These last few weeks have seen important steps forward in how we address the challenge to build a more just world, a world in which we recognize, as Archbishop Tutu said, that our humanity is defined by our recognition of the humanity of others: “a person is a person through other persons.”
At the United Nations, Mililani Trask expressed the urgent need to recognize the rights of indigenous people as we plan for economic development. Too often their rights as stakeholders and owners of natural resources have been overlooked or shunted aside in the march of progress as defined by rich nations and powerful corporations. The Catholic church can help by repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery as some churches have already done.
At the Synod, Catholic bishops seem to be demonstrating a new attentiveness. The bishops have been confined for too long to the all-male world of ceremony and doctrine. They have often seemed to be closer to the circles of power than to the real world of ordinary people in all their diversity and brokenness, the world of the poor and the powerless. Under Pope Francis, the Synod seems to be moving towards recognizing the people who have been marginalized, people for whom grace and blessing have not been forthcoming from the church.
Are we perhaps really inching closer to the boundless generosity of Christ? This Synod appears finally to be grappling–as ordinary Catholics do daily–with the real complexity of a world in which people struggle to make their way through life by the light of their conscience, nurturing families in all their fragility, their beauty and their diversity. Ordinary families, couples of every persuasion, don’t order their lives by the observance of stately ceremonies frozen in time. They try to survive the unpredictable realities of the moment as best they can, dealing with whatever cards they are handed. It is indeed good news if the church can be counted on to understand the lived experience of people, to offer strength, a rock of stability against which people might rest, not a rock rolled against the door to keep some out.
The Nobel Peace Prize this year also reflected unfinished business with regard to ending child labor and ensuring all children have the opportunity to be children and get an education. Child labor activist Kailash Satyarthi’s response to news of winning the Nobel Prize was to tweet a vow “Won’t rest until child labor is eliminated.” Fellow Nobel prize winner,Malala Yousafzai addresses another dimension of that challenge–making sure girls get the same opportunities as boys with regard to being free to go to school and get an education. The main reason children are exploited and girls suffer the kind of discrimination they do is the abuse of power by adults, whether they are religion-wielding tribal leaders in Africa, caste or culture champions in India and Pakistan or cynical politicians in the United States who have cut education spending rather than raise taxes.
Bishop Challenges Lawmakers on Selective Pro-Life Stance
About four months ago, Bishop John Wester challenged Utah lawmakers to live their pro-life beliefs by expanding Medicaid. The Salt Lake Tribune reported on his commentary published in a weekly diocesan newspaper: “Legislative recalcitrance might be of little concern if there weren’t thousands of Utahns suffering in the meantime. Whatever games legislators want to play, they are doing so with people’s lives,” Wester wrote. “Republican leadership in the Legislature refuses to accept the realities, the facts, the numbers, and asks for more studies. In essence, leadership is holding its breath until it gets its way.” It would be good to see the Bishops rally more forcefully around efforts to circumvent the recalcitrance of so-called Catholic governors like Bobby Jindal who deny the people of their state the desperately needed coverage Medicaid would provide.
As more Bishops feel empowered to move in the direction of Pope Francis, perhaps we have reason to hope that they will demonstrate recognition of the complexity of people’s lives and be better able to respond to that reality as Christ would.