There’s a mouse in the soup !
Not so long ago there was a tradition in a convent of the Friars Preachers that communal meals had to be taken in silence. Moreover, you could not ask anything for yourself as you had to be attentive to the friar next to you. For example, if your neighbour needed a spoon or water, it was up to you to provide it. One day a novice, Jose, found a tiny mouse in his soup and Gerard who was sitting next to him had not noticed it. Jose could not eat as he was distressed over the fact that he could do nothing to attract Gerard’s attention. Finally, in desperation, Jose called the attendant and said, “Gerard has not been served mouse with his soup as I have!”
This hallowed custom for the refectory depicts our tradition of being attentive to the need of the other. When we do not practice this care, then we are caught out when the mice start falling in our soup. What it all boils down to is what some writers on spirituality refer to as being ‘attentive to the other’. What is the life of the other? How are we attentive to his needs? Saint Dominic taught us this solicitude for others, to know where we shall preach the Good News so as to get the message across; to read the Signs of the Times. How are we to do this; to know the plight of the other. “This is what many of our brethren and sisters have taught us over the years,” and we deepen our perception as time moves on.
So that my brother might not miss out
I should like to share with you a review of what has gone on ever since the Order accorded priority to Justice and Peace. Our world is changing fast, and so responding to the needs of our neighbour is a matter of constant attention and reflection. We have to watch continually over the soup; I assure you there are now many more mice even large rats ready to eat our neighbour’s soup, and even to eat him! How is our world, that of our neighbour, the world in which I try to build and preach the Good News?
For a preacher studying the world we live in and its historic moments is as important as the study and knowledge of the Word.
The soup is overflowing
During the last years, and in particular since 1970, there has been an enormous leap in world economic activity, Whereas in 1950 the GNP was barely $6.3 billion for a world population of 2.5 billion people, the GNP by 2000 had risen to $42 billion for a population of some 6 billion. In other words, there is more soup.
In Europe the rate of economic growth in 2000 was 3.4%. However, throughout the world there are now some 1.2 billion people living on less than $1 a day and 2.8 billion on less than $2 a day.
What’s going on and how come ?
We have this paradox of growing riches for the few and growing poverty for the many. 8% of children die before their 5th birthday. Put in another way: the GNP of the 20 richest countries is some 37 times superior to the average of the 20 poorest countries. 4.5 billion people have to get by on only 14% of the world’s GNP!
The gap between rich and poor keeps growing. Already in 1979 the bishops who were meeting in Puebla, (Mexico) were saying that this gap between rich and poor was a scandal for Christians. It is hard to even imagine that 350 of the world’s richest people have the same wealth as some 2.6 billion.
Which side are we on? We who no doubt benefit from our Western Christian culture, is this our Good News? But can we speak of the starving? One person in seven goes hungry every day.
The mouse is eating my brother’s soup!
Who has eaten my brother’s soup? In the year 2000 various initiatives were taken to reduce the indebtedness of poor countries. The Jubilee was the opportunity for the Holy Father and our pastors to launch the call for forgiving external debts. Various initiatives were organized, documents were signed, plebicites and protest meetings were organized, but the major creditors paid little attention. Nevertheless, this movement persists as debt is the major cause of the misery of millions of people. These actions were not in vain because sensitivities have been aroused; the words of the Pope have encouraged others to also cry out in the wilderness. We all know is that the present global economy has no ethical basis. The external debt of poor nations, created by the wealthy, is immoral. For example, 41 of these poorest owe some $ 157 billion. In other words each inhabitant of these poor nations should work 223 days a year just to pay off that debt. If we add to this the interest rates, then these people would not be able to feed themselves throughout the whole year! Their dilemma can be summarised as follows: pay or die. Take another example, my own country, Mexico. It needs $12 billion just to pay the interest on what it owes. It is estimated that, since 1986, we have paid back 4.4 times the original debt to the creditors as “servicing”. In other words the poor are financing some of the prosperity of the rich countries.
To this I should also mention another burden on debtor nations. The World Bank and IMF impose “structural adjustments “.This implies wholesale privatisation of some sectors of the economy, massive dismissals in the public sectors, increased taxes on staple commodities etc.
Now the Mouse is eating my Brother !
This globalisation has created unfettered capitalism or a ‘total market economy’ In the same vein a new ideology has emerged, the “non- alternative”. We now have ‘emerging’ markets that are little more than fictitious entities designed primarily for speculative purposes. These ‘games’ can virtually bankrupt financial institutions, even entire countries.
