Speaking notes - Bishop's Centennial Dinner 2013 "The Cry of the Poor"
On November 30, 2012 the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary began its year long celebration of 100 years of existence in southern Alberta. To assist us in marking this important benchmark, we selected as our motto: "Celebrate the Past. Live the Present. Become the Future."
God has blessed us with so many gifts for 100 years.
We are grateful:
- for the faith lived today by the people of God in our families, parishes, and communities;
- for our youth for their enthusiasm and vision, their ability to take risks to improve our society.
- for aboriginal peoples with their spirituality, culture and respect for the environment.
- for immigrants and refugees who teach us to embrace ethnic diversity and the richness of humankind as one family of God.
- for the pioneers who brought a strong faith and resilience in dealing with the harsh realities of the resettlement and building communities of care and concern for all.
- for the stalwart people of strong faith who persevered during the Great Depression and the tragic wars of the 20th Century.
- for the leadership in our Church, the seven Bishops of Calgary who along with dedicated priests, religious orders of men and women who share their faith and energy in building a strong local church.
- for our Catholic schools which introduce our children to the wealth of human wisdom and at the same time to that greater wisdom from God and about God..
During the course of this year, we have sought to deepen our faith and relationship with Jesus Christ so that we can become full partners in the new evangelization.
Mindful of the words of Pope Paul VI in his On Evangelization in the Modern World, 22).
"There is no true Evangelization if the name, the teaching, the promises, the Kingdom and the Mystery of Jesus of Nazareth the Son of God are not proclaimed" We cannot proclaim Him unless we know Him. We cannot proclaim His name unless in some way we are in relationship to and with Him. We cannot bring his name to our schools, families, and institutions unless we remain in His love.
The theme of ou Centennial Dinner is "Putting Down Roots, Planting a Future" - So where do we go from here? As I pondered this question, my mind drifted back to Pope Francis and World Youth Day in Rio this past summer.
I remembered the throngs of flag-waving, chanting, cheering, singing, praying, young people extending for as far as the eye could see.
Motorcades moving slowly through a vibrating, pulsating mass of humanity while a smiling Pope gestures, waves, and dispenses blessings to left and right.
All this against one of the most breathtakingly beautiful natural backdrops in the world: the beach of Copacabana and the mountain of Corcovado.
And of course then there were the babies - babies and more babies, being kissed and cuddled and caressed by the Pope.
Then I recalled the visit to a slum and a hospital and a meeting with young prisoners and a prayer vigil and a papal pilgrimage to a Marian shrine. So many parables in action.
Then there were the words:
"Never tire of working for a more just world marked by greater solidarity! No one can remain insensitive to the inequalities that persist in the world! Everybody, according to his or her particular opportunities and responsibilities, should be able to make a personal contribution to putting an end to so many social injustices... No amount of pacification will be lasting nor will harmony and happiness be attained in a society that ignores, pushes to the margins or excludes a part of itself. A society of that kind simply impoverishes itself; it loses something essential. We must never, never allow the throwaway culture to enter our hearts! We must never allow the throwaway culture to enter our hearts because we are brothers and sisters. No one is disposable! Let us always remember this: Only when we are able to share do we become truly rich; everything that is shared is multiplied!" (Visit to the Rio Slum)
But he also said many other memorable things during his visit:
- "Promote justice and dialogue to hear the cry of the poor",
- "Serve the community and a culture of encounter",
- "Christ shares the crosses we carry in our lives",
- "Is ours a Church that can still warm hearts?",
- "Grandparents are important: the aged and the young build the future together",
- "Faith isn't a fruit-salad: don't water it down",
- "The Church is close to those suffering from addictions",
- "Christian hope means being surprised by God",
- "We cannot be part of a throwaway culture",
- "Ours is a revolutionary Faith",
- "Those who don't go to Church are the VIP's invited to the Lord's table",
- "We must learn how to embrace those in need",
- "Jesus asks us to play on his team"...
