Catholic Diocese of Calgary

Homily: Closing Mass at Catholic Conference 2002

A man who is deeply depressed about the state of the world decides that he needs some comfort food. He goes to a restaurant and tearfully asks the waiter to bring him some fish like his mother used to make, and also to favour him with a kind word.

The waiter goes away, brings back the fish, and is about to leave the table when the diner grabs him by the arm, and begs: “and what about a kind word?”

The waiter regards him impassively and then whispers in his ear: “If I were you, I wouldn’t touch that fish!”

And even if the meal is tasty, politics and prejudice can spoil the food.

A Jewish gentleman walks into a restaurant and see an Asian gentleman contentedly eating chicken soup with dumplings. He falls into a rage, rushes over, and hits him with a pickled cucumber. “That’s for Pearl Harbor!” he shouts.

“But I’m Chinese, not Japanese,” says the other indignantly.

“Chinese, Japanese, Siamese - it’s all the same to me,” responds the Jewish fellow as he marches back to his table.

Later as he is contentedly leaving the restaurant after the meal, the Chinese fellow runs after him and hits him with a salami. “That’s for the Titanic!” he shouts.

“But the Titanic was wrecked by an iceberg”, the Jewish fellow shouts back indignantly.

“Iceberg, Greenberg, Goldberg, Rosenberg ...” says the Chinese fellow, “It’s all the same to me.

What can you do in this unholy mess? Begin to build a new world order!

There is an old scholastic idea that if you want to define something, you describe it narrowly at first and then expand the description in a disciplined way. I take my narrow definition of globalization - very narrow - from the International Monetary Fund, which sees it as the growing economic interdependence of countries worldwide, caused by the increasing volume and variety of cross-border transactions in goods and services and of international capital, and the rapid and widespread diffusion of technology. This economic definition gives us a sense of the material meaning of globalization, but we have to add a political and cultural understanding, and ultimately a spiritual understanding.

This is not the first time that we have been in a period of intensive integration of global economies. Between 1870 and 1914 there was unprecedented integration in trade relationships. Yet there is something new in the scope, complexity and reach of globalization today.

Some argue that globalization is inevitably harmful to the world’s poor. Others question not the process itself but its procedures and outcomes. Their question is: how can we make globalization work for the world’s poor? The answer is that we must start to provide an ethical structure and framework for it.

Globalization has its own logic, but not its own ethic. Both technology and globalization press to cross the next stream, to climb the next mountain, to conquer the next field. But this is not like a force of nature that cannot be moved, shaped and developed. How we shape it and who will direct the shaping of it is the ethical key.

We have done this before; we have confronted phenomena which had their own logic but not their own ethic. Think, for example, that since the fourth century there has been a recognition that in this world of ours, fallen and not yet fully redeemed, force would be used, and therefore an ethical framework had to be set around it. Just war theory - to give direction, provide limits and set mandates.

The Christian church has the capacity to make a special contribution to the globalization debate. But for a long time people have thought it unnecessary to understand religion in order to understand world affairs. Philosophers and statesmen who designed the origins of the modern state system in the seventeenth century were looking back on 100 years of religious war in Europe. They believed that the best thing to do was to take religion out of politics entirely.

I don’t know of a single major text book on international relations or world politics that treats religion seriously. Practical politicians, too, assume that they need no acquaintance with religion. Yet Latin America today cannot possibly be understood without consideration for the Catholic Church’s role, any more than the transition to democracy in South Africa can be understood without Bishop Tutu or the collapse of Communism in Central and Eastern Europe without reference to the election of a Polish Pope.

In this globalized interdependent world, one of the most important roles has been that of transnational organizations based in one place, yet present in several places, and possessing a trained corps of personnel, a single guiding philosophy and a sophisticated communications system. These transnational actors have begun to exercise influence in the world similar to that of states in the past.

All the major religious traditions have this transnational capacity. Since the attacks on the United States on 11 September, we have seen how the idea of the Islamic nation cuts across state boundaries. This is a phenomenon world diplomats need to understand, whether they like it or not.

The Catholic Church, which is not new to the world stage, illustrates this intersection of ideas, institutions and community in a powerful way. As we begin the twenty-first century, the social awareness and social fabric of Catholicism have been strengthened and deepened. There were three steps in the process:

  • the updating of the social teaching itself,
  • the catalyst of the Second Vatican Council,
  • and the pontificate of John Paul II.

