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Tuesday, January 17, 2017
Archbishop Vincent Nichols on World Debt Day
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¬†In his homily today, World Debt Day, during a Mass celebrated at St Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham, (12.15pm) the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Birmingham said: "Do you remember this? It was May 16 1998, a sunny spring Saturday. There was a breeze in the air and goodwill in the city. Birmingham was hosting the G8 summit and more than 70,000 people from all over the country and abroad came to Birmingham and formed a human chain around the inner ring road. It was one of the largest and most peaceful protests the city had known for the people were united in their belief that the poorest nations should not be spending more money on paying interest to the richest nations when they could not afford food, education and medical care for their own people." These are the words with which yesterday's edition of The Birmingham Post reminded us of the events of five years ago and invited us to take part in today's. In the Central Library, today there is a display of photographs and accounts of that event which marked this city profoundly and had its effect on the affairs of nations. Five years ago this Cathedral of St Chad welcomed visitors in great numbers, too. It was in the context of the Jubilee Year that the organising group Jubilee 2000 had acted, reminding everyone of the Jewish tradition of jubilee, a time in which debts were to be forgiven and an original justice sought again. On that day five years ago, the people gathered here in St Chad's were addressed by the director of CAFOD, Julian Filochowski and by Mulima Kufekisa Akapelwa from Zambia. There are both here again today and are most welcome. Today we gather in Birmingham to echo and repeat the cry of five years ago for greater justice in the management of world affairs and particularly in the reduction of the burden of debt on the poorest nations. We do so confident that the protest of five years ago was effective. Here's how The Birmingham Post described the effectiveness of that show of public concern and determination: "The human chain did change policy. Five months after the G8 summit in Birmingham there was a G8 in Cologne with another demonstration of 50,000 people. At that meeting leaders agreed that all those owed money should share the cost of writing off £63 billion of debt. At the G8 in Canada in 2002, the world's leaders announced a further £630 million in debt relief. What difference has this made on the ground? The aid organisation CAFOD reports the introduction of free vaccinations for children in Mozambique, the abolition of primary school fees in Uganda, Malawi and Tanzania and increased spending on HIV/AIDS prevention in Mali, Mozambique and Senegal. There has also been economic growth at impressive rates of over five per cent per year in Uganda and Mozambique, which were among the first countries to benefit from debt relief." Yet everyone knows that there is so much more to do. Today, confident that change can be brought about, we ask for debt relief to be achieved more widely and more consistently. To date only £23 billion of the promised £63 billion debt relief has been received. That's why were here today, brought together by the organising group Jubilee Debt Campaign, the successor to Jubilee 2000. Thank you for your work and your efforts on behalf of us all. Today events will echo those of five years ago: workshops and discussions so that a much closer look may be taken at the issues of debt and injustice and, of course, a human chain. May I also mention the closely associated issue of fair trade, for increasingly this is the focus of attention among the aid agencies and the churches. There is, as you know, a quickly growing group of over 60 organisations working together under the title "The Trade Justice Movement" and that is calling for a day of action on Saturday, 28 June with a major event in Victoria Square here in Birmingham. This celebration of Mass is a very particular part of today's activities. The Mass gives its own unique shape to our time together. Here we turn towards God. Here we acknowledge God to be, in that most appealing of all titles, the Father of Mercies. He hears the cry of the people. He is the source of compassion and love. He knows the suffering and the distress of so many. There is always room in the love of the Father for every single one of His people. The cry of the people caught up in hunger, poverty, despair or numbing helplessness is carried to the ear of the Father by Christ himself. This is what we witness during the celebration of Mass. And we do not simply witness it; we take part in this offering of our world to the Father by Christ. It is Jesus who bears our follies and our sins. He takes them to himself. Not just our personal failures, but the epic and scandalous follies and evils of our world: the sickness and shadow of early death that haunt so many; the tragedies and evils that see us get into confrontations where destruction becomes part of our attempted solution; the situations in which the poorest carry the burden created by our luxury. These are the sins carried by the Lamb of God. These are the wounds he bore. These are taken by him to the Father of Mercies. In as much as we understand this action of Christ, made present in this celebration of the Mass, then we know that when we pray, when we partake in these mysteries, we act in startling solidarity with the poor. Here, in our hearts and minds, in the action of Christ, we stand as one with them. To celebrate Mass is not simply a prelude to doing something real, not simply a source of motivation. It is solidarity in action. To be one with Christ is to be one with the poorest of the poor; to share in the death of Christ is to share in their suffering; to offer the sacrifice of Christ is to lift to the Father of Mercies all the burdens of our troubled world; to receive the mission of Christ, as we do in this Mass, is to receive the greatest mandate of all. As we celebrate this promise this morning, let our lives reflect and make real its gift and truth: when we a ready to give rather than take, to forgive rather than retaliate, to serve rather than to dominate then the words we say will be seen in all their promise: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
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