Independent Catholic News logo Welcome Visitor
Thursday, September 29, 2016
Globalising Hope: text of Timothy Radcliffe's Paul VI lecture - Part 2
Comment Email Print
¬†Advocacy is an ever more important part of CAFOD's mission. It is in part unveiling these mechanisms of exclusion, showing governments and corporations just what is happening. I will say no more about this since I have little knowledge of economics and if there are any awkward questions about this afterwards, I shall shamelessly pass them all to Julian. The story of the blind man summons us to still more fundamental process of inclusion and inclusion. b) Learning to say 'I' At the beginning of the story, the disciples talk about the blind man, but they do not speak to him. Only Jesus does. Then when he is cured, the neighbours talk about him, but they say nothing to him until he speaks out and says 'I am the man'. Then he is taken to the Pharisees and again they begin by talking about him rather than to him. The Pharisees summon his parents, but they refuse to talk about him. They say, 'He is of age; he will speak for himself'. And he does so, ever more strongly, culminating in his confession of faith: 'Lord, I believe'. It is the story of a man finding his own voice. He ceases to be the object of conversation and becomes a subject. Indeed it is his story. The first words he speaks, 'I am the man', are even more significant than they appear in English. He actually says in Greek 'Ego eimi', 'I am'. He comes to be someone who can say 'I am' in his own right. Now these words are often used in John's gospel to echo God's own name at the beginning of the story of the Exodus. God appears to Moses in the wilderness in a burning bush and proclaims his name, 'I am who am'. As God's children, we can speak with God and also say 'I am'. CAFOD's programmes and projects bear hope above all because they serve the emergence of their partners as people in their own right, who have a voice, and who can say 'I am'. They are not the objects of charity, but subjects whom we address and who address us. Gustavo Guttierez OP speaks of 'the irruption of the poor11'. They irrupt into the centre of the stage. This requires of us that we vacate that centre, that we are self-effacing, yielding the space. The meaning of any project is not primarily the meaning that we give it. It is the meaning it has for our partners in the developing world. Once Caritas sponsored a project in India for the digging of wells. When the pump on one well broke down, the villagers did not repair it, although this could easily have been done. When asked why not, they said, 'It is your well, it is not ours. How could we repair it then?' They had never owned that well12. Robert Southey wrote that 'a remarkable peculiarity is that they (the English) always write the personal pronoun I with a capital letter. May we not consider this Great I as an unintended proof how much an Englishman thinks of his own consequence13.' We are tempted to see people in the developing world as having walk-on parts in our story, like the servants in the film 'Gosforth Park', but in that film they who are the ones who really know what is happening. We must yield the centre to them as those who may show us the meaning of these projects. History must be told from the point of view of the powerless. In The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie, Mr 'Whisky' Sisodia says, 'The trouble with the Engenglish is that their hiss hiss history happened overseas, so they dodo don't know what it means.14' Actually he says it more drunkenly than that, but I cannot manage an imitation. Perhaps later, after a few drinks at the reception! CAFOD supports community radio projects in Guatemala, Peru, Honduras, Bolivia and Paraguay. These are radio stations that give a voice to the people who must normally be silent. Let me quote from a description of what this meant to one Andean peasant woman. Second picture, of the woman broadcasting. Alas, I do not know her name: 'Yes, that was her voice coming out of the magical apparatus! The magic machine where only President Balaguer spoke, where Johnny Ventura and Fernandino Villalona sang and where Bishop Rivas gave his blessing. . All her life everyone had told her to shut up; her dad, her teacher, her husband, the priests, even her children. As they say around here, women should be seen but not heard. For years they had convinced her that she was only good for working, in the kitchen and in bed. But always in silence, obedient. Now her voice was coming out over the radio and her friend Hipůlita, her neighbours and all her family were listening.'15 One of my brethren in South Africa works with the orphans of AIDS. He describes how they help the children create memory boxes. 'Memory box is a metaphor. But the term also designates a physical object: a box which can be decorated with photos or drawings and contains the story of the deceased person as well as various objects pertaining to the history of the family. The fact of sharing the memories of the sick person or the deceased, of recording those memories and of storing them in a memory box helps the family members to break the silence about disease or death The memory boxes create the space to talk about sickness and death and in this way to cope with the loss of the loved person'. Without these memory boxes the children have no past, no context in which to be persons in their own rights. They learn to tell a story of their own, and not just the story that others give them. They learn to say 'I am'. c) Saying 'We'. So we have seen two stages in the process of inclusion. There is unmasking the mechanisms of exclusion, and there is learning to say 'I am'. The third stage is the emergence of a new 'we'. The blind man takes a time to say 'I', but it is only at the end of the story that he is able to say 'we'. The Pharisees say 'we'. It is the 'we' of the religious authorities, who hold the centre of the stage and shut out people like himself. 