Oct 23, 2014

My talk in Singapore on 24 August, 2014

Caritas Singapore Social Mission Conference,
23 August, 2014
"I want a Church which is poor and for the poor"
What do these words of Pope Francis mean for us as Christians today?

by Bishop Isao Kikuchi, SVD (President, Caritas Asia)
"Everybody seems to have forgotten us"

This phrase has echoed in my heart since I started work with Caritas Japan in 1995. Ordained a priest of the Society of the Divine Word/the Divine Word Missionaries in 1986, I received a mission assignment to Ghana, West Africa. Until my return to Japan in 1994 I worked on my own in a bush parish with 3000 parishioners, a main Church and some 20 out-stations. Need I mention there was no running water or electricity, even in the main village. Any difficulties you might conceive of as present in Africa were present in that community – poverty, a very lengthy list of diseases, lack of education, and no job opportunities for young people. But I am not here today to share my experiences from my time in Ghana – in Ghana the people were optimistic, they always had hope. Despair was not present, despite all the difficulties they faced.

In March of 1995, I found myself back in Africa, as part of a Caritas Japan volunteer team, but this time in Bukavu, in what was then called Zaire, just across the border with Rwanda. Genocidal actions in Rwanda had already begun in April 1994, and with the establishment of (a Tutsi) new government in Kigali in July of that year, Hutu people, though the majority, began flooding across the border into Zaire. So began the Rwanda refugee crisis, a crisis that saw more than 2 million flee the country. The population of the camp in Bukavu soon reached some three hundred thousand. Initially the response was in the hands of the local diocesan Caritas organization, but they were soon joined by UNHCR and Caritas Internationalis. Caritas Japan was involved from the end of 1994 through till May 1995. While I was there one of the camps where Caritas Japan was assigned was attacked by an armed group resulting in the deaths of some 30 refugees.

In August 1995 I returned to Bukavu on a fact finding tour of the camps. Because of security concerns the camps where Caritas Japan worked had been shut down, but I visited other camps in the area. At a meeting with a group of leaders in one of the camps I asked them what were their immediate needs. They mentioned the usual problems, shortage of food and medical supplies, but then one of them spoke the words I began with – “Everybody has forgotten us.” He then continued, “Father, you said you come from Japan. When you get back there, tell them we are still here in the camps. Everybody seems to have forgotten us.”
His words pierced the depths of my heart. Even with all the physical difficulties they faced, they might be able to survive if they could find hope for their future. However, what they found instead was that people all over the world had been already begun to forget them. Without hope for future, how they could endure these hardships?

April 2005, I found myself in Pondicherry, south east India. Pondicherry and the surrounding areas were hit by the tsunami that occurred, as a consequence of the massive earthquake that struck Sumatra, Indonesia, in December 2004. I visited the temporary housing of the victims where an old lady explained how the tsunami had wiped out her village. In the days and months immediately the tsunami numerous NGO’s has poured into the village, offering help and assistance to those affected. Now four months after the disaster many of the NGO’s were pulling out. The survivors’ hopes for the future began to fade. She also used the phrase I’d heard in Bukavu, “Everybody has forgotten us.”

August 2005 saw me visiting Gulu, northern Uganda. As the evening drew on I went to a Catholic school to meet some children. They were not there to study but for their own safety. These “night commuters”, as they were known, young children, many of grade school age, travelled every night to schools, hospitals and churches, places where they hoped they’d be secure and safe from anti-government armed marauders who abducted children and forced them to become child soldiers or slaves. “Night commuters” and the abduction of children has been part of life there for some twenty years, but was unreported by the media, and so unnoticed by the wider world. Once more I heard that same phrase from Caritas volunteers, “everybody has forgotten us”. More recent reports, thank God, tell of an overall improvement in the security situation so there are no longer “night commuters”, But for some twenty years, they were overlooked, forgotten.

September 2011 saw me visit Kesennuma, in the north of Miyagi Prefecture, northern Japan: I was born in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, some 150kms further north, and lived there till I was 5 years old. I visited a kindergarten to hear their stories of the tsunami that struck that area on March 11th, earlier that year. One assistant head teacher told of her escape from the tsunami and ensuing fire. Six months had passed, and they already felt they were forgotten. The emergency services, the police and firefighters were now only present in reduced numbers. Most of the members of the Self-Defense forces had also been withdrawn. Many of the NGO’s were scaling down the levels of their commitment. People whose presence had been a symbol of hope, an assurance of their survival, a hint that a renewed future was possible were moving away. With their departure, in the eyes of the teacher, so also was their fragile hope for the future. And they, the teacher, her community, were being left behind.

