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Catholics Reaffirm Commitment To Global Solidarity At World Social Forum

Updated: January 20, 2004 05:00 PM GMT
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Catholic delegates to the World Social Forum 2004 in Mumbai, India, met beforehand to discuss the role the Church has played and could play in promoting justice and solidarity.

Differing views of the reality facing the modern Church were presented, but participants expressed the belief that another and better world is possible and confirmed their commitment to be part of that process.

The "Christian Forum for Global Solidarity," hosted by Bombay archdiocese´s Commission for Justice and Peace, was held Jan. 15 at St. Pius College, close to the venue of the Jan. 16-21 world forum that drew more than 120,000 people and was widely seen as a platform against the negative effects of globalization. Mumbai was formerly called Bombay.

The tone of the Catholic meeting was set by Father Allwyn D´Silva, chairperson of the archdiocesan commission.

Globalization is an attack on Christianity, he said, as it attacks the basic values promoted and preached by Christianity including equality and human rights based on the dignity of every person.

"As such, Christians cannot remain indifferent to globalization and must