The social teaching of the Church had to respond to three separate developments in the twentieth century: the industrial revolution, the internationalization of the world that followed the Second World War, and the rise of advanced industrial societies in nations such as Britain and the United States. Each stage of development posed a major question for Catholic social teaching: what are the moral consequences of the industrial revolution - who needs to be protected, what needs to be reshaped; what does it mean when you move from a vision of society that is primarily about your own state to the international system which emerged after the Second World War; and what of advanced industrial societies, from which come the ideas and the institutions that shape globalization?

The core concept developed by Catholic social teaching in response to these challenges was the dignity of the person. The human person must always be an end and not a means, a subject and not an object or a commodity of trade. Here is the cornerstone of the Catholic social vision, reaffirmed recently by the Pope in an address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

“We are seeing the emergence of patterns of ethical thinking which are by-products of globalization itself and which bear the stamp of utilitarianism. But ethical values cannot be dictated by technological innovations, engineering or efficiency; they are ground in the very nature of the human person. Ethics cannot be the justification or legitimation of a system, but rather the safeguard of all that is human in any system. Ethics demands that systems be attuned to the needs of persons, and not that persons be sacrificed for the sake of the system.”

No political system or economic system, whether national or international, is self-justified: all social systems must be tested by what they do to and for the dignity of the person.

The notion of personal human dignity is then matched with the concept of universal human community. Catholics recognize regions; they recognize nation states with their boundaries and borders; they recognize structures that exist across the world. But the fundamental moral unit they must be concerned about is the human being in community.

Between the person and the community lies the fabric of rights and duties. The Church measures and directs that fabric by a series of refined specific concepts: the common good; the option for the poor; subsidiarity and solidarity, which the Pope has called the necessary virtue for an interdependent world.

A powerful impetus was applied to the legacy of social teaching by the Second Vatican Council. Its document on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, entrusted to the Church the task of standing as the sign and safeguard of the transcendent dignity of the human person. So whatever threatens that dignity becomes the business of the Church. If globalization, while it is neither good nor bad in itself, has a dynamic that threatens human dignity, this needs to be address by the Church.

As a result of the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church became less political and more social: less political in the sense that the document on religious liberty cut the Church free from many relationships with states that had kept it in thrall to state power; more social in that the Church, free politically, could now be more deeply involved in the social arena.

There is a wonderful phrase in Gaudium et Spes which says that the way the Church can show its love for the world is by its willingness to dialogue with the world. Dialogue means not thinking one knows everything. The Church has something to teach and much to learn. That is a good posture to approach something as complex as globalization.

The Second Vatican Council also gave a new impetus to the local Church as a legitimate voice in the universal Church. The council saw the local Church as a source of moral wisdom and insight derived from living in the world and speaking about its condition. That validation of the local Church will be crucially important in the globalization discussion, for it allows Catholicism to take account of particular contexts. Globalization looks different when it is viewed from New York City, Sao Paulo, Lusaka. Warsaw, Manila and Jerusalem.

Finally, there is the work of John Paul II, who has deepened and broadened social teaching, giving it more a fabric and greater sophistication. The term “solidarity: was in the Church’s social teaching long before John Paul II took the seat of Peter, but solidarity means much more in Catholicism today because of the living witness of the Pope.”

This, then, is where Catholicism prepares itself to engage globalization. But an ethic is not enough.

Novo Millennio Ineunte # 43.

..... Before making practical plans, we need to promote a spirituality of communion,...

A spirituality of communion indicates above all the heart’s contemplation of the mystery of the Trinity dwelling in us, and whose light we must also be able to see shining on the face of the brothers and sisters around us.

A spirituality of communion also means an ability to think of our brothers and sisters in faith within the profound unity of the Mystical Body, and therefore as “those who are a part of me”. This makes us able to share their joys and sufferings, to sense their desires and attend to their needs, to offer them deep and genuine friendship.

A spirituality of communion implies also the ability to see what is positive in others, to welcome it and prize it as a gift from God: not only as a gift for the brother or sister who has received it directly, but also as a “gift for me”.

