Prairie Messenger Header

Development and Peace: 50 years

 

Happy 50th birthday, Development and Peace!

By Joe Gunn

05/10/2017

1967 seems like such a long time ago — heck, Canada celebrated its Centennial Year, and it was the last time the Leafs won the Stanley Cup!

I was still in grade school that year when the Beatles released “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and Twiggy heralded that fashion breakthrough called the miniskirt. Almost half a million American servicemen were fighting in Vietnam, while the number and frequency of peace rallies multiplied at home.

In church history, 1967 marked a momentous occasion. In the previous 70 years before the 1960s, only two social encyclicals had guided Catholic social thought. Then, Pope Paul VI released Pacem in Terris in 1963 and on March 26, 1967, Populorum Progressio, his encyclical on the development of peoples. The church now recognized that the “social question” had international implications, and development became “the new name for peace.”

In response, the Canadian Catholic bishops established an international agency with dual objectives: to collect money to finance projects overseas, and to develop educational activities among parishioners to illuminate the causes of underdevelopment. The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace was born — now referred to as “Development and Peace — CARITAS Canada.”

Looking back, my own faith life, theology and action in the world seem to follow a path guided by the struggles that D&P has encountered and overcome.

In the 1970s, diocesan representatives from across Saskatchewan would meet periodically in Saskatoon on Friday evenings for long meetings to discuss D&P’s annual education campaigns and other business matters. Frank Hegel (back then a teacher, but later ordained as a Scarboro Missionary priest who served in Ecuador), Tim Lilburn and Rev. Bill Mahoney represented the Diocese of Gravelbourg. Rev. Jim Weisgerber and I travelled from Regina; Prince Albert was represented by Michael Doherty, and Saskatoon by Colin Stuart. Only in the later 1970s did the province’s first animator, Susan Eaton, get hired.

I represented Saskatchewan on D&P’s National Council for three years, and that was the first — not the last — time I saw bishops in serious disagreement. By 1982, after two years of consultations, D&P was ready to approve a new constitution for the organization. The Archbishop of Toronto (who preferred the national offices be moved from Montreal to Ottawa) argued for delay, but the Bishop of St. Jean-Longueil countered that the bishops were in agreement with the process and contents. The vote passed, much to the chagrin of the archbishop. (Evidently, archbishops were then not used to serving on boards where a democratic vote could go against their wishes.)

My favourite D&P volunteer experience was when I served on the Latin American Projects Approval Committee. It was exciting and inspirational to approve financing for Christian activists in a region struggling to defend human rights and the promotion of the poor, girded by liberation theology and overcoming vicious dictatorships. The lay staff of D&P in those early years were all militants from the movements of Catholic Action and Young Christian Workers, people like Romeo Maione, Jacques Champagne, Tom Johnson and Mike Flynn. They knew Catholic social encyclicals by heart, and were trained in the “See, Judge, Act” methodology of Belgian Cardinal Cardijn. The staff with overseas experience, however, were mostly former missionaries — the few Canadian Catholics then who had good, lived knowledge of the countries of the Global South.

From 1982 -1990, I lived in Central America where I was extremely proud of the ground-breaking projects and selfless promotion of beneficial social change that D&P partners represented.

I remember organizing a tour and translating for a delegation of Canadian members of Parliament in Honduras and Nicaragua, helping them understand the guerilla war then raging with the covert and illegal support of U.S. President Ronald Reagan. Leaving from the militarily secure Tegucigalpa airport, the Canadian Embassy and Honduran Foreign Ministry staff invited our delegation into the diplomatic lounge for quick and comfortable processing. But I first had to dash off to the men’s room on the departures level to meet Rev. Bill Smith, SFM, D&P’s Latin American Projects Officer. Bill had been visiting D&P’s partners, and we stuffed photographic proof and written testimonies of human rights violations into every piece of clothing and luggage I had. All this material left the country in my uncomfortable possession through the diplomatic lounge, safely and without official questioning. Bill later made sure the documents were carefully delivered to North American and European human rights groups who challenged those militarized Central American dictatorships.

In Canada, D&P has mobilized church support for positive social change like no other Catholic organization. When I worked for the Catholic bishops, they wanted to respond to John Paull II’s call to make the Jubilee Year 2000 come alive by cancelling the debts of the countries of the Global South. But how? Working with other Christians, in the Canadian Ecumenical Jubilee Initiative, D&P supporters gathered over a half million signatures on a petition toward this end. (Other Christian churches gathered about 70,000 more signatures.)

I’ll never forget preaching in favour of debt cancellation in a Catholic pulpit, and hearing the priest celebrant announce at the end of mass that Finance Minister Paul Martin was among the congregation, “and surely got our message loud and clear.”

D&P’s ministry has not only been about financing projects — we also learned that “solidarity” was a virtue, and a way of making our faith come alive, even before John Paul II established this fact in his 1987 encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis.

Ad multos annos D&P! Southern partners working for justice, and the Canadian Catholic Church, need your example more than ever.

Gunn is the Ottawa-based executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, www.cpj.ca. In the interest of full disclosure, while he has never worked for D&P, in 2013, the organization granted a certificate of honour to Joe for his “international solidarity efforts.”