Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, who died earlier this month at the age of 96, was noted for his visits to trouble spots in missions to bring an end to conflicts, regardless of the danger. He also quietly visited the peaceful UK in 1996 to share his expertise on global debt reduction.
He came to Swanwick in Derbyshire for the annual conference of the National Liaison Committee of Diocesan Justice and Peace Groups (now the National Justice and Peace Network). The apostolic letter on preparing for the coming Millennium, Tertio Millennio Adveniente, had appeared in November 1994 and was to about to become the basis of a three-year programme of preparation around the dioceses of England and Wales organised by those actively involved in working for Justice and Peace, led by the late Rosemary Read.
The success of that programme encouraged J&P activists to further study Catholic Social Teaching and link it to the issues they were acting on. Laudato Si' has received considerable attention in recent years, providing the themes for several annual conferences. Its vision will be further followed up at the 17-19 July 2020 national conference, '2020 Vision - Action for Life on Earth'.
Cardinal Etchegaray started his talk in the summer of 1996 by saying that he hoped UK security services had not become too alarmed by a Basque and an Irishman driving together across England. Diarmuid Martin, then a Monsignor and the secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, accompanied him to Swanwick. He is now the Archbishop of Dublin.
The Tertio Millennio Adveniente document of Pope - now Saint - John Paul II spoke of preaching "good news to the poor" and the need to emphasise the Church's "preferential option for the poor and outcast", calling upon Christians to raise their voice and propose the Jubilee as an appropriate time to give thought to substantial reduction of international debt, "if not outright cancellation". In fact, the moral case for debt reduction had already been discussed for several years in the UK, resulting in the 1995 launch of the 'Jubilee 2000' campaign which was taken up worldwide.
The Cardinal reminded us that no government can morally take on debts that require its people to become so impoverished as to lose their God-given human dignity. He also pointed out that with increased interdependence among nations, the concept of solidarity should help to transform merely economic relations into relations of justice and mutual service, no longer based upon positions of strength and vested interests. Nations with the greatest economic power must recognise a heavier responsibility and be concerned for the effects of their own policies on other countries.
Cardinal Etchegaray's words were greatly appreciated by the Justice and Peace activists at Swanwick and he gave a warm endorsement to campaigning on debt cancellation. The Jubilee Debt Campaign continues to promote these values, sadly work that is still necessary to strive for a better world! Support for these and similar efforts will be a fitting memorial to the Cardinal.
Phil Kerton, a former Chair of the National Justice and Peace Network is active with Southwark J&P and Seeking Sanctuary.
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