A spirituality of communion means, finally, to know how to “make room” for our brothers and sisters, bearing “each other’s burdens” (Gal 6:2) and resisting the selfish temptations which constantly beset us and provoke competition, careerism, distrust and jealousy.

Let us have no illusions: unless we follow this spiritual path, external structures of communion will serve very little purpose. They would become mechanisms without a soul, “masks” of communion rather than its means of expression and growth.

Globalization also has to be addressed from within institutional structures that have some of the strength of globalization itself.

One of the characteristics of the Church, as I have just shown, is to be as transnational as globalization, while at the same time being integrated along a vertical line that runs from Rome down through the local Church to the communities at the base. So the Church can speak about the system as a whole (best embodied in the Pope); about national policy in different places (bishops’ conferences); and about local life where people live their faith (parishes and other organized groups). This vertical integration, which is systemic, national and local, has precisely the multi-dimensional aspect necessary to address globalization.

Globalization presents today a similar challenge to Catholic social teaching as industrialization at the end of the nineteenth century. There had been social teaching before Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum, but industrialization demonstrated to the Church that it had to be much more systematic, rigorous and expansive. Catholic teaching in the twentieth century has gown and developed: Thomas Aquinas talked about the common good, but he never talked about the international common good; Catholic social teaching today talks about the international common good. Aquinas talked about legal justice; today, the Church talks of social justice.

So it is that as Catholics confront globalization, they will need to develop their teaching. The Church does not have the concepts to handle all the issues that the phenomenon raises. The question, for example, of what to do about global financial markets -whether to regulate them or not, whether or not to tax the flow of money - is highly debated among economists. There is no encyclical in the Catholic tradition which can tell anyone what to do on this; we need to develop adequate concepts.

The debate about building a new world order will turn on trade, third world debt and terrorism. These core issues take on different dimensions in the context of globalization.

I. Trade

Trade was described by Pope Paul VI as the issue of social justice. The trade contract, he said, was like the wage contract: if it starts with equality, it can end up with equal distribution or at least proportionate distribution; but if it starts with structural inequality, then adjustments have to be made in the structure of trade relationships.

Today the trading system is immensely more complicated than when Paul VI faced it in 1967, but his moral principle is still the same. It is the task of the Church to take that moral principle, expand it and develop it.

The market, of course, is crucial to globalization. It is a valuable way of organizing economic life but it is not a self-sufficient way; the market may produce efficiency, but it will not necessarily produce justice. Those who have no resources to bring to the market simply cannot gain anything from it. And the market itself does not know how to value all goods. It treats them equally, but they are not equal. Health care is not the same as selling cars. And precisely because the market is limited, it needs a social structure of policy surrounding it. This is our framework for globalization.

The provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into force in 1994.

A report written in 2001 by economic analysts from the United States, Mexico and Canada concludes that: “an evaluation of the North American Free Trade Agreement on its seventh anniversary finds a continent-wide pattern of stagnant worker incomes, lost job opportunities, increased insecurity, and rising inequality.” (NAFTA at Seven: Its Impact on Workers in All Three Nations, Robert E. Scott, Carlos Salas and Bruce Campbell, Economic Policy Institute, Washington, D.C. April 2001).

The authors acknowledge that trade and investment among the three countries has increased greatly during the past seven years, and there has been a period of economic growth. But all three countries have also experienced an increasing gap between rich and poor in their societies.

In Canada, the top 20 percent of families saw their share of pre-tax and transfer incomes increase from 41.9 % to 45.2% by 1998. The bottom 20% saw their share drop from 3.8% to 3.1%.

The income of salaried Mexican workers fell by 25% between 1991 and 1998, while incomes of the self-employed fell by 40%. During the 1990s, the minimum wage in Mexico lost nearly 50% of its purchasing power. Manufacturing wages fell 21% between 1993 and 1999.

NAFTA eliminated an estimated 766,000 jobs in the United States between 1994 and 2000, and the trade deficit between the USA and its northern and southern neighbours was greatly increased.

Any wider free trade agreement that does not give as much priority to labour and social development as it gives to the protections of investors and financiers is not viable. Rather than attempting to spread a deeply flawed agreement to all of the Americas, the leaders of the nations of North American need to return to the drawing board and design a model of economic integration that works for the continent’s working people.