I think that he established the immediate template for all of us - "Promote justice and dialogue to hear the cry of the poor"
It seems that much of the new religious energy in the world is reacting against the dark or negative side of globalization which is reserving its best gifts for small privileged elites and presently excluding billions of people by its Security Deficit wherein we see whole countries collapsing into chaos; by its Social Deficit which continues to widen the gap between the rich and poor in every country; by its Ecological Deficit which stubbornly refuses to accept the limits of nature; and by its Democratic Deficit that excludes most people from being effectively represented and participating in the decisions of the vast new powerful international agencies such as WTO, IMF and World Bank, which are dominated by a few rich nations.
Practical and Pastoral Observations:"Promote justice and dialogue to hear the cry of the poor"
1.) The poor around us are often invisible.
They aren't in our "networks" - they aren't at the same gatherings, don't belong to councils or committees, aren't on invitation lists, don't always go to church (and if they do they try hard not to look poor), don't bump into us at the mall or supermarket, don't get parish bulletins, don't see or respond to flyers.
To find the poor you have to go out of your way. You must look with different eyes, for the poor feel that we do not want them in those parts of our lives. So they disguise themselves or absent themselves. It takes initiative and creativity to reach the poor
2.) The biggest problem is the "undeserving poor"
Place a child before us with a hungry face and ragged clothes, and we jump at the chance to help.
Children haven't done anything to makes themselves undeserving. They haven't made bad choices that landed them in this mess. They haven't failed to lift a finger to help themselves, because children can't help themselves anyway. They really can't help it if they are poor.
Poor children don't make it hard to help the poor. Poor adults who have had bad luck don't make it hard to help the poor.
The problem is the undeserving poor. They are the ones who made the bad choices or failed to make any choice at all. They are the ones who have been there before, and it didn't help. They are the ones who expect us to bail them out and who hardly say thank you when we do. They are the ones who take advantage of the system, of other people.
Help them anyway. If you start to distinguish between the deserving and the undeserving poor, you are finished.
We should always try to help the poor help themselves out of their poverty. But be careful about meting out your help too carefully. Jesus was criticized for his largesse, his reckless mercy towards undeserving sinners. The memory of Jesus helps us deal with the undeserving poor.
The undeserving poor remind us that something deeper needs to change - whatever it is that makes them feel so hopeless and helpless. In the meantime, help them. Do not be judgmental or overly careful.
If you are going to err, err on the side of largesse.
3.) If you try to help the poor, you will sometimes get taken.
Every parish minister can tell you stories of people who have come with a sad tale. You check it out very carefully, give them money and later find out that they did the same thing at three or four neighbouring parishes.
Helping the poor has its risks. You will sometimes get taken. The same is true for forgiveness. If you try to forgive 70 x 7, you will get stepped on. It's a darn shame. Be generous anyway. Don't be foolish, but don't overdo the safety rules. It's like playing racquetball. You're going to get hit with the ball now and then, and it hurts. You can wear safety goggles and learn how to step out of the way of certain shots, but you are still going to get hit every now and then. The only way to avoid it is to stand in the corner. Learn to write off your losses.
4.) Helping the poor is not always a pleasant experience.
It's no picnic helping the poor. There is often no feeling of fulfilment. It's work, like a lot of virtue is work, like taking care of an elderly parent is work.
The poor are just like us. They are mixtures of virtues and vices. Like us, they are not always grateful. Like us, they don't always trust. Like us, they don't always respond. Like us they are both generous and greedy. Like us, they are sometimes wonderful and sometimes awful. Whatever happened to the noble poor? Some are out there, but mostly they are in Charles Dickens.
5.) Food baskets at thanksgiving and Christmas are good as far as they go, but they don't go very far.
People easily talk about direct help to the poor on special occasions - clothes, food , money. Those fine things shouldn't be taken lightly. But that is the easy part. The hard part is trying to do something about the poor's state in life. Where do you begin? What do you do? It's hard when you deal with causes.
