July 05, 2005

The Least of These

Tomorrow, the leaders of the world's eight wealthiest and most powerful nations will come together to discuss poverty in the developing world. Over the past few weeks, the Make Poverty History campaign (the ONE Campaign in the U.S.) and the Live 8 Concert have led an unprecedented effort to urge our leaders to commit to political and economic justice for Africa and the rest of the developing world. This effort has brought people together on four continents, uniting them across denominational, religious, and political boundaries. What other cause could bring Christians, Jews, Muslims, and people of other faiths to the table to fight for one common goal? What other cause could bring Catholic bishops like Cardinal O'Brien of Scotland and Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor of Britain to the podium to address millions of people, Catholic and non-Catholic, with a greeting and blessing from Pope Benedict XVI? What other cause could put the MoveOn Political Action Committee and the Christian Coalition of America on the same side? People everywhere, from every religious and political persuasion, are committed to making poverty history tomorrow at the G8 Summit.

Of course, there are skeptics. There are those who are concerned that increased aid and debt forgiveness will have no effect if it is not coupled with a strong commitment to reform of the governments in the developing world and strong trade reform. The Make Poverty History campaign agrees with them. The third platform plank of the campaign is a commitment to trade reform, and many of the campaign's organizers have mentioned that this must also include reform of the governments in the developing world. All of us can agree that increased aid and debt forgiveness are useless if the governments of the developing world do not distribute the aid fairly and accept the debt forgiveness correctly; it must be a precondition of increased aid that such aid will go where it is needed, to the African people, and it must also be a precondition of debt forgiveness that the governments of the developing nations will not build up more debts with minimal help to the people of those nations.

There is room for questions about the Make Poverty History campaign, there is room for dialogue, there is room for skepticism. What we cannot make room for, however, is apathy. We can no longer tolerate indifference within our faith communities and our political community toward the one billion people across the globe who are living on less than a dollar a day. We can no longer tolerate indifference toward the children who are dying every day, at a rate of one child every three seconds. We can no longer tolerate indifference toward the more than 30,000 people who die in the developing world by the end of every day. The time to act must be now. Our attitude must not be: "We will help them eventually, after a lot of reform." Is that what we will say to Christ, present in the child who will die in the next three seconds? Is that what we will say to the God of the universe, present in all of the 30,000 people who will die by the end of the day today? Will we tell him: "We were going to help them eventually, after a lot of reform"? And if that is going to be our response, will we be surprised when he says to us: "I did not know you"?

The need for reform, the need for debt forgiveness, the need for increased aid -- these needs cannot wait for eventually, they must happen now. We must think of it this way: If we knew that someone was coming to our local parish to desecrate one host every three seconds, what would our response be? Many of us, if not all of us, would try to beat that person to our parish and block the door so that he could not desecrate the Blessed Sacrament. Why would we respond this way? Because Jesus Christ is present in those hosts, and we would not be able to stand the thought of his presence being desecrated in that manner. Why, then, do we treat his presence in the poor differently? We know that horrible, ugly, brutal death is coming to the developing world to desecrate Christ's presence in those children every three seconds. Why are we not blocking the door to death? Why are we not saying: "No more"? Why don't we feel the same urgency that we feel in protecting Christ's presence in the Blessed Sacrament when it comes to protecting his presence in the poor?

We can disagree on the best way for our leaders to combat global poverty, but what we absolutely cannot disagree on is the need for them to do something. We must let them know how urgent this need really is before they meet tomorrow. The lives of more than a billion people depend on it.