Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Going into G8 -- What the Bishops (and Pope) Had to Say

With the ongoing coverage of Michael Jackson's death, Sarah Palin's resignation, Al Franken's long-delayed arrival in the U.S. Senate and, of course, Pope Benedict's publication of his first social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, it's easy to forget that, starting tomorrow, the leaders of some of the world's wealthiest, most powerful nations are coming together in Italy for two days for the G8 Summit.

But they're definitely meeting, and leaders in the Catholic Church are not missing the opportunity to speak their minds in hopes of impacting what these world leaders discuss and accomplish in their time together.

The most obvious example of this is a June 22 letter from the presidents of the bishops' conferences of the G8 countries to their heads of state. The letter calls on the G8 leaders to protect the poor and assist developing countries. Specifically, it urged them not to let the economic crisis lead to cuts in foreign assistance programs. The bishops quoted Pope Benedict, saying:

The current crisis has raised the spectre of the cancellation or drastic reduction of external assistance programmes, especially for Africa and for less developed countries elsewhere. Development aid, including the commercial and financial conditions favourable to less developed countries and the cancellation of the external debt of the poorest and most indebted countries, has not been the cause of the crisis and, out of fundamental justice, must not be its victim.
The bishops went on to say:

Ironically poor people have contributed the least to the economic crisis facing our world, but their lives and livelihoods are likely to suffer the greatest devastation because they struggle at the margins in crushing poverty. In light of this fact, the G8 nations should meet their responsibility to promote dialogue with other powerful economies to help prevent further economic crises.
The bishops added that on the issue of climate change, similarly, the poor who have contributed the least are negatively impacted the most.

While it's easy to take this message as just another appeal from a group of religious leaders to a group of political leaders, there's a real value to stop and wrap one's mind around the ground covered by this letter.

First of all, its recipients are eight of the most powerful people in the world, representing eight nations.

Second, the Catholic Church being a place where jurisdiction and teaching authority count for so much, one has to take into account that, as presidents of their respective bishops' conferences, the nine bishops who signed this letter (Cardinal Francis George for the USCCB, along with the heads of conferences in Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Scotland and England & Wales) are speaking on behalf of every bishop in every one of those countries. That's a lot of bishops and a lot of teaching authority.

But as long as we're looking at teaching authority that stretches across nations, fittingly enough, this letter wasn't the only high-level Catholic teaching to go out on the eve of the G8 Summit. Pope Benedict XVI's first social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, which arrived this morning, also touches on concerns such as climate change and the need for greater care and cooperation in the international community. Like the G8 bishops, the pope also calls for an ethical changes to the world's economy in light of the current crisis. He does so by outlining the need for human development and casting development in the highest possible terms, as a vocation from God that must involve care for the development of the entire human person, from basic physical needs to education to the spiritual/eternal.

It's a staggeringly tall order in the face of an economic crisis, but Pope Benedict draws a wise conclusion here too -- if anything positive is to come from an economic crisis, it will be that we learned from it and improved the human condition around the world in its wake.

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