6.) Sometimes the poor are overwhelmed into inaction.
People who deal with the poor can tell a hundred stories about how they waste money and opportunities. You bring food to their homes and notice a large-screen TV. You give them money and they buy groceries at the nearby convenience store where prices are much higher and send their children to the mall to have a good time. You arrange to have their car fixed and discover that it's a Buick LeSabre. Whenever you visit, they are watching TV.
Why? Let's try to put ourselves in their shoes.
You are thinking about cleaning the garage or your basement. Actually you've been thinking about it for since last winter when you were trying to find room in the garage for the snow blower.
It's a hopeless mess, but today is the day you are going to tackle it. Getting started is the problem. Because with a mess like this there is no logical place to begin.
So you decide to have a beer first and watch a couple of inning of the ball game.
Hold that thought. Right there, in that moment, you are in their shoes. You may spend only half an hour watching the game, and you will eventually get around to your task, but in those 30 minutes of doing nothing you know exactly how they feel all day, every day. At least with cleaning the garage there is an end in sight. But for the poor the task seems to have no beginning and no ending. They can't get enough together even to get started - a down payment, transportation, protection from an abusive husband, and education.
Their life is like that all the time. It's too big a mess even to know where to begin. So they try to forget it by enjoying some "luxuries," a smoke, a beer and watching TV.
Don't judge laziness to quickly.
"Promote justice and dialogue to hear the cry of the poor"
Each of us has to ask what does that mean for me.
Pope Francis offers this image of the Church.
I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds.... And you have to start from the ground up.
The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all.
Conclusion - story about justice and dialogue:
A big city lawyer went duck hunting in rural Saskatchewan. He shot and dropped a bird, but it fell into a farmer's field on the other side of a fence.
As the lawyer climbed over the fence, an elderly farmer drove up on his tractor and asked him what he was doing.
The litigator responded, 'I shot a duck and it fell in this field, and now I'm going to retrieve it.'
The old farmer replied, 'This is my property, and you are not coming over here.'
The indignant lawyer said, 'I am one of the best trial attorneys in the world and, if you don't let me get that duck, I'll sue you and take everything you own.'
The old farmer smiled and said, 'Apparently, you don't know how we settle disputes in Saskatchewan. We settle small disagreements with the 'Three Kick Rule'.'
The lawyer asked, 'What is the 'Three Kick Rule'?'
The farmer replied, 'Well, because the dispute occurs On my land, I get to go first. I kick you three times and then you kick me three times and so on, back and forth until someone gives up.'
The attorney quickly thought about the proposed contest and decided that he could easily take the old codger. He agreed to abide by the local custom.
The old farmer slowly climbed down from the tractor And walked up to the attorney.
His first kick planted the toe of his heavy steel toed work boot into the lawyer's groin and dropped him to his knees.
His second kick to the midriff sent the lawyer's last meal gushing from his mouth.
The lawyer was on all fours when the farmer's third kick to his rear end, sent him face-first into a fresh cow pie.
The lawyer summoned every bit of his will and managed to get to his feet.
Wiping his face with the arm of his jacket, he said, 'Okay, you old fart. Now it's my turn.'
The old farmer smiled and said, 'Nah, .I give up. You can have the duck.'
"Promote justice and dialogue to hear the cry of the poor"
☩ Frederick Henry
The purpose of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is to tell Canadians the story of the policy of the Government of Canada regarding "Indian Residential Schools" and the impact it had on Aboriginal children and their families. The following story is an addendum concerning Government policy and will not be told at any TRC hearing.
Chapter I - Historical Background and Legal Action Taken:
In 1999, 183 legal actions were commenced by former students of residential schools in southern Alberta against the Government of Canada. The Diocese of Calgary was named co-defendant in 56 of those actions. The Government of Canada, however, chose to Third Party the Diocese in all 183 actions regardless of whether the Diocese was sued by former students.