One can easily deduce that this situation leads to corruption at every level, from a German Chancellor or a Japanese Prime Minister to modest functionaries in the poorest countries. A former Indonesian president, Suharto, is estimated to have deposited $23 billion in various banks. We all know about other leaders, but what of their accomplices who arrange this laundering in ‘fiscal paradises’?
What we have just described has enormous repercussions in the social domain. Most countries cannot afford to provide health services to all its citizens, The world Bank and the IMF are trying to impose the privatisation of social security. The result is that only income earners can access health services. Some obtain these services but the majority has to do without. As a result some 11 million children under five years in 1998 died of ailments which they could have been prevented or cured, 600,000 women died in childbirth.
You are all aware of the statistics for HIV/AIDS; a child is infected every 38 seconds,and 25 million people in Africa will soon die of it and hardly any will have been able to afford medicine or medical treatment. Some countries lack drugs and by contrast others are over-consumers. The USA, for example, consumes 50% of the world’s sedatives and anti-depressants, even though it only has 5% of the world’s population. We find a similar situation as regards education. In 2000 some 113 million children had no access to schooling; that is respectively 9 and 14 per cent of boys and girls are unable to go to school. In most poor countries the quality of schooling is declining.
When we read in the papers about the influx of migrants to rich countries we very rarely realize the profound pain that such persons carry. I recently met Martha in Italy, she left Colombia because of poverty and the violence. She confided to me how much she has suffered ever since arriving in Rome five months ago. All her savings have gone, she cannot find work and has no residency permit. She is constantly accosted by pimps.
During the last meeting of the International Commission for Justice and Peace we discussed the possibility of including in our mandate and work a new dimension:
‘Respect for Life’
Some weeks ago we witnessed the debate on the Kyoto Agreement concerning global warming and how the authorities in the USA are denying any causality. Basically their reaction followed the logic of industrial development. We are aware of genetic manipulation of some cereals, making the seeds sterile so that peasants cannot multiply them, and so have to keep on purchasing their stock for sowing. The same is taking place with patents; traditional products from developing countries are now patented by multinationals.
War and Peace
In order to maintain this disequilibrium which is causing so much violence to the poor there must be recourse to various pressures; threats, disinformation, authoritarianism and war. I’ve just returned from Iraq Ten years before it was subject to a terrible war, which is badly known in the West. Since that war some 500.000 children of less than 10 years old have died. There would never have been such a criminal embargo if that country had not possessed petroleum resources. There is little doubt that war and petroleum resources go together. Think of Congo-Brazzaville, or Indonesia. War is big business and increasingly sophisticated. Costs keep on going up, even now that the Cold War is over. Last year, total expenses rose to over $8000 billion.
This “industry” is growing and has a terrible effect on many people in different manners: for example each year some 300,000 minors under the age of 18 are recruited into the armed forces. A nuclear submarine, like the one in which a group of tourists were playing in off Hawaii when it sank a Japanese fishing boat some weeks ago, or like the one that sank in the Arctic Sea, costs as much as vaccinating all the world’s children.
We could go on opening windows to see what is going on, to describe the contrasts and sufferings of men and women. But I shall be silent for a moment and contemplate Jesus in this world. What does He want of me? Where is He ?
He spoke of God and with God
The witnesses for his canonisation tell us that Saint Dominic spoke of God and to God. How can we now do this in a world that is so changing and so marked by injustices? Jesus seems to appear to us, in the words of Saint Paul, as crucified. Perhaps a thousand and one times in all who suffer, as Bartolomeo Las Casa tells us when he observed the destruction reeked by the conquistadors in the “New World”.
It seems to me that we are called nowadays to contemplate Jesus in such a manner, to preach the Truth on whom we contemplate and preach as fr. Philippe Le Blanc always reminds me in Geneva at the United Nations when referring to our suffering brothers and sisters.
Saint Dominic affirmed he could not study on the skins of the dead! That is our inheritance and perspective. He was on his way to Denmark he understood that traveling in pomp and luxury was not the way to preach the Gospel. He understood the people’s anger and so adopted a life style that enabled him to See better and so became a beggar.
This is an integral part of our spirituality which we have cherished for centuries, though at times we may betray it when we compromise with the authorities. We are now discovering our brother fallen on the path; the prostrated blood stained women, being stoned by those keen to safeguard “purity”. We are seeing the one possessed of seven demons, crying among the tombs, who frightens us and is aggressive.
