Making A Difference – Chris Bain’s Talk at Middlesbrough Supporters Day

Middlesbrough Diocese Supporters Day 12 September 2009 Making a Difference

Introduction & Stories


 Rukmani was one of the survivors of the Boxing Day Tsunami and I met her whilst visiting Sri Lanka with Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor. What she told the Cardinal and me was chilling. She was sitting in her home when she heard people shouting in panic before a huge wave washed her house and the whole village into a land-locked lagoon. The family were separated in the confusion and she was washed up on the lagoon shore. Rukmani lost her new baby and her father. We stood with her as, in tears, she pointed to the wreckage and rubble that was her village. Only the church survived and was shelter to all in the following days.

Cardinal Cormac and I met Rukmani in her temporary wooden home, basic but dry, built by CAFOD’s partners. Her village has new boats, shops, wells, and a bakery and there are plans for a school. At every stage she has been consulted about the design of her new brick home which she now lives in – again funded by CAFOD.

From despair, she and her family can dare to hope.

In Darfur, in the west of Sudan CAFOD is the lead member of Caritas – the worldwide network of Catholic aid agencies. Together with the Protestant network, we are providing support to over 400,000 people in Darfur, displaced by the fighting and murderous attacks by Arab militia.  You, the Catholic community in Wales and England raised over £3m for this work.

I met a woman called Fatima who told me the story of her and her 4 children. Her village was raided by armed militia who wanted to drive her tribe from their land. Her husband was killed, and she was forced to flee to a  refugee camp near a small town called Kubum, 40 miles away. Her family had nothing and for months they lived on the generosity of local townspeople. 

When our humanitarian workers first arrived the situation was desperate, hundreds of children had died of diarrhoea and malnutrition and people were starving. The UN provided plastic sheets and flour and asked Caritas to provide water wells, sanitation, health care and special nutritional food for the children.  A few months later when I visited, Fatima was still missing her home and grieving her husband but hugely grateful to Caritas and CAFOD. Her children are looking healthy again.

In Ethiopia, and met another woman and her family.  They had a small plot of land but absolutely nothing else – no school, no clinic, and for 6 months of the year she had to live on food aid from the Government. To pay for medicine for her daughter she had to sell her livestock; she does not even have a lamp since hers broke.

Here name is Amane and she is one of 28 million people in Ethiopia who live on less than 25 pence a day.

I have never witnessed such depth and breadth of poverty in all my travels as I did in her village.

And yet now hers is one of 6000 households benefiting from an irrigation, seeds and livestock scheme set up by the local Catholic diocese and funded by CAFOD.

Irrigation means she has food all year around, and the little cash she has will enables her youngest to go to school, medicines when needed, some goats and chickens, and of course a new lamp. Amane is delighted.

Maria has three young children and is from El Salvador. She was given HIV by her womanising husband. Her family threw them out, her boss sacked her, and her husband left her. She was pregnant at the time and her new baby had HIV, too. They lived in a most appalling shanty town and begged for a living before being befriended by the Maryknoll sisters. The Maryknolls provided anti retroviral drugs, food and school fees and found them a basic clean home. Maria is proud not to have succumbed to the temptation of prostitution, often the only way for young women in the shanties to earn a living, but is immensely grateful that her ten year old daughter, with education, may never need to be tempted.

 Finally, Josephine is from Madi in N Uganda and when she was 10 a civil war broke out between a vicious  group called the LRA and the government. That was 20 years ago, and for the past 15 years she has, for safety, lived in a camp away from her home. That’s where her 6 children were born and the six nieces and nephews she also looks after because their parents were killed, another nephew and a niece have been abducted by the LRA and they don’t know whether they are alive or dead.

 But for over a year now there has been a fragile peace and the Archdiocese, through its agency Caritas Gulu, has an innovative programme, funded by CAFOD, helping 6000 families reclaim their land, often many miles away, and farm it efficiently providing technical support and seeds. Already the results are amazing. After a year Josephine showed me her bank book with the savings she has managed. It was only about a pound but for someone who’s lived off UN food aid most of her life it was a statement of dignity not just wealth.

Part 2  –  CST and Love

 I spent some time on these stories because they are the living evidence that together, through CAFOD’s programmes with some of the poorest and disadvantaged people, we are making a difference. They are nearly always stories of lives transformed or in the process of being transformed. They show love and solidarity in practice. Amane, Fatima, Rukmani, Maria, are part of the fifth of humanity that live in extreme poverty. They represent people of all faiths and none. And they’re all being helped and supported by parts of the Catholic Church – dioceses, religious orders, lay organisations. And I could have told many more personal stories: the mother and child clinics run by the Daughters of Charity in Tigray, the Carmelite’s work with street kids in Manila, the literacy work with street kids in Tegucigalpa, the excellent primary health care programme in northern Nigeria, and so on, all supported by CAFOD.

