Facing failure and dreaming different dreams

(Sept. 23, 2011)

To confront climate change and to ensure there is food for all, those of us who live in wealthier countries must be prepared to accept change.

“You have an interest to protect your lifestyle,” Father Rex Reyes told a United Church of Canada meeting recently. “Our interest is to protect our lives.” Reyes is an Episcopal priest and Indigenous leader who serves as general secretary of the National Council of Churches of the Philippines.

In a 1991 encyclical, Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II made the point in these words: Change is needed “in order to limit the waste of environmental and human resources, thus enabling every individual, and all the peoples of the earth to have a sufficient share of those resources.”

Signs announce European Union project funding on the edge of Georgetown, Guyana (2008)

These messages, rarely heard in Canada’s comfortable pews and board rooms, are heard in rough-hewn pews in churches from Mozambique to Mexico. Impoverished people do not speak of conditions in wealthier countries in order to absolve themselves of responsibility. On the contrary, they insist on making their contribution at tables traditionally dominated by those who have the money.

Food at the centre of agriculture and daily life 

“Christians should consider the failure of decades of development to date,” wrote Cameroonian theologian Jean-Marc Éla about 20 years ago.

They should “design a model of life that leaves room in our daily work for whatever may create a different future. Otherwise we are setting aside our century and our historical role, and irrevocably contributing to the coming of death.” (His essay, “The Granary is Empty,” was published by Orbis in Liberation Theology: An Introductory Reader.)

Éla advocated a “ministry of the granary” by Christians that would once again put food at the centre of agriculture and daily life, rather than export crops like peanuts, cocoa and cotton. “Death is already appearing here and there in the turns of daily life, as it does wherever cotton drives away millet.”

Over and against any ministry of the granary is set a wide range of economic interests. Governments, including that of Canada, offer advice to potential investors.

Development, instead of becoming Pope Paul VI’s “new name for peace,” is too often another name for unrestrained capitalism. With technology and the unyielding power of the financial institutions, the market is prescribed as the development norm for all other nations.

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