Justice and Peace is not a job to be done, nor a pious prayer. It is part of our spirituality and brings us closer to the mystery of God and the Other. It is part of our inheritance Dominic left us. It is the fire of indignation that enflamed Catherine of Siena when she wrote to her “sweet and beloved Jesus” about the man condemned to death, or about the prostitute. It is this indignation which makes us angry like Paul at the Preatorium for the cause of Jesus. It is the tenderness of creation revealed by the Holy Spirit.
When we become capable of righteous anger and sharing suffering, then we are on the road that led our brother Antonio Valdivieso to his death, and Martin de Porres to giving himself entirely. We are all here because the Lord has attracted us in this spirit of total sacrifice. We are all here because we have discovered the love of our fellows and the contemplation of Jesus, as depicted by Fra Angelico, with Dominic at the foot of his cross. We wish to contemplate and give to others the One we contemplate. Let us contemplate the One who is being crucified today. However, there are signs of resurrection.
Where are our Brothers and Sisters?
Timothy has just written the preface to a book that will soon be published* and which describes the path that the Order has followed in Justice and Peace. He writes about Saint Dominic and the first brethren as well as Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Bartolomeo de Las Casa, Pierre Claverne, Antonio de Montesinos, Francisco de Vitoria, Martin de Porres and others. He said to me: “This book is like viewing again a family album!”
Many of our brothers and sisters have contemplated our Lord and preached the Truth, even though they have not been listened to. There they found the place where God was waiting for them. There we met Louis-Joseph Lebret, who changed his life when he discovered the suffering of these Breton fishermen and because of this, he sought out places where one could live in hope. There is our brother Lataste, saw the sufferings of prostitutes and so founded a congregation of sisters devoted to rehabilitating these women. We also find another brother, Dominic Pire, awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1958, who founded villages for refugees.
We also find Catherine Ford, Maura Clarke, Dorothy Kasel and Jean Donovan, all Dominican sisters of Maryknoll assassinated 20 years ago in San Salvador. Nor should we forget Pierre Claverie, Bishop of Oran in Algeria, also assassinated. All these and others have lived passionately in seeking the truth and building hope.
Now we continue our search and should like to share something with you. Faced with this complex reality of the present economy and number of us in various parts of the world who are reflecting on these questions and publishing our research. For example, in France we, have the, Centre d’Etude de L’Economie et de L’Humanisme, and Espace in Brussels (more on that later). Other friars have developed specific areas of research, in Costa Rica and the Philippines: in 2002 a congress will take place in Salamanca on Ethics and the Economy.
Other brothers and sisters are also working with the aim of changing things. For example, some days ago I assisted at an interesting meeting with the Sisters of the Union of Saint Thomas here in Italy. These sisters decided from now on to buy only ethical products. As one sister told me, “the peasants of this country want justice not charity, we shall support them by buying their products.”
Some communities of sisters in the USA have established committees to oversee where congregations deposit their money. The Adrian Dominican sisters in 1974, established a Portfolio Investment Board (BAB) responsible for evaluating the congregation’s finance according to Gospel principles. In 1978 a complementary fund was institutes whose objective is to make low interest loans to NGO’s assisting the poor, especially women, minorities and those at risk.
Some 131 projects have received funding since this Fund was established. BAB is directed by a committee of sisters which sees to it that funds are used to meet the objectives set by the congregation. The sisters also take part in the Interfaith Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), a common organization of some 200 ecumenical religious bodies, through which their views are channeled to the shareholders meetings of the large corporations. Their aim is to safeguard working conditions, respect for the environment etc. These sisters have also participated in boycotting corporations whose practices oppose justice and peace.
For some years a group of sisters and friars get together at rthe same time as the meeting of the G8 to express its disapproval for the manner in which it conducts its decision making with no regard to the population.
One monastery in the USA has opted to grow only organic products so as to show that alternative agriculture is possible.
During the time I have been the Order’s promoter I have been struck by the creativity manifested in this domain. The sisters and friars refuse to succumb to the temptation of pessimism and melancholy, but want to be little torches lighting up the world. Surely you also have experienced this? Have any of you deposited your savings in an Ethical Bank? I should like to know what lay Dominicans are doing to promote Justice and Peace.
The Friars Preachers at the United Nations
The result of an economic system that only seeks its own profit while at the same time applying repressive policies, created many victims. The Order is developing a new “platform” in order to help more effectively those in need by encouraging victims to assert themselves. This is the NGO, Dominicans for Justice and Peace, that is located in Geneva and works through the United Nations.