I could continue to share such stories, stories that ultimately illustrate the consequences of what is called “compassion fatigue”, but let me stop here. Down through the years the international community, including the Catholic Church, has extended a helping hand in development projects, in response to the needs of those affected by armed conflict, natural or man-made disasters. However when “compassion fatigue” sets in, we have left those in vulnerable situations feeling they have been forgotten, shifted down our priority list. Once a disaster occurs, or after a crisis, the media arrive in their hundreds, even thousands, followed by the UN and other major players in disaster relief. Initially, sometimes even every day, there is coverage in the newspapers, and every night it is the top story on the main news programs on the TV. Everybody seems to want to help, donations are gathered, NGO’s small and large send assessment teams. The talk is of rescue and rehabilitation, of reconstruction. But as time passes media coverage lessens, some NGO’s large and small find their focus pulled elsewhere. So begins what for the victims and survivors is the beginning of the end of any support and assistance they are likely to receive. And the disaster or crisis fades from the awareness of the ordinary public. Forgetfulness on our side sees a fading or even a loss of hope among those living in the disaster area. They are added to those whom the wider world forgets.

Pope Francis, a month after his election, on April 14th last year, made his first journey outside of the Vatican, outside of Rome. He went to the island of Lampedusa to celebrate the Eucharist for refugees from Africa. In his homily he touched on another face of “compassion fatigue.”
"The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial; they offer a fleeting and empty illusion which results in indifference to others; indeed, it even leads to the globalization of indifference. In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference."

The "globalization of indifference" is an important theme when Pope Francis talks about the root causes of social justice issues in the modern world. In Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of Gospel), two other key words for Pope Francis as he explores the root causes of social justice issues are "exclusion and inequality." For example, in denouncing the modern economic system he writes as follows.
"Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. (53)"

 Both expressions, "globalization of indifference" and "exclusion and inequality" are indicative of our lack of sensitivity to people other than ourselves. Because we just worry about ourselves, we forget the difficulties of others. We do not hear, never mind listen to the cry of other people. We do not want to include too many people in our comfortable life, our “comfort zone” We just want to be secure, to have more than others. Why does Pope Francis put such emphasis on these points? It is because of his understanding of evangelization.

In Evangelii Gaudium, the key image of the Church is the "Church which goes forth", so he explains his understanding of evangelization as follows.
"If the whole Church takes up this missionary impulse, she has to go forth to everyone without exception. But to whom should she go first? When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much our friends and wealthy neighbours, but above all the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked,(48)"
No one should be excluded, each and every one should be treated equal, with priority given to those who are usually despised and overlooked.

Equality as emphasized by Pope Francis reminds us of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Even though the idea of equality is included in the secular declaration of human rights, the fundamental reason why the Church actively participates in social action and seeks to confront social problems is not based on just conventional humanism. Rather our actions on behalf of equality among human beings are rooted in our faith.  It is because of God's unlimited love for his own creatures, in order to liberate all of us from the bondage of sin and death that the only Son of God became one like us.  Jesus proclaimed the mercy of God the Father through his words and deeds, such as dining with sinners, healing sicknesses, forgiving sins and returning the dead to life. Christ's death and Resurrection have taken us out of the power of darkness and has enabled us to inherit the light, the light of love and mercy, joy and hope. According to the Catechism. "By his death, Christ liberates us from sin; by his Resurrection, he opens for us the way to a new life. As Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (CCC:654)." This new life is not limited to a few chosen people. Why? Because God wished all human beings to be saved. Therefore everyone has to be brought into this new life. So evangelization means each and every one of us have to be brought to share in God's salvation. No one should be ignored. No one should be forgotten. Everyone should be given hope for life and salvation. This is why the Church works for the equality of every human being. And for Pope Francis, evangelization and works of charity or Caritas come together.