By 2003 all students had discontinued against the Diocese. Nevertheless, the Government of Canada continued prosecuting the claims.
Finally in March of 2007 all claims against the Diocese were dismissed by Order of Justice McMahon. The Diocese applied for costs that normally follow a successful defence.
In January 2009 Justice McMahon denied the Diocese's application for costs and made a number of serious factual errors on the record. Instructions were given to our lawyers to file an appeal. Strange as it may seem, the practice-unique to Alberta-is to seek leave to appeal from the same Judge who heard the application for costs. Justice McMahon denied leave to appeal.
Nevertheless, the Diocese appealed to the Alberta Court of Appeal. In January 2010 the Government of Canada made an application to have our appeal summarily dismissed on the basis that the decision of Justice McMahon was final.
A panel of the Court of Appeal (Justices Conrad, Rowbotham, and Martin), dismissed the Government of Canada's application and ruled that there were serious matters to be tried. A different panel heard the appeal on June 3, 2010. It ruled it did not have jurisdiction unless the Diocese could meet the high threshold of proving bias on the part of Justice McMahon. It also ruled that there was nothing inherently prejudicial in Justice McMahon denying leave from his own decision.
The Diocese then filed a Leave Application to the Supreme Court of Canada. The Supreme Court dismissed the leave to appeal on December 23, 2010. Their dismissal in effect closed any legal course of action.
Chapter II - Natural Justice and Political Action:
The Government of Canada was respectfully asked to do two things. First of all, it was requested to address its unwarranted third partying of the Diocese, at considerable cost to the Diocese, when there was no factual basis for doing so after 2003, and reimburse the Diocese for the unjust costs incurred.
Secondly, the Government of Canada and the Attorney General of the Province of Alberta were asked to address the strange anomaly re the Alberta Court of Appeal, i.e., the requirement of applicants to bring applications for leave before the same justice who made the original Order as this constituted a breach of the Charter and is a denial of fundamental justice.
The Prime Minister referred the matter to the Minister of Aboriginal and Northern Development, and the Minister of Justice and Deputy Attorney General of Canada, both of whom simply stated that the government considered Justice McMahon's judgment final. No response has been received re the second request.
A subsequent letter was sent to the Prime Minister, citing pre-election campaign promises of new administrations marked by transparency, ethics and accountability, asking to have someone, somewhere in his government, answer the following three simple questions re residential schools litigation.
- Why was the Diocese Third Partied in the first place?
- Why was the Diocese Third Partied in the extra 127 cases? (By 2003 all students had discontinued against the Diocese. Nevertheless, the Government of Canada continued prosecuting the claims.)
- Why were the Third Party Actions against the Diocee not also dropped by the Government in 2003? (Finally in March of 2007 all claims were dismissed against the Diocese by Order of Justice McMahon.)
Neither Prime Minister Harper, or the Minister of Aboriginal and Northern Development, or the Minister of Justice and Deputy Attorney General of Canada have seriously attempted to answer any of the three questions in a straight forward, honest manner. Instead, obfuscation and avoidance seem to be the order of the day. The three questions remain unanswered.
Chapter III - Action of the Information Commissioner of Canada:
An application was made through the Access to Information and Privacy Directorate for the actual records pertaining to the Government's Third Partying of the Diocese of Calgary from 1999 to the present.
A release package CD, containing 463 pages, was received but 90% of the documents were blocked out due to section - "23. The head of a government institution may refuse to disclose any record request under this Act that contains information that is subject to solicitor-client privilege."
A subsequent letter was sent to the Information Commissioner, alleging that this was not only a misuse of solicitor-client privilege, but constituted a grave injustice, reflected a totalitarian approach to governing, dismissed a legitimate attempt to know the facts and/or reasons behind government's decisions and policies that affect thousands of people.
On August 23, 2013 the Diocese was informed that the complaint has not been assigned to an investigator. So much for accountability to the people.
☩ Frederick Henry