'Give God the praise; we know that this man is a sinner' (v.24). But this is a 'we' that is challenged by the blind man. He grows in confidence and boldly asserts a new 'we', with its own claim to authority. He says ' "We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshipper of God, and does his will, God listens to him' (v31). But the Pharisees find this challenge intolerable: 'You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?'" And they cast him out' (v.34). God's creation of humanity only achieves completion in a community in which we can all say, with confidence and authority, 'we'. It is only in this community that any of us can discover who we are called to be. It is only when we can say 'we' that we shall understand what it means for any of us to say 'I am'. The deepest meaning of the projects and programmes of CAFOD is in serving the emergence of this community in which, like the man born blind, we can discover who we are. How does this happen? First of all, the outreach of CAFOD is much more global and inclusive than the market. Like the Church, it reaches far beyond the so-called global village of Internet. Estimates vary, but between 40% and 65% of human beings have never used a telephone. Much of Africa is excluded, as I know from the bitter experience of trying to open my emails from that Continent. Poverty today means not dispossession but disconnection. Far beyond the reach of the World Wide Web, you find the Church and the aid agencies. Often, when everything else has collapsed, it is the Church that keeps some form of education and medical care going, and even delivers the mail. The Church is far more global than the global village. But this new communion for which we labour is defined by more than mere geographical extension. It is a belonging together that is usually called 'solidarity'. Pope John Paul II said, 'The more globalized the market becomes, the more we must counterbalance it with a culture of solidarity that gives priority to the needs of the most vulnerable.16' What does that culture of solidarity mean? 'Solidarity' is a word whose roots lie in early nineteenth century France. It meant the solidarity of the French people, over against such traditional enemies as the English. It was a solidarity based on exclusion, of an 'us' over against 'them', like the 'us' of the Pharisees which shuts out the man born blind. But we Christians aspire to an unimaginable solidarity that is over against no one. This is the Kingdom, the solidarity without exclusion. This offers us an identity that is beyond our present understanding. Until the Kingdom, we are incomplete people. It is not only the poor, the powerless and the voiceless who lack full identity. We do too, until we are one with them. To accept to be called a Catholic is to accept identification kath' holon, according to the whole, the universal communion of the Kingdom. It is only in the 'we' of the Kingdom, that we shall each know what it means to say 'I am'. We do not as yet have the language to express this solidarity. You can see T shirts in the USA which proclaim: 'It's a black thing. You would not understand'17 In a way that is true. We have no language in which to incorporate all human experience. Michael Ignatieff, in his beautiful little book The needs of Strangers writes of the need to find a new language of solidarity: 'Words like fraternity, belonging and community are so soaked with nostalgia and utopianism that they are nearly useless as guides to the real possibilities of solidarity in modern society. Modern life has changed the possibilities of civic solidarity, and our language stumbles behind like an overburdened porter with a mountain of old cases.'18 Perhaps the solidarity of the Kingdom can only be expressed now in terms of liberation from the wrong sorts of connectedness, forms of belonging that are perverted by domination and violence. September 11th showed that we are indeed all connected in ways that go beyond the web. We all are caught up networks of violence, which are sustained by the export of arms and the import of drugs and prostitutes, and by terrorism. There is even the violence of market itself. On September 11th we could see explode in our midst the latent violence that circulates in our global community. Part of the mission of CAFOD is to co-operate in the liberation of people from this violent 'we', in preparation for that peaceful communion which is the Kingdom. It is said that in some countries in Africa, when all other institutions have collapsed, just two remain: the Church and the Army. Which will endure? Let me illustrate this with reference to work of CAFOD with the children soldiers of Sierra Leone. Let me show you a picture of them so proudly holding their guns. Poster of child soldiers holding their guns. It is a tragic paradox that these guns which are symbols of power are in fact signs of their powerlessness, caught up in wars that are not of their making, and used as pawns by others. I quote from a CAFOD paper: 'The power of a gun in their hands versus a powerless and hopeless future, made them the front liners in a conflict. Whatever the outcome is they would always be the big losers. Now in the interim centre in Port Loko they hope for a new chance to be children.19' If they are to be recognized as children of God, then they must first be allowed to be children. We can glimpse the community of the Kingdom in their liberation from the communion of violence. We need signs of the Kingdom. Think of the difference between eating a hamburger and celebrating the Eucharist. Sociologists speak of the 'sacramental consumption' of a McDonalds hamburger. It is when the hamburger is used as the sacrament of one's belonging to the global world of consumers. As Peter Berger wrote, 'To paraphrase Freud, sometimes a hamburger is just a hamburger. But in other cases, the consumption of a hamburger, especially when it takes place under the golden icon of a McDonald's restaurant, is the visible sign of the real or imagined participation in global modernity.20' And