Church leaders forced into 'politics'

Fr. Edwin Gariguez

Fr. Edwin Gariguez

June 6, 2011

TORONTO – Bishop Charles Kasonde doesn’t have a problem with mining in Zambia.

He has a problem with poverty, social upheaval, an AIDS pandemic, economic uncertainty and the near absence of government services in his diocese of Solwezi.

It upsets him that these problems persist despite the obvious success of mining companies that are allowed to pay the state a mere three-per-cent royalty on some of the richest copper deposits in the world.

So Kasonde is a reluctant protester against mining.

“In most cases, when the Church comes in that means that there is somebody not doing his work. The Church would not want to come in. Our main focus is evangelization,” Kasonde said in an interview.

Kasonde was in Toronto with 150 Church-based anti-mining activists from around the world.

They were brought to Canada by the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, KAIROS, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and a dozen other ecumenical partners to share information and strategies in their fight against mining projects, most of which have been financed on Toronto’s stock exchanges.

In Zambia the government has bent over backwards to attract foreign mining investment, granting tax holidays and bargain basement royalty deals, said Kasonde.

That leaves the government without the revenues it needs to build basic infrastructure and provide education and health services, he said. “It’s injustice of the highest order.”

In the Philippines, Catholic bishops have been drawn time and again into disputes between local communities and foreign mining companies, said Father Edwin Gariguez of the National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

“We received so many complaints from mining-affected communities,” he said.

Environmental damage, often leading to health problems and the destruction of farmland and fisheries, tops the list, said Gariguez.

Christians must not only obey the law, they should love their neighbours, he said. Mining companies should also respect morality.