This year, for example we participated, together, with other members of the Dominican Family, in the work of the commission on Human Rights to protest over human rights violation in a number of countries. Among those present were Maritze Trigos, a Dominican sister working in Bogota, who presented a dossier documenting 38,000 assassinations committed by paramilitary and ‘security’ forces in Columbia which have gone unpunished. A lay Dominican, Jelson de Oliveira, who is president of the Brazilian Justice and Peace Commission, was also there to denounce the lethal repression of landless peasants. Another lay person also there was Juan Carlos Paez, who is in the Centre for Human Rights, “Fray Bartolome de Las Casas”, which in fact I was directing some time back in Chiapas, Mexico. Also there was fr. Albert Yohanna from Pakistan who spoke on behalf of the Christians in his country who are discriminated against, particularly as regards the laws against “Blasphemy” and the separate “voting system”. Finally there was fr. Jose Sebastiao, from Angola who works at Mosaic, the Human rights Centre in Luanda. All these assisted in the work of the UN Commission on Human Rights and courageously denounced killings and other forms of violence exercised on the poorest and marginalized of their countries.
Aside from this ‘representation’ or lobbying, we also denounced the situation in Iraq, particularly on how the innocents have been victims of an unjust and immoral embargo imposed on Iraq during the last ten years. Here I should like to underline that for the last four years our sisters in the USA have had a campaign to help these victims and every year they visit their sisters in Iraq. They bring them medicine, which is in very short supply and also solidarity; they remind them that many of us are thinking of them.
Some time ago, Philippe le Blanc, our permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, and I arrived at one of the monasteries of our nuns in Geneva. The nuns were fasting and the reason they gave was to lobby against the embargo on Iraq.
There is another important movement taking place; this time in Brussels, the European capital. Since 1992 there grew up there a Dominican centre of reflection and action. This is Espaces, which is also present in Strasbourg and Cracow .These are places which are growing with considerable creativity to defend human rights. As you are aware, some 70% of the laws now governing Italy are promulgated in Brussels; not in Rome – an example of globalisation!
One of Espaces’s projects is to formulate human rights and democratic standards that must apply as conditions for doing business with the European Union.
A Unique Place
There is another programme starting up that I should like to share with you, that of international volunteers. It encapsulates all the criteria of the spirituality that we have talked about. We invite our brothers and sisters to participate in the mission that we are realising in a place that we are committed to. For example, in the Philippines people for Spain are invited to preach the Truth. From Italy they invite people from Angola, in France from Indonesia, Timor from Italy etc. Hence our mission is globalised and we share our efforts and hope.
Dominican volunteers International (DVI) is a Dominican family project. It is also a dream which little by little is being realised. It began with research that was carried out over a number of years on how we can all carry out our preaching vocation. We are convinced that the spirit is pushing us towards openness and communion by making us the signs of the living Church founded by Christ.
The promise that was made is for you and your children and for all those who are far away, for all those whom the Lord our God is calling to himself. (Ac 2:39)
DVI was founded jointly by the friars and the Dominican sisters International (DSI), with consultations from lay Dominicans. It was officially launched in October 2000 in Manila during the Assembly of the Dominican Family. The responsibility for its coordination is in the Dominican family, namely: Sr. Veronica Rafferty, fr. Pablo Romo and Carola Arnue. The objective is to establish promotional teams comprising a member of each branch of the family from different countries.
We are striving to establish a network of Dominican communities with simple structures that will permit the dispatch or receipt of volunteers, as the case maybe. All entities belonging to the Dominican family and adhering to the criteria set out by the DVI are entitled to be beneficiaries. For the time being we are appealing to young people over 21 years who feel called to this mission, and who are supported by their local community.
An interesting case the “Inn” of San Martin in Madrid. Its aim is to take in the beggars and homeless from the streets of Madrid and provided them with a roof over their heads, or a place where they can learn a trade. This is a privileged place where our brothers have found the abandoned Jesus. I have heard of a clinic that works with migrants without identity papers. It provides medical care to people who otherwise would not receive any. It is a work that is not talked about so as not to alert the police who have the task of expelling from Europe this new work force.
How many other projects could I mention? Where are our lay brothers and sisters who express what they contemplate? I should very much like to be informed. I am sure there are many and that their qualities are remarkable. In writing the above I became quite enthusiastic and convinced that we can all be proud of what is in the process of being realised. However, we should not become complacent as there is still so much to do and share.
*-Justice and Peace Dominicans 1216-2001, John Orme Mills op.,ed.
Dominican Publications, Dublin 2001.
May Jesus in our midst enlighten us in the work of rising again !
General Promoter of Justice & Peace