In fact, it is estimated that more than half of sub-saharan Africa’s health, education and social services are provided by the Catholic church and nearly a third of all care to those with HIV and AIDs worldwide.

And it is people of the church, all over the world, that are often in the forefront of working for justice for the poorest people, and working for peace.

  In Zimbabwe, the Bishops’ Conference were one of the foremost voices in the country challenging the brutal excesses of the regime in power and defending the powerless. Sr Dorothy Stang, a CAFOD partner who worked in the Amazon for many years was silenced three years ago by an assassin’s bullet because she stood up to greedy ranchers who were stealing land from indigenous people.

 In Eastern Congo in I met priests and lay people working for their diocesan Justice and Peace commissions who were daily in fear of their lives because they were working for peace in a conflict ridden land. When I met the local Archbishop and told him I had met priests and lay people who were daily in fear of their lives and he said he understood their fear: two of his recent predecessors had been assassinated.  This is love and solidarity in action, transforming lives, making a difference, and all this work has been supported by you through CAFOD.

 Catholic Social Teaching (CST)

 CAFOD’s basis for its work has its roots in CST which reinforces the integrity and sanctity of every life, at what ever stage of development, of whatever social class, or gender, or race, or religion. Within our Catholic tradition individual people matter because God loves each of us and knows us by name. In return, through free will He asks  that we love Him.

Fr Tim Radcliffe in his lovely book, “What is the point of being Christian?” concludes that, when all is said and done, the point of being a Christian is to love God.

Catholic social teaching goes further than the individual.  Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Populorum Progressio explained that love of self has to be balanced by love of neighbour. If it is only about us as individuals, about individual human rights, ‘us’ as the ‘be all and end all’ then the danger is we can become self absorbed and selfish. We must all work for the good of all humanity. As the parable of the Good Samaritan showed us, neighbours are not just in the next room or next door – but in the next town, the next country, they are strangers living thousands of miles away in our ever shrinking global village. Indeed, they could be our enemies. The parable of the Good Samaritan is not just about charitable giving – it’s about solidarity – in short, anybody who needs us and whom we can help is our neighbour. 

The late Holy Father, John Paul II, left us with some deep insights into solidarity. He was very concerned about economic and cultural globalisation and the globalisation of conflict. He saw a process that can create unprecedented wealth and global common good actually foster an ever-widening gap between the rich and poor countries and between rich and poor people. He saw a globalised world where the current structures of trade and finance, of commerce and capital, are today impoverishing millions of people, especially in Africa, but prophetically, also us in the north.

So Pope John Paul on many occasions called for Global solidarity to transform systems and structures that don’t serve life or the common good. He could not accept that a fifth of humanity lives in abject poverty; nor could he accept the injustices at a global or local level which keep them in their poverty.

But he also called each of us to transform ourselves. Meaningful solidarity is about a fundamental change in the way we relate to each other, and in particular about how we relate to the poor and disadvantaged. It recognises the interdependence of people – do unto others as you would have them do unto you – but goes further – it demands compassion – the sharing of suffering, sharing of resources, the preserving of life. Our model, he says, is the person of Christ and how he related to people. I hope this is recognised by CAFOD in the way we work and the approaches we take to our work.

This theme was explored beautifully 40 years later in Pope Benedict’s first encyclical Deus Caritas Est.  “Only if I serve my neighbour can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and how much he loves me. 

Love of God and love of neighbour are thus inseparable, they form one single commandment.”

This is more profound than simple generosity, important though this is. Echoing Pope John Paul II, Benedict  says it is a love that sees the face of Christ on every person, especially those most in need.

And in his recent encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, Benedict tackled head on the growing inequality in the world and offered a new vision of economics, politics and social order based on the shared duty to care for humanity and the environment. The Times got the message straight away: “ Pope Benedict calls for a new economic system based on love” its headline said. 

What I have found incredibly enlightening in Pope Benedict’s encyclicals is his rooting of the church’s work for charity and Justice in a rich theology. Our work doesn’t just reflect a political and economic analysis of what is wrong with the world and what is needed to end poverty, it has to be rooted in truth. Truth is the willingness to see things as they are and not as we would like them to be. Truth comes from God and enables charity to be an authentic expression of humanity “proclaiming the truth of Christ’s love in society.”

