Each year, on Ash Wednesday, Catholic clergy, religious and lay people who pray the daily Prayer of the Church read the assigned Scripture from Isaiah 58 that speaks about fasting that is pleasing to God. The prophet Isaiah says, "Is not this the fast that I choose, to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free."
This year on Ash Wednesday in Edmonton these biblical words came to life at the public launch of the 2013 Development and Peace (CCODP) Share Lent campaign.
Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, joined with Archbishop Ricardo Barreto from Peru to launch the 2013 Development and Peace Share Lent campaign.
Barreto is president of the Faith and Solidarity Commission of the Latin American Bishops' Conference and former president of the Peruvian bishops' Social Action Commission, a CCODP-funded partner organization.
Baretto spoke of the struggles of the residents of La Oroya, a city of about 35,000 people in his archdiocese. La Oroya is close by an industrial smelter that for many years was run by an international mining company with few environmental controls. The people living nearby became seriously ill because of high levels of heavy metals accumulating in their blood.
Barreto spoke of helping to lead his people to call the corporation and government into full accountability and to change the dangerous industrial practices associated with the smelter. The Latin American Bishops Conference at its 2007 conference in Aparecida, Brazil, reflected on similar accounts of extractive industries from across Latin America, and spoke of "an irrational exploitation that leaves a trail of destruction, even death, throughout our region."
Barreto's presentation helped to set a context for a better understanding of CCODP's approach to international development assistance, and for CCODP's recent public advocacy campaigns.
Over this past year, CCODP has been actively encouraging Canadian Catholics to participate in a public debate about recent changes to the funding priorities and development approaches of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) announced by Julian Fantino, the minister responsible for CIDA.
Fantino speaks of reducing CIDA funds to non-profit, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in order to increase CIDA funding for for-profit corporations operating in developing countries.
Facing criticisms that in these policy and funding shifts CIDA was moving away from its core mandate of policy reduction, Fantino responded in a Globe and Mail interview: "I find it very strange that people would not support Canadian investments to also promote Canadian values, Canadian businesses, the Canadian economy. . . . This is Canadian money and Canadians are entitled to derive a benefit."
Fantino sees this new CIDA approach being realized in the mining industry. He identifies mining as especially significant because "Canadian companies . . . account for almost half of the mining activities in the world."
In this approach, charitable NGOs are invited to partner with mining companies, governments and local communities to work together for the success of specific mining projects in developing countries. Some major Canadian NGOs have signed on with these new CIDA mining projects.
CCODP has taken a different approach in its funded projects.
In La Oroya, in Barreto's archdiocese, CCODP helped to fund the social agencies of the Peruvian bishops and other community groups to organize the local people whose health had been damaged by heavy metal poisoning from the nearby smelter, and to assist and support these local groups working with their Church leaders in holding the government and the mining company to public accountability and to demand changes in industrial and environmental practices.
The Latin American bishops' Justice and Solidarity Commission calls for citizens' movements in wealthy nations to stand in "solidarity and support with southern communities and peoples," and for episcopal conferences in the U.S., Canada and Europe to dialogue with them "about the extractives industries and the mission of the Church."
This message is very much part of the ongoing work of CCODP. I think Isaiah would see this very much as an appropriate Lenten spiritual practice pleasing to God.
(Bob McKeon: firstname.lastname@example.org)