As I have already mentioned, Pope Francis describes the Church which is committed to evangelization as "a church which goes forth" and so he writes.
"A Church which “goes forth” is a Church whose doors are open. Going out to others in order to reach the fringes of humanity does not mean rushing out aimlessly into the world. Often it is better simply to slow down, to put aside our eagerness in order to see and listen to others, to stop rushing from one thing to another and to remain with someone who has faltered along the way (46).
Sensitivity and compassion to others especially to those who are easily forgotten is an essential element in his image of the Church. More over the Pope states that there are priorities in evangelization. As he also writes in Evangelii Gaudium "God's heart has a special place for the poor, so much so that he himself “became poor" (2 Cor 8:9)(197)." So, again, evangelization and works of charity or Caritas come together.

To define New Evangelization was the main purpose of the Synod in 2012 and Evangelii Gaudium is one of the fruits of that Synod. Therefore Pope Francis puts a strong emphasis on the importance of our involvement in evangelization, and invites each and every one of us in the Church to commit ourselves to proclaiming the good news because salvation is for all. While no one should be forgotten or excluded from the good news, the poor or marginalized should be given priority.

Let me now talk briefly about poverty and development and then what Pope Francis calls us to do as a poor church for the poor. Finally, I will briefly mention one concrete invitation from Pope Francis to commit ourselves which is a worldwide campaign against hunger led and promoted by Caritas Internationalis.

I: The Reality of the modern world.

The modern world has been divided for the past few decades by the magic numbers of 20 versus 80. According to several statistical studies, rough estimations indicate that the world’s population of over 7 billion is divided into 20% residing in developed countries and 80% in developing countries. According to the 2008 World Bank development indicators, 80% of the world population in the year 2005 lived on US 10 dollars a day or less. In addition, the 20% of the world's population who live in the so-called "rich" countries use almost 80% of the world's wealth. According to the same indicators, in 2005, the world's richest 20% accounted for 76.6% of total private consumption. Though the overall situation of people in extreme poverty is improving, we may say that, based upon several economic indicators, 20% of the world's population dominates almost 80% of its wealth, while 80% of the population of the world is allowed to utilize only 20% of its wealth. This division of 20 versus 80 has maintained its validity over the past few decades. Although a drastic shift in this division might occur in the near future when two of the world's most populated countries, China and India, claim their share of the world's rich with their growing consumption per capita, it is still valid at this moment to say that the vast majority of the population of modern society has been deprived of the benefitting from their fair share of the world's wealth, which has been reserved for only 20% of the human race.

If that is the case then, what is the meaning of development? We have been calling rich countries "developed countries."  And we have been calling the rest, the not rich countries "developing or underdeveloped countries." The terms "developing or underdeveloped" implies that these countries are on their way to become "developed countries," which sounds quite positive. But what is the reality? We have been witnessing that, for the past so many years, rich countries have been sharing their wealth with poorer countries so that poorer countries may reach a certain level of development within a certain time frame. It sounds as if pouring foreign aid into developing countries will result in those countries becoming like the rich countries. In this view of development, all the people of the world should enjoy a certain standard of living, equal to that of developed or rich countries within a certain period of time. But as I have mentioned before, the rich countries have already been using quite a lot of the wealth of the world to sustain their current living standard, and unless the total amount of the world’s wealth suddenly grows bigger, drastically, or the rich countries decide to reduce their share of the world wealth, it is not realistic to imagine developing countries may one day reach the level of the rich countries.

So much money has been poured into "developing countries" over the past 60 years or so from "developed countries," but we seldom find real success stories. Perhaps our intention in helping others was not clearly defined and not morally correct.

II: Our Motivation of Helping Others

The Catholic Church has been in world development for several decades. There are innumerable examples of charitable activities executed by the Catholic Church and its members throughout modern world history. However, it was only after the II Vatican Council, in the 60's, that particular attention was given to development as such by the Catholic Church. Caritas Internationalis, which was established in 1951, could be considered the main instrument in executing the development activities of the Church, though there are a number of other organizations existing in many other parts of the world.

Why does the Church commit itself to charitable activities? Possibly the best explanation would be that offered by Pope Benedict XVI in his Encyclical "Deus Caritas Est."

"The Church's deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable. For the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally well be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being.(25)
So if we are truly the Church then, charity has been, and will continue to be at the very center of our being Church. These three responsibilities of the Church, as Pope Benedict writes, "presuppose each other and are inseparable." So we cannot talk about evangelization while we not paying attention to the importance of charity, nor can we exercise charity while we not paying any attention to liturgy.