The gift of truth enables charity to be an integral part of everybody’s daily lives: at home, in the market-place, in social and political life.  In other words, it’s neither the market nor politics which rules our lives but “love-filled truth”.

In Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict pays warm tribute to Pope Paul VI. He honours the 1967 encyclical Populorum Progressio which he sees as the building block of modern Catholic social teaching but one new dimension of Caritas in Veritate brings it bang up to date.

Pope Benedict writes with a strong ecological awareness. He says it is our moral responsibility to protect the environment and links this to a long term vision of sustainable development.  “The environment is God’s gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole.” Further along the encyclical states: “We must recognize our grave duty to hand the earth on to future generations in such a condition that they too can worthily inhabit it and continue to cultivate it.”

Benedict calls for those of us in contemporary society to seriously review the way we live “which in many parts of the world is prone to hedonism and consumerism, regardless of their harmful consequences.” He calls for those of us in developed nations to lower domestic energy consumption, invest in renewable forms of energy, and adopt more sustainable lifestyles. The corporations and governments which have over-exploited the natural resources of developing countries are denounced.  

Benedict’s call for all of us to have simpler and more sustainable ways of living – in solidarity with the poorest of our global neighbours – is an immense inspiration to CAFOD, and other Catholic agencies promoting LiveSimply. LiveSimply has urged all of us to take personal responsibility for the way our behaviours and actions impoverish and dehumanise the world’s poorest people and exploit and despoil God’s creation which is our one earth. 

 If Popes Paul Vi and John Paul II rooted their call for justice in solidarity and action, Pope Benedict reminds us that love of neighbour and creation – “proclaiming the truth of Christ’s love in society.”- are central to Christian faith and are at the heart of tackling poverty and injustice. 

It is this love – personified in Jesus – that demands that everyone has the right to the fullness of life and basic human dignity; and rages against the exploitation and disempowerment of the world’s vulnerable and marginalised. This is not a pastel-shaded love but vivid, something powerful and awesome; it’s the source of our solidarity, our hope, and our thirst for justice. It’s a love that burns in our hearts, and inspires us to act.

 Part 3 Campaigning, climate and Fast day

Now, I began this talk by talking about CAFOD’s wide-ranging work overseas.  We are a humanitarian agency there at the beginning of a crisis and in the rehabilitation and rebuilding that follows. Increasingly we are investing in what is called disaster risk reduction – taking measures that enable people to be better prepared for any emergency. We work in long term development – trying to create livelihoods that will last for generations. Sometimes the need is so great and so chronic we simply have to support local basic services such as health, water and food.

 As you could have deduced from the stories, I am very proud of CAFOD’s work on the ground in Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan, El Salvador – all over the world, in fact. It’s marvellous, often groundbreaking work. I’m proud, too, of CAFOD being rooted in the Catholic community here in England and Wales. The parishes and schools are the lifeblood of CAFOD and their generosity has never disappointed.

But our partners, in all their gratitude, consistently tell us that real charity means we have to do more. More, that is, here in the UK. More because we sit at the top table – at the G8, in the UN and as part of the EU.  More because we are part of a consumer society in the rich north that feeds off the commodities and minerals of the south and generates 80% of the carbon gases.

We need to do more because the poverty faced by Amane, by Fatima, by Josephine, and Maria –is man made and need not happen.  The poverty that kills 30,000 people a day from preventable diseases, poor water, malnutrition, and AIDS is not inevitable, it can be prevented. 30,000 people a day – that’s equivalent to a disaster on the scale of the Tsunami – every week.

This is why we work hard to address the causes of poverty both in countries of the south through advocacy by our partners in their own country and here in the north with politicians and business leaders. We have been encouraging you and the wider Catholic community to make a difference by taking action through CAFOD campaigns or taking up the Live Simply challenge. Campaigning not only raises issues and acts on them, it brings thousands of people together and creates political will to change polices and practices for the better.

Many of you have been active in the debt campaigns over the past 15 years. You have called for more aid and trade justice and the achievement of the millennium development Goals. Working with other agencies and networks we have had some considerable successes – on aid and debt, and in our computer and gold campaigns – but also some real disappointments on trade.

In 2005, following Make Poverty History, we saw some progress with promises on aid and debt. But our priority now will be to ensure those rich governments keep to their 2005 promises to double aid and reduce the gap between the richest and the poorest and promote economic growth that is both environmentally sustainable and shared more equally.  

