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Catholic workers decry downside of development in Asia

People of goodwill need to raise their voices when tribal people are displaced due to megaprojects, says Jesuit priest
Catholic workers decry downside of development in Asia

Bernard D'Sami, head of the history department at Loyola College, Chennai, is a researcher and activist on migrant worker issues. He addressed the Cardijn Community International conference in Chennai, May 5-8. (Photo by Stefan Gigacz)

Published: May 12, 2016 09:42 AM GMT
Updated: May 12, 2016 09:48 AM GMT

On average one Indian migrant worker per day returns home in a body bag, according to shocking recent statistics, a Chennai conference has heard.

"Airports have been forced to develop new procedures to cope with the influx," Loyola College professor Bernard D'Sami told a Cardijn Community International conference on the theme "Cardijn Today: Inequality, Ecology and Diversity" in Chennai, May 5-8.

Many areas of India have become highly dependent on remittances from these migrant workers, D'Sami said, highlighting the human cost of the trend.

Other speakers at the event also pointed to the downside of the rapid development now sweeping many parts of Asia and other continents.

"My gut feeling is that inequality is here to stay," said Bishop Anthonisamy Neethinathan of Chengalpat Diocese in his opening address.

"The theme of your conference and your plans to redevelop the lay apostolate to take up these issues are extremely timely," he said.

In his keynote address Jesuit Father X.D. Selvaraj linked the problem of inequality to ecology, inviting conference participants to take up Pope Francis' call in the encyclical Laudato si' to respond to "the cry of the poor" and "the cry of the Earth."

"When tribal people and fisher folk are forcefully displaced owing to mega-projects and when just compensation is denied, the church and people of goodwill must raise their voices," Father Selvaraj said.

Similar issues have emerged in many other developing countries, including deforestation.

"This leads to ecological problems that increase the poverty of many people from rural areas causing them to abandon their ancestral lands to look for a future in the overcrowded cities," said Lazare Kabran, a Cardijn Community International regional coordinator for Africa.

"Destructive practices by Asian timber companies are at the forefront of this problem," he added.

"These are some of the major issues that our movement needs to take up over the next three years," said M.J. Ruben, Cardijn Community International coordinator.

The international network he heads brings together members of Christian youth, family and workers movements and related organizations that Belgian Cardinal Joseph Cardijn founded.

Cardinal Cardijn founded the Young Christian Workers movement, earlier called Young Trade Unionists, in 1924. He later started the Young Christian Students, Christian Workers and Christian Family movements as well as the International Movement of Catholic Agricultural and Rural Youth.

The cardinal propagated the "See, Judge, Act" methodology and promoted labor rights.

"Our role now is to apply these methods to the emerging issues in today's world, including inequality, ecology and diversity," Ruben said.

Therefore it will launch a "New Pentecost" campaign from 2017-2019 on the theme "Responding to the cries of the poor and the Earth" to address these issues," he said.

When Cardinal Cardijn died at age 84 in 1967, two years after being made a cardinal, more than 2 million young people were members of the Young Christian Workers movement in 69 countries.

Disclosure: Author Stefan Gigacz was a co-organizer of the conference.

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