even eating a hamburger can have all the rubrics of an ecclesiastical ceremony. In Japan, there was at first fascination with the ritual of eating with one's hands standing while up, a visible protest against Japanese ways of eating. All the famous brand names and logos can have this sacramental function. And if one is too poor to buy the real thing, then one's can buy an imitation labels. This expresses one's fantasies of belonging and one's actual exclusion. It is a communion signified by what one owns, or pretends to own. It is utterly seductive. I have read that even Thai Buddhist monks are to be seen sporting habits with designer labels. This habit of mine, I hasten to add, was not designed by Armani, despite rumours to the contrary! Contrast this hamburger with a Eucharist celebrated with a Hutu and Tutsi a brother, in Burundi in the midst of the civil war. This is a meal which is sacramental but in another sense. It is a communion that is signified by the sharing of what is given not owned. It is not about joining the community of the rich and the powerful. It points to the transformation of all human relationships, the end of all domination and exclusion. It points to what we can barely imagine. Some development programmes risk being sacramental only the McDonald's sense, scattering fancy Western equipment, cars and computers and other signs of modernity. But CAFOD's stress on partnership, on the dignity and the wisdom of their partners overseas, points to the Kingdom and to the completion of God's creation of humanity. They express our belief that ultimately we are one, and these people are part of who we are called to be. In the words of Nicholas Boyle, we are now 'future citizens of the world21 Failure and rejection. One last detail: In one way the story of the man born blind tells us of success: the man recovers his sight and comes to believe in Jesus. In another way it is a story of failure. This marginalized man makes his way to the centre only to be thrown out again. ' "You were born in sin, and would you teach us?" And they cast him out' (v.34). This man prefigures the story of Christ. He is the one who says 'I am'. He is cast out by the religious authorities, and his life ends apparently in failure and death. But we believe that is not the end of the story. On the other side of defeat and failure is the resurrection. That is our hope. Faced with failure, humiliation and the scattering of the disciples, Jesus could have done all sorts of things. He could have fled; He could have tried to use force to defeat his oppressors. In Matthew's gospel he refuses to bring in the regiments of angels. Instead he hoped in the Father. Beyond defeat there would be victory, and beyond death there would be resurrection. I think that today, even more than forty years ago, we need witnesses to that hope. It is the peculiar vocation of Christian Aid agencies such as CAFOD. CAFOD is a child of the sixties. Forty years ago optimism was in the air, in the Church and in society. It was, as I said, a time of Gaudium et Spes! Forty years later the inequalities between nations and within nations have increased enormously in many parts of the world. And it is just these inequalities that fuel religious fundamentalism, and which triggered September 11th. We may stand on the brink of a war that could release a terrible religious violence all over the world. Everywhere we can see what Huntingdon has called 'the clash of civilizations', tensions running along the meeting points of different faiths. A war could ignite a terrible combustion. These tensions are fueled by the terrible despair of the poor, who see our wealth, who peep into our living rooms and our fridges, and find few signs that they can ever belong. Religious fundamentalism is fed by despair. CAFOD's projects and programmes often embody hope precisely on those fracture lines, a hope which is also often a gift of the poor. Just where faiths meet each other, you can find often CAFOD. To take just one example, there is the collaboration between CAFOD and Islamic Relief. This started in Bosnia, but Islamic relief helped to fund CAFOD's work in El Salvador, just as CAFOD helped to fund IR's projects with Chechnyan refuges. In Mindanao, in the Philippines, CAFOD is supporting collaboration with Islamic groups to build peace. So it is at these religious frontiers, which are in danger of explosion, that CAFOD plants its signs of hope. Every little victory, every little triumph for human life and dignity speaks our hope. If one has a purely mechanical view of efficacy, then there are some signs of hope, but not too many. But our trust is in the word of God that works away, bringing creation to completion. As Isaiah said, 'For as the rain and the snow come forth from heaven and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it. (55.10f). Our hope is that this word has been spoken and it will be accomplished. Just before he was executed by the Nazis, that great Lutheran theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer sent a last message to his friend, George Bell, the Anglican Bishop of Chichester: 'Tell him from me this is the end but also the beginning ≠ With him I believe in the principle of our Universal Christian brotherhood above all national interests, and that our victory is certain' 'Our Victory is certain'. Every work of CAFOD is sacramental of that victory. Every little triumph for human dignity, every small liberation of women, every time a child soldier is freed from the army, every time famine is averted, every time the voiceless find a voice, then we can hope. All these small victories express our hope that 'Our Victory is certain'. God's word has been spoken; it will be accomplished.
Share:  Bookmark and Share
Tags: None

Powered by Bondware
News Publishing Software

The browser you are using is outdated!

You may not be getting all you can out of your browsing experience
and may be open to security risks!

Consider upgrading to the latest version of your browser or choose on below: