Bishop's Blog

Horn of Africa

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Catholics in the Horn of Africa recently appealed to the Catholic Church in Canada to offer whatever assistance it can to alleviate the suffering caused by famine and war in that part of the world.

Between 16 and 20 million people are now threatened with famine. Ethiopia is expected to bear the brunt of the problem; as many as 8 million people there could be affected. Some regions have not had rain for three years. Two million people are also threatened in Somalia, Djibouti, and Eritrea, as well as 6 million in Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda. Another 2.5 million refugees in these countries need assistance for their most basic needs.

The victims are mostly women and children. Often, when a drought begins, the men travel to urban areas in search of work and leave the women and children behind. When the women run out of food or water, they are forced to walk kilometres in search of humanitarian aid. Many families have sold whatever livestock they had left and have been reduced to eating the seeds that should be used for the next harvest. Many children are beginning to die from illnesses such as measles, diarrhoea, and pneumonia.

The Horn of Africa is among the poorest regions in the world, yet the countries there are also burdened with external debt. Ethiopia, for example, faces an external debt of more than $10 billion, equivalent to 131% of its GNP. Ethiopia spends twice as much on servicing its debt as on primary education.

Although the drought is the main reason for the food shortages, armed conflicts have also worsened the situation. 58,000 Eritreans have been forced to seek refuge in Sudan. It is estimated that there are 750,000 homeless in Eritrea. The vast majority again are women, children and the elderly. The 15-year-old civil in Sudan has created another 375,000 refugees, and approximately 4 million homeless in Sudan.

One sign of God's mercy which is especially need today is the sign of charity which opens our eyes to the needs of those who are poor and excluded. There is a tremendous need for international solidarity and cooperation to come to the assistance of our suffering brothers and sisters living in the shadow of death. I want to make a special appeal to all of you to help and have authorized that a special collection be taken up in our parishes to assist in this relief emergency effort.

Our efforts in Canada are being co-ordinated by the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace which has already forwarded more than $150,000. to the Horn of Africa. Much more needs to be done. I hope that you will respond financially and by lobbying the Canadian government to do whatever it can to facilitate the peace process among the warring factions in the Horn of Africa.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

Related Offices Social Justice Bishop's
Related Themes Social Justice Giving

Eulogies in Christian Funerals

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Watching Pierre Elliott Trudeau's funeral on television brought tears to my eyes, especially as I watched and listened to Justin Trudeau's eulogy to his father: "... We have gathered from coast to coast to coast, from one ocean to the other, united in our grief, to say goodbye. But this is not the end. He left politics in '84. But he came back for Meech. He came back for Charlottetown. He came back to remind us of who we are and what we're all capable of. But he won't be coming back any more. It's all up to us, all of us, now. The woods are lovely, dark and deep. He has kept his promises and earned his sleep. Je t'aime, Papa!" This was rivetting and heart-wrenching drama: "Je t'aime, Papa!"

It was good television. Some would even say good politics.

Nevertheless, it was also bad liturgy. The funeral liturgy is an act of praise and thanksgiving for Christ's victory over sin and death, a proclamation of the paschal mystery. This act of worship belongs to the whole community, to the whole church, and not to any individual or group. Any elements that do not give expression to this act of worship do not have a place.

In the funeral mass, the person who has died is named at the very beginning of the rite when the body is being received at the entrance to the church. We sprinkle holy water on the coffin and place a pall, reminiscent of the white garment used at baptism, over the coffin. In this instance the Canadian flag was draped the coffin as a symbol of the Prime Minister's service to his country. However, the baptism of a person is still the most basic identity, and symbols reminding the community of the person's baptism should not be displaced by other symbols.

The flag could have draped the coffin during the transportation to and from the church, but it should have been removed and folded with appropriate ceremony and respect just before the pall is to be placed on the coffin during the welcoming of the body.

The paschal candle is given high prominence, ideally in the procession where the coffin and mourners are received and welcomed into the midst of the assembly. In point of fact, the introductory rites are to recapitulate what transpired at the baptism of the deceased.

In every celebration for the dead, the Church attaches great importance to the reading of the Word of God. The biblical texts proclaim the story of God's love and fidelity, reminding us of God's design for the world in which suffering and death will relinquish their hold on all whom God has called his own. A careful selection and use of readings from Scripture provides the family and the community with an opportunity to hear God speak to them in their needs, sorrows, fears and hopes.

The homily should have a narrative style. At a funeral, there is storytelling to be done - a real person's story - not on its own, but in relation to God. The norm is clearly spelled out in the introduction to the Order of Christian Funerals. "A brief homily based on the readings is always given after the gospel reading at the funeral liturgy and may also be given after the readings of the vigil service; but there is never a eulogy. Attentive to the grief of those present, the homilist should also help the members of the assembly to understand the mystery of God's love and the mystery of Jesus' victorious death and resurrection were present in the life and death of the deceased and that these mysteries are active in their lives as well. Through the homily, members of the family and community should receive consolation and strength to face the death of one of their members with a hope nourished by the saving word of God." (27)

A eulogy is a certain kind of rhetoric or public speaking, focussed on the deceased person, with the intention of praising him or her. In this set oration there may be an implication that the praise is exaggerated or even untrue.

A homily, on the other hand, is to be a discourse within the context of a worship service which invites the assembly to consider and interpret its life and experience in light of a biblical text or texts which have been proclaimed.

What is at issue in the question of preaching at a funeral is clearly not that any mention of the person who has died or of the person's attributes and accomplishments be avoided by the homilist. Rather, it is that such references be consistent with the spirit of the liturgy and find a proper context within the homily.

At the funeral of a Christian, the homily should be genuinely Eucharistic, a statement of praise and thanks to God. It should invite the person's family and friends to simultaneously hold on the values and lessons of this person's life, entrust the person's final destiny into the hands of God, and remember the shortness and fragility of human life and of God's invitation in Christ to live every moment fully and abundantly. Fr. Dubac's homily touched on all these items.

However, Justin's wonderful tribute to his father and the other two eulogies should have been given in another context. The Order of Christian Funerals suggests the vigil of the deceased... "After the prayer of intercession and before the blessing or at some other suitable time during the vigil, a member of the family or a friend of the deceased may speak in remembrance of the deceased."

Another possibility would be at the grave-site or the funeral reception after the interment. These alternatives also preclude funerals from becoming media and\or political events, not necessarily a bad thing!

Sincerely yours in Christ,

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

Related Offices Bishop's Office of Liturgy
Related Themes Liturgy Diocesan Guidelines Funeral

Jubilee Debt

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

In his letter on the Great Jubilee (The Coming of the Third Millennium), Pope John Paul II has called for the millennium to be associated with the biblical concept of Jubilee, whereby every seven years, and especially every 50 years, people are freed from the burdens and injustices that have been built up over the past (Lev.25:10). In a recent presentation on the Great Jubilee, I mentioned that the Pope had suggested that the Jubilee was an appropriate time to give thought to reducing substantially, if not cancelling outright, the international debt which seriously threatens the future of many nations (51).

After my presentation was over, one of the priests promptly asked: "As part of our Jubilee celebrations, are you prepared to cancel outright the outstanding debts of the parishes to the diocese?" Crushing his nascent hopes, I responded in the negative and pointed out that the Jubilee does not concern all debt but only the debt which would not be repaid anyway and it does not apply to all countries in the world but only the poorest.

In any event, the Holy Father's prophetic suggestion challenged me to do a bit of research on the subject of international debt and I would like to share some results with you. The modern debt crisis goes back to the double hike in oil prices in the 1970s. Vast surpluses of money had to be dispensed to many countries in the form of loans if an international financial crisis was to be averted. Countries which could ill afford to do so borrowed on a huge scale.