The global economy must be humanized. In Ecclesia in America, Pope John Paul II pointed out that:

“... if globalization is ruled merely by the laws of the market applied to suit the powerful, the consequences cannot but be negative. These are, for example, the absolutizing of the economy, unemployment, the reduction and deterioration of public services, the destruction of the environment and natural resources, the growing distance between the rich and poor, unfair competition which puts poorer nations in a situation of ever increasing inferiority.”

The pressure on the wages and income for a majority of people has grown in each country, and at the same time government programs that once protected citizens and the environment have been removed.

Traditionally, governments have understood their role as one of regulating certain activities of corporations to serve the public interest. This meant to ensure, for example, that the environment was protected against degradation, and that workers were fairly treated. But the Investor-State mechanism contained in Chapter 11 of NAFTA is turning this historical relationship on its head.

The primary focus of Chapter 11 has been to limit government’s capacity to support environmental, health and other public values in the face of commercial interests. This measure makes it increasingly difficult for governments to act in the best interests of the citizens who have elected them.

Corporations have moved quickly to seize the advantage open to them under chapter 11. They have launched approximately 15 lawsuits that strike at the heart of government policy-making and national sovereignty, taking aim particularly at laws protecting the environment. Information on these Chapter 11 cases remains incomplete because under NAFTA rules they are shrouded in secrecy, in stark contrast to normal proceedings in domestic courts of law. Nevertheless, some information has surfaced, e.g.

  • Ethyl Corporation versus Canada
  • Statement of claim: October 2, 1997
  • Out-of-court settlement: US $13 million, 1998

Canada banned the importation of a gasoline additive call MMT, produced by Virginia-based Ethyl Corporation. The government had evidence that MMT was both a health and an environmental hazard.

Canadian officials went into the case with confidence, but despite the fact that NAFTA is supposed to allow governments to pass environmental legislation, it was clear from deliberations of the tribunal that Canada was going to lose the case. Rather than face a US $250 million dollar penalty based on the loss of future profits claimed by Ethyl, Canada decided to settle under the following conditions: a US $13 million payment to Ethyl, the removal of the ban on MMT in Canadian gasoline, and a public apology to Ethyl for implying that its product was hazardous.

The proceedings were conducted in secret, in accordance with NAFTA Investment chapter provisions, and were widely criticized in Canada. They provided a rude awakening regarding the impacts of the NAFTA expropriation provision. They also resulted in a direct reduction of Canadian health and environmental protections.

II. Unpayable Debt

Archbishop Medardo Mazombwe of Zambia

“I come from a country, Zambia, where every woman, man, and child, owes $750 in external debt (per capita income in Zambia is just over $250 US). What servicing this debt means for Zambians is lack of education opportunities, inadequate health care facilities, poor housing, water and sanitation structures, insufficient productive investments for promoting jobs, etc. These are the serious wounds that Zambians experience because of debt and the demand for debt servicing.... The debt problem is not simply an economic issue. It is fundamentally an ethical issue because it is radically a human problem, affecting the well-being of families, the survival of the poor, the bonds of community, and the security of the future.”

The burden of external debt of the poorest countries is crushing the lives and the dignity of vulnerable children, women and men. In most cases, those who bear the burden of repaying the debt had no voice in the decision to borrow and did not benefit from it; in some cases the borrowed funds were wasted, used for extravagant activities, or even stolen by unprincipled officials.

Debt is symptomatic of a larger unfinished agenda we carry into this new millennium: the problem of underdevelopment in so many parts of our world. The debt crisis is one critical aspect of a much wider problem of development that must be addressed if large segments of the world’s population are to avoid a future of marginalization, despair, and hopelessness.

Pope John Paul II, while acknowledging that high interest rates, irresponsible lending decision, and corruption were all factors in accumulating massive debt, wrote in Ecclesia in America:

It would be unjust to impose the burden resulting from these irresponsible decision upon those who did not make them. The gravity of the situation is all the more evident when we consider that “even the payment of interest alone represents a burden for the economy of the poor nations, which deprives authorities of the money necessary for social development, education, health and the establishment of a fund to create jobs.”

Considerations of justice suggest that no single principle can govern the many situations of indebtedness. While the moral presumption that debts should be paid should not be readily overridden, in many instances this presumption must give way because of other considerations, especially the social costs of repayment. To focus only on the terms of a loan - rather than the conditions under which it was contracted, the purposes for which it was used, or the impact on individuals today as the terms of repayment are set - is to isolate a narrow understanding of commutative justice from the broader considerations of distributive and social justice.