Based upon the gospel message of Jesus Christ, Christians all over the world, whether in rich countries or poor countries, have been and will continue to be encouraged and challenged to become involved in charitable activities as an expression of our own being and identity as Church. There are several documents that can give direction to our charitable activities, such as the documents of the II Vatican Council. Let me just mention one or two of them here.

Vatican II, in its Pastoral Constitution "Gaudium et Spes," (THE PASTORAL CONSTITUTION ON THE CHURCH IN THE MODERN WORLD) declares the importance of the Church immersing itself in social realities in its opening words.
"The joys and the hopes, the sorrows 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 sorrows and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts (G et S 1).
So the constitution reminds us that it is our duty to respond to the cry of oppressed and afflicted in the real world.

Then the Constitution, while sharing the same sentiments with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in regard to human dignity, declares:
 "Since all men possess a rational soul and are created in God's likeness, since they have the same nature and origin, have been redeemed by Christ and enjoy the same divine calling and destiny, the basic equality of all must receive increasingly greater recognition. (G et S 29)"
The same article in the constitution goes on to point out that "for excessive economic and social differences between the members of the one human family or population groups cause scandal, and militate against social justice, equity, the dignity of the human person, as well as social and international peace."

Guided by these principles based on human dignity, we may say that it is our duty as members of human society and of the Catholic Church to find the best way to realize a society which pays due respect to human dignity. And it is our duty as Christians to eliminate the scandal caused by "excessive economic and social differences" among members of one and the same family.

What is development then according to the Church’s understanding? We may find one answer in the writings of Pope John Paul II who wrote in his 1991 Encyclical letter "CENTESIMUS ANNUS" on the centenary anniversary of the "RERUM NOVARUM" which is the foundation of social teachings of Catholic Church in modern world.
"Development must not be understood solely in economic terms, but in a way that is fully human. It is not only a question of raising all peoples to the level currently enjoyed by the richest countries, but rather of building up a more decent life through united labour, of concretely enhancing every individual's dignity and creativity, as well as his capacity to respond to his personal vocation, and thus to God's call. (CA 29)"
According to Pope JPII, our duty is to create a just society which provides equal opportunity for everyone to have enough capacity to respond to one's personal vocation, which is a call from God. Unfortunately, the modern world community does not provide every one of its members an equal chance to respond to one's personal call from God and poverty would be one of the strongest obstacles standing in their way.

III: Pope Francis, the Poor Church for the Poor.

As many readers of Pope Francis’ speeches and addresses will have noticed, “peripheries” is one of his favorite words. We are called to go out to the “peripheries". Where are the peripheries, the marginalized today?
First and most, as I have already mentioned, Pope Francis emphasizes the idea of a Church which goes forth, that is the challenge of God to those who believe in him. The Pope looks to the OT to emphasize his point
."Abraham received the call to set out for a new land (cf. Gen 12:1-3). Moses heard God's call: “Go, I send you” (Ex 3:10) and led the people towards the promised land (cf. Ex 3:17). To Jeremiah God says: “To all whom I send you, you shall go” (Jer 1:7). (EG 20)."
The Pope explains the meaning of "go forth" as leaving ones comfort zone "in order to reach all the“peripheries”in need of the light of the Gospel." Therefore we may say, the peripheries are those areas on which we feel insecure, discomforted or challenged. The Church which goes forth has to leave the secure reality which we have now and face challenges to which we have been indifferent. So it is not only a geographical shift which Pope is calling for us to make but also, and most of all, it is a matter of conversion in our faith which challenges our existing priorities. As the Holy Father writes so eloquently but directly.

 "I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security (EG 49)."
The Church has to go forth to the peripheries to evangelize so that "the kingdom of God (may be) present in our world (EG 176)."   The Church has to go forth to the peripheries to evangelize so that "brothers and sisters (who) are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life (EG 49)" may find strength, light and consolation, support and meaning in life. For these points to be given concrete realization therefore, Pope Francis touches on several practical issues of social concern in the Evangelii Gaudium. Particularly, however, he puts his emphasis on his concern for the poor.

"Our faith in Christ, who became poor, and was always close to the poor and the outcast, is the basis of our concern for the integral development of society's most neglected members. (EG 186)"
Pope Francis wish is that the entire Church to be poor and for the poor. So how do we understand his call? Are we to sell everything we have and distribute it to the poor? The Catholic Church all over the world is a major property owner. Are we to divest ourselves of all such holdings? If we did so, yes, it would be a dramatic symbolic gesture but that gesture alone cannot bring us to our real goal. Our real goal? That is the kingdom of God present in our world and that cannot be obtained by the Church just being physically poor. So what does the Pope's call mean for us?