This massive lending was followed in the 1980s by an unprecedented rise in interest rates, which significantly shot the cost of loans up just when the poor countries found their capacity to raise the revenues (in dollars) needed to pay off the loans severely undermined. They earned dollars by the export of basic commodities such as coffee, copper and sugar, but prices for these fell dramatically in the 1980s. Meanwhile the money that should have been spent on improving the conditions of the poor was too often spent on prestige projects, or found its way into the pockets of corrupt regimes and military juntas.

But debts have to be serviced, interest has to be paid. To ensure that this could be done, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, together with the treasuries of the advanced industrialized countries imposed financial conditions to ensure steady repayment. Unfortunately, as always, those who could least stand up for themselves were the hardest hit. It was the poor who lost out on basic health care, education, unemployment and trade.

In Zimbabwe spending per head on health care has fallen by a third since 1990 when a Structural Adjustment Programme was introduced. In Tanzania charges have been introduced for health care, leaving the poor unable to afford it. Diseases thought to be eradicated - tuberculosis, yaws, yellow fever - are making a comeback in some countries as treatment and vaccination coverage declines.

In sub-Saharan Africa the damage to education has been particularly significant: the percentage of 6-11 year olds enrolled in school has fallen from nearly 60% in 1980 to less than 50% in 1990. Money which should have been spent on these things went, and has continued to go ever since on servicing vast debts. As Julius Nyerere, former President of Tanzania asked, "Must we starve our children to pay our debts?" In 1994, the countries of sub-Saharan Africa spent 11.2 billion servicing their debts and received only $10.7 billion in foreign aid. Humanitarian efforts to assist countries are being undermined by obligations to pay multilateral banks first.

The International Monetary Fund encouraged Mexico to replace its vital food crops (e.g. maize) with cash crops - like strawberries and exotic fruits. The IMF also made sure that any trade protection for the country's agricultural goods was lifted. So Mexico's export crops now compete with those from the USA, which, as in many northern countries, are highly subsidised and protected, using all available techniques to improve their quality. Mexico now has to import 20% of its maize from the USA, almost 20% of Mexicans have no cash income, and more than 30% make less than the minimum wage of $3 a day.

Most people would agree in principle that debt should be repaid. But all civilized societies recognize that businesses and individuals go bankrupt, and that the daily lives of people caught up in such failure should not suffer. Bankruptcy is a painful process but it is also a release whereby debts are written off with a fairly short length of time and a new unencumbered life becomes possible. Why not adopt a similar response in dealing with desperately poor countries?

At a meeting of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in 1996 the Highly Indebted Poor Country initiative (HIPC) was launched, to deal in a comprehensive way with all the debts of the poorest countries. Unfortunately, only those countries that are "highly impoverished, highly indebted and performing well(italics added)" will benefit. Under the HIPC initiative, structural adjustment programmes can be imposed for up to six years or longer. Delays of this kind simply mean more debt piling up. There is also a reluctance of countries to come up with the money to finance HIPC. Italy, Japan and Germany are at best sceptical and at worst hostile.

The HIPC initiative, though welcome, provides too little too late as it stands. There must be political will to reduce the debt at a much faster rate with conditions that do not impinge so heavily upon the poorest of the poor. Debt relief is not in itself such an expensive business. The total cost of funding debt relief for 19 countries over more than a decade would be about $7.4 billion, roughly the cost of the Euro-Disney theme park in Paris, and less than the cost of one Stealth bomber.

The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace and other religious organizations around the world are calling for debt cancellation as the most important moral imperative of our time.

Accordingly, Development and Peace's Fall Education and Action Campaign invites people to sign the Call for Jubilee petition. Those who do so will be adding their name along with millions of others throughout the world to the call for freedom from debt slavery. Such a united effort will send the strongest message to the leaders of the lending nations to take action on the occasion of the 1999 G-8 Summit in Germany.

Wishing you all the best, I remain,

Sincerely yours in Christ,

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

Related Offices Bishop's
Related Themes Social Justice
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