than taught. "People catch this bug because one day they meet someone, they witness something, or they experience something ≠directly or through someone else ≠ which turns a nagging conscience into a commitment to affect change, to stop feeling helpless, and to do something ≠ however small. "You are the kind of people who create the conditions by which this spark is caught, and passed on. It is you that someone bumped into, your article they read, or your passion which persuaded them go to a place where they experienced something that moved them deeply enough to begin the journey into justice, with all its demands. "Recently I had the opportunity to work with someone who was described to me as having "the gift of enabling people to be courageous". What a marvellous gift of the Spirit. One of the great things about courage is that it inspires and it spreads. It is like a mustard seed. One small act of courage, of resistance, of outspoken advocacy and before you know it there is a ripple, a murmur, sometimes even a spontaneous Mexican wave. And so, not overnight but in time, one act of courage or stubbornness becomes many acts; one person's passion becomes many people's commitment and slowly things that we may never have believed possible begin to happen. The story of the early Church is a case in point ≠ how a few witnesses to the truth of the resurrection prevailed, against overwhelming odds and in the face of appalling persecution, to keep the faith alive. "I do not know precisely why Zacchaeus was chosen by some of you as emblematic of the commitment to justice to which we aspire, and which you are here today to inspire in others. But his story seems to me to be apt. "Poor Zacchaeus. He cuts rather a comical figure ≠ small even by the standards of the time ≠ which I imagine means he was probably not quite five foot ≠ a tax collector, so hardly the most popular man in town, and unpleasantly rich. So despite his height he would have been rather conspicuous in the middle of a crowd of ordinary tax paying Jews. But somewhere along the way he had caught somehow from somebody the spark which compelled him to find a way to see Jesus. "Now tree climbing is not quite what would have been expected of a senior man from the Inland Revenue, so Zacchaeus surely gets marks for bucking the stereotype. Then to his amazement he finds himself not just noticed, but the centre of everyone's attention ≠ which isn't always the most comfortable place to find yourself. Jesus announces he is going to stay at his house. The crowd are appalled and make it clear that this is not a popular decision. "But Zacchaeus, Luke tells us, "stood his ground and said to the Lord, 'Look, sir I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount'. "It seems to me that Zacchaeus is a figure to inspire us for a number of reasons: "First because he is the wrong man in the wrong place - he knew it and he didn't care. Nor should we. "Second because he went to extraordinary, innovative, and, for some, unseemly lengths to be seen and heard "Third because Jesus loved him and responded instantly to his courage and generosity "Fourth because he gave more than was strictly necessary, but in return he received more than he could ever have expected. "And finally, because despite all the odds I am convinced that Zacchaeus' determination inspired others to be more courageous in pursuing their own vision or demands. "We live in an age when the temptation to stay at home is greater than ever. Why bother climbing trees and getting lost in a crowd when you can stay at home and watch it all on TV. We live in an age of vicarious living. You don't need to do it, or say it, you can simply watch others doing it, or saying it for you on TV and radio. Like the couple a friend of mine overheard in the National Gallery. "Come and look at this marvellous painting". "Oh darling (says he - not even turning round) you just take a photo and I'll look at it back home". "Nearly two million marched against the war. Thousands lobbied Parliament for Trade Justice in the summer. Millions world-wide campaigned for debt relief as part of the Jubilee 2000 campaign. I don't think governments were that keen to listen, but in the end the governments of the G8 had to because the Mexican wavers just would not resume their seats politely when invited to. Campaigning is a fundamental part of democracy. "So however uncomfortable it feels to stick your neck out, if you believe that justice demands that you do, and in particular if you know that you can speak for those who have no voice, or who are too timid to raise it, then you must speak out, and speak out boldly. "Sometimes getting yourself heard is difficult - but it is amazing the things people will do to overcome the problem. I think of the incredibly well networked fund-raising initiatives of the Passage raising money for the homeless with their Night Under the Stars. Or the innovative way in which Telco purchased a few shares in HSBC in order to allow one of the bank's contract cleaners Abdul Durrant the necessary platform to address his concerns directly to the bank Chairman Sir John Bond, and his shareholders. Or the way that Caritas has brought very different organizations together to facilitate their speaking with a single powerful voice at the national level. "Effective campaigning requires imagination as well as courage. But if we are campaigning in the name of justice, justice demands that we treat everyone with respect. Bank chairmen and shareholders have consciences too. "It is impossible not to be impressed by the example of some of the leading figures behind this conference ≠ I will spare their blushes by naming them. You give of your time, energy, commitment, intelligence and enthusiasm with great generosity. I am not an economist, and I know that there are arguments to be had about for example the level of the minimum wage, about what level of income it takes to reasonably support a family in London, and so on. My personal belief is that those who you seek to influence are probably less impressed by your facts and figures than by your passion, your self-belief, your determination, your unrelenting zeal, and your generosity of spirit. "I began by saying that I believe that a commitment to justice is caught not taught. Some ≠ including some of our politicians - catch it very early. Within our churches, and within all the faith communities, in this country there is a strong commitment to equality between peoples, regardless of birth or race or creed or colour. I believe that our Christian Churches can be proud of their commitment to social justice. I am certainly proud that Catholic social teaching helps to inspire thousands of Catholics to campaign for economic and social justice. We are very proud of the work of Caritas - social action, and its many constituent organisations, here at home and of CAFOD, working with partners overseas to fight poverty and injustice. "We still have a great deal to learn, and a long way to go. We need to ask questions of ourselves ≠ do we do enough, for example, to educate and encourage our young people to be alive to the injustices in our social and economic structures? And we need to question to what extent our culture actively conspires with the dominant free-market ethos of our time to encourage passive consumerism, rather than an active citizenship. There is a real danger that the couch-potato of today will become the disenfranchised, debt-ridden consumer of tomorrow. "Our politicians know that, and they must be concerned. There are signs that the leaders of industry are beginning to understand that the free market cannot ride roughshod over fundamental principles of justice and equality. And that matters of principle and conscience must play a part in the workings of our economy and its relations with other economies and peoples across the world. Globalisation is not benefiting everyone ≠ far from it. " What we cannot, and should not accept, is that our own culture contribute to the maintenance or spread of injustice. conomic injustice disfigures society. We must fight to reclaim those aspects of our culture ≠ and economic justice for all is one - which have been suborned, or marginalized - by greed, by apathy or by indifference. "Thank you for what you are doing to make just such a change realisable."
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