III. The War on Terrorism

The US government’s stated intention is to end worldwide terrorism through political pressure and military force.

It should be clear to all of us by now that no country, even one as powerful as the US, can successfully end terrorism by warlike measures. The overwhelming military response fuels anger and hatred, and serves to inspire new recruits to the causes espoused by those who commit acts of terror. Key is the need to address injustices and root causes that create the fertile soil in which disinherited and disillusioned people are recruited into terrorism.

It is relatively easy to draw up a list of additional areas of concern that need to be addressed: the call for a Palestinian state and security for Israel as the only way to bring peace to the Middle East; condemning the use of sanctions against innocent populations in Iraq; addressing the question of foreign investment and the political and religious terrorism in Sudan; pointing to our government failures in helping development efforts to overcome the world -wide scandal of poverty; criticizing our alliances with countries that violate human rights; the need to reverse our role in the international arms trade; etc.

When all the shooting stops, the challenge facing the newly formed alliances is to develop and to maintain the political will to act decisively on behalf of the disposed of the world.. This requires much more than emergency food aid in times of calamity. The world’s political elite needs to recognize that inequality does matter and has to be tackled if peace and security are to be achieved, and if globalization of terrorism is to be curtailed.

A new direction in the worldwide response to terrorism is called for. It is not enough to say: “you are with us or with the terrorists.” As people of faith we must engage in more dialogue and deeper discernment. We need to rethink the “just-war” tradition and seek a new paradigm for judging the questions of war and peace today.

The current crisis demands also a more inventive and resourceful response form religious leaders. Given the role of religion as a potential mobilizing force in recruiting would-be terrorists, we need to hear and see more from them than pious denunciations and inter-faith peace gatherings that we have witnessed to date. During the conflict in Bosnia, the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, spoke of the need “to restore religion to its rightful role as peacemaker and pacifier.”

It is questionable whether or not religion has ever fulfilled that role. To do so now, the world’s religious leaders would first need to acknowledge the ambivalence of their own religious traditions towards violence. The fact that all the major faiths have at times sanctioned the use of force to protect and even to promote their own sectarian interests allows religious terrorists today to clam more justification for their actions. It is not enough for religious leaders to disown the unacceptable actions of their fringe groups. Each faith community needs to promote a respect for human life above all other beliefs and interests. Until this happens religion will always have the potential to be a divisive and destructive force in the world.

To speak of the need for tolerance is a wholly inadequate response to the terror perpetrated in God’s name. The concept of tolerance was developed essentially as a reaction to the growth of pluralism in belief and practice. The crisis today in our global human relationships calls for a more pro-active approach to diversity. It demands willingness from those with faith and those without it to acknowledge and to protect more vigorously the right of others to think, to believe and to act differently. No creed or grievance should ever be allowed to justify human slaughter in any part of the globe.

If we are to build a new world order, then we need to learn the lessons contained in three ancient tales.

In the first tale several disciples seek out a great desert monastic for spiritual direction. However, the monk cryptically responds: “Go into your cell and your cell will teach you everything.” The implication of that answer for the role of the church is relatively clear: religion has to do with becoming immersed in the mystical, with the touch of the eternal within me, deep in myself, alone with God. In this case the role of the church is to transcend life.

In another tale the disciples ask one of the holy masters the greatest spiritual question of all: “Is there life after death?” The master replies: “The greatest spiritual question of them all is not is there life after death but rather is there life before death?” The emphases here being that life itself is a spiritual question and the function of the church is to be a fulcrum which enables us to choose life in all its fullness and fervour.

In the third tale, a rabbi returns from the synagogue obviously tired, clearly disheartened. His wife asked him: “How was your sermon?” The rabbi sighed: “Oh, it was half good.” She said: “What do you mean, half good?” He replied: “I now have the poor willing to take but I am not nearly as sure that I have the rich willing to give.” In this view it is not enough for religion to transcend life; nor is it enough for religion to simply enable life, but it must transform life as well.

There is some truth in each of these views and I think that the secret is to hold the three together in a delicate balance - to transcend, choose and transform life.

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus of Calgary

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