This brings me to today’s big issues for CAFOD: addressing the problems of climate change, and the consequences of the economic downturn on the poorest countries and their people.

With the exception of a very small group of sceptics, scientists now agree that climate is changing rapidly and that human activity is a significant cause. According to the IPCC, by 2020, unless we reduce carbon emissions by 50% temperatures will rise by over 2° C – and this will be catastrophic. We currently emit 42 bn tonnes annually compared to 28bn in 1850 and at the current rates this will rise to 820bn by 2050. The growing consensus is that developed countries need an 80% reduction in carbon emissions and emerging economies need lower carbon growth.

Inevitably, it is the poorest who are most vulnerable; climate related disasters increased 3-fold in 30 years and about 250m people are currently affected. IPCC predict worsening situation with dryer, and wetter, areas.

We’re familiar with the pattern projected for rich countries because of the financial crisis – even if we really don’t know how deep or long the recession will be: debt and mortgage defaults, credit crunch, economic downturn, recession, unemployment, and so on. Its going to be tough, we know that. But you know what I’m going to say next: for those already in the bottom billion, for those in the next poorest billion in Asia and Latin America, who have had improved living standards over the past 20 years, the impact may be disastrous.

There will be increased volatility in inward financial flows as private finance move to safer markets. Commodity markets will fluctuate wildly, as will food and fuel prices. Countries with weak fiscal conditions will become in debt again as the conditions of the early 1980s are replicated. Rich countries are already starting to look inward: and we can see falling aid, more protectionism, and drastic migration policies.

It’s a good point here to remember that tomorrow is Racial Justice Sunday and the theme is the celebration of the diversity of peoples with Britain today – including within the Church. Sections of the press focus on the problems of migration not recognising that this has been a healthy – and necessary – part of Britain’s heritage and tradition.

 So, in such uncertain and sometimes bleak times when its difficult sometimes to remain hopeful, I believe it’s important to think differently if we are to continue to make a difference.

So my last story may give some inspiration to the different thinking needed. In the late 1950s a group of Catholic women from England and Wales were moved by the poverty that existed in many parts of the world gradually being offloaded by their former colonial powers. They saw this as a moral issue and resolved to do something about it. And in Lent 1960 they asked Catholic families to give up a meal and donate the cost to a parish in the Caribbean. From this humble beginning, CAFOD was born.

Yet, the late 50s was not a time of plenty.  Many parts of post war Europe had experienced hunger and hardship and were emerging from 20 years of frugality and prudence, self-sufficiency and making-do. By asking the Catholic community to donate the cost of a meal to those less well off, those early CAFOD supporters were not sharing from their abundance but from their sufficiency.

What they had was hope for a new time, born out of crisis, and for these women, their faith told them that the hope had to be for all. They hoped for an end to the old ways of war and colonial exploitation and a belief in a new world of generosity and love of neighbour. And the neighbour was not just next door but possibly thousands of miles away.

As we dip our toes into the uncertainty of the next few years, we can be sure that a better world is possible – our faith tells us this. The economic order that has just failed us was rooted in materialism, injustice, greed and selfishness.  Many of us in wealthy nations, but by no means all, benefited personally from the increased wealth generated by economic growth. Some wealth trickled down but without doubt we are living in the most unequal world there has ever been with a bottom billion living in absolute poverty. Catholic Social teaching tells us this is not only morally wrong but it is also environmentally unsustainable – and the current economic crisis shows it is also financially unsustainable. 

I believe we must learn from CAFOD’s founding mothers that a time of crisis is also a time of opportunity.  For those of us in the rich countries this is not a time to forget the needs and aspirations of people like Amane and Josephine as we sort out our priorities in life.

Let me conclude.  CAFOD, which you are all part of, has a rich tradition of love, solidarity, and thirst for justice.

Our work has been inspired by CST and encyclicals over 40 years and a belief that working for justice for all of humanity is not an op

tion; it’s what God calls us to do.

We bring together practical action on the ground that impacts the lives of individuals that need our help, and personal commitment by supporters to transform systems and practices that keep people poor and disadvantaged.

Together, we have been inspired and humbled by the stories of all those we have helped like Amane and Fatima and continually listen to our amazing and often courageous partners who show solidarity to us as well as celebrating our solidarity to them.

 And I’ll end with a quote from Fatima whom I met last year in Kibum, Darfur. I asked what she looked forward to in the future. “I want peace and my family to be together again on our land. I thank CAFOD for helping us when we had nothing. “  Sometimes love speaks for itself.

Chris at CAFOD Middlesbrough's Supporters day

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