He writes that "for the Church, the option for the poor is primarily a theological category rather than a cultural, sociological, political or philosophical one. (EG 198)" Therefore, the Church exercises its Charity not because of social concern but as part of our exercise of Faith. By bringing the poor to the center of the Church we are "to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them. (EG 198)"

It is a matter how we follow Jesus our master. It is a matter how we live as Christians. It is a matter of what kind of priorities we set in our communities. It is a matter of what kind of human relationship we build in this society. It is a matter of how we ourselves set our priorities of life as the ones who follow Jesus, who told us "blessed are the poor." And it is a matter of what kind of witness we provide to this modern society.

We are invited to commit ourselves to the new evangelization which calls us to be converted and to go forth to the peripheries, meaning leaving one's comfort zone and enter into challenging realities. It is not only actual charitable works which we are call to engage in ourselves, we are also called to be converted in our faith, leaving behind the priorities of the modern secular world and embracing the priorities of the Kingdom of God.

Having said this, however, Pope Francis also strongly calls for actual change in the structures of modern society and a genuine commitment by all of us in the Church. This point should not be overlooked; otherwise there is always danger of confining his words only to the spiritual dimension. So he writes.
"No one must say that they cannot be close to the poor because their own lifestyle demands more attention to other areas...While it is quite true that the essential vocation and mission of the lay faithful is to strive that earthly realities and all human activity may be transformed by the Gospel, none of us can think we are exempt from concern for the poor and for social justice. (EG 201)"
There are several other points mentioned in Evangelii Gaudium that I do not have time to go into details on, but let me just mention them.

The Church has to hear the cry of poor and react with all her might.  He writes that "in this context we can understand Jesus' command to his disciples: You yourselves give them something to eat!"(Mk 6:37): it means working to eliminate the structural causes of poverty and to promote the integral development of the poor", and he puts emphasis on the necessity of "daily acts of solidarity in meeting the real needs which we encounter." (EG 188)

The Holy Father makes quite realistic demands of modern society which talks so much about respect for human rights and the fulfillment of basic human needs. He writes of the importance of meeting people's basic needs but also adds.
 "We are not simply talking about ensuring nourishment or a "dignified sustenance" for all people, but also their "general temporal welfare and prosperity." This means education, access to health care, and above all employment, for it is through free, creative, participatory and mutually supportive labour that human beings express and enhance the dignity of their lives."(EG 192)
Pope Francis points to the root causes of poverty and mentions the "need to resolve the structural causes of poverty."(202) On this point he demands a change in the present market economy system and calls for "a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality."(EG 204) At the same time, in order to realize these points, he asks "God to give us more politicians capable of sincere and effective dialogue aimed at healing the deepest roots - and not simply the appearances – of the evils in our world!"(EG 205)

The Holy Father also mentioned several other practical issues such as migrants, human trafficking, women's rights, pre-natal life and creation. I do not have time to talk about all of these but just let me quote the concluding sentence of this section.
 "Small yet strong in the love of God, like Saint Francis of Assisi, all of us, as Christians, are called to watch over and protect the fragile world in which we live, and all its peoples. (EG 216)"

IV Conclusion

In conclusion, let me briefly mention about the world wide anti-hunger campaign which Caritas Internationalis is currently engaged since last December 10. This campaign is one response to the call of Holy Father. It is called the “One Human Family, Food for All" campaign and will continue till May, 2015. The main aim of this campaign is to "raises awareness of hunger crises", "encourage ordinary people to learn more about hunger and ways to solve it", it "calls on governments around the world to guarantee a right to food for all" and "end systemic hunger by 2025."

In a message to support the campaign, Pope Francis said, "we are in front of a global scandal of around one billion people who still suffer from hunger today. We cannot look the other way and pretend this does not exist. The food available in the world is enough to feed everyone. The parable of the multiplication of the loaves and fish teaches us exactly this: that if there is the will, what we have never ends. On the contrary, it abounds and does not get wasted."

You are all invited to take part of this campaign to eliminate hunger by 2025. And this would be one way to realize the Poor Church for the Poor according to Pope Francis.

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