The Year of Faith, declared by Pope Benedict is a "summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the One Savior of the world" (Porta fidei 6). Throughout the Year of Faith, Catholics are being urged to study and reflect on the documents of Vatican II and the Catechism of the Catholic Church so that they may deepen their knowledge of the faith.
One of the great documents of Vatican II was the 1965 Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. "The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts."(GS 1)
As the Constitution unfolds, the Council Fathers go on to point out that: "Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies indeed. They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who practise them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator" (GS27)
Following the Council, and responding to Pope Paul VI's encyclical letter Populorum Progressio, the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace was established in 1967 by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. Development is the new word for Peace. It must be built daily, and it must strive towards a more perfect justice among human beings.
Extreme poverty is an enemy of authentic human development. Pope Benedict has pointed out: "The risk for our time is that the de facto interdependence of people and nations is not matched by ethical interaction of consciences and minds that would give rise to truly human development." (Caritas in Veritate 9)
It was regrettable, but not particularly surprising, that last month Don Cherry, of CBC Coach's Corner would twitter: "Maybe its just me. But Canada gave Haiti 49.5 million dollars last year. Are we nuts?'" Even International Cooperation Minister Julian Fantino mused about freezing aid to Haiti. But subsequently, he had to clarify his remarks: "While the results of specific projects have largely met expectations, progress towards a self-sustaining Haitian society has been limited.... However, we remain concerned with the slow progress of development in Haiti, in large part due to weakness in their governing institutions."
Despite the prophets of gloom and doom, things have changed in Haiti, especially in Port-au-Prince, even if it is as simple as the absence in the streets of the tons of rubble and debris left behind by the earthquake. Nevertheless, many people are still living in tents in appalling poverty and very precarious conditions.
Furthermore, many international organizations that went to Haiti with large sums have already left. They were mainly present during the emergency phase, but some have been absent during the reconstruction phase.
Nevertheless, it is enlightening to juxtapose certain texts from Pope Benedict's Caritas in Veritate with the interview answers assessing the situation given by Jean-Claude Jean, manager of the Development and Peace office in Haiti. (The interview is posted on the CCODP web site).
Pope Benedict - "Feeding the hungry is an ethical imperative ... and a requirement for safeguarding the peace and stability of the planet." (CV27) And that doesn't just mean food aid-but also a long-term perspective for dealing with food security, "respectful of the environment and attentive to the needs of the most deprived peoples."(CV26).
Jean Claude Jean - Haiti is a poor country and we think it is important to support the most vulnerable with initiatives aimed at promoting food sovereignty. For example, we are working in partnership with the Papaye Peasants' Movement, one of our partners for more than 25 years, on farming techniques, diversifying crops for consumption and sale, and the distribution of ingredients, such as fertilizers, to improve the productivity of the soil.
Pope Benedict - "I would like to remind everyone, especially governments...., that the primary captial to be safeguarded and valued is man, the human person in his or her integrity. The human person is the source, the focus and the aim of alle economic and social life." (25)
Jean Claude Jean - We are emphasizing justice and human rights during this reconstruction phase, because to strengthen these would constitute a fundamental change for Haitian democracy..... The reconstruction projects were designed based on the model of housing cooperatives found in Montreal, which enables families to manage their own environment. The idea is to build permanent homes in the Gressier area (a commune neighboring L'ogane that was at the earthquake's epicentre) and especially in places where families lived before the earthquake, so as not to uproot them in artificial villages ....The projects have been planned by local organizations directly representing the people. Moreover, the people involved do not want to be called "beneficiaries" of this project, but rather "partners!".... We apply Canadian building codes and, in particular, earthquake-resistant regulations because there are no public standards imposed by the Haitian government.
People tend to say that there is no hope in Haiti, that everyone is discouraged, but when you consider the will of the Haitian people and some of the reconstruction results and long term perspective of CCODP, there is ample reason for hope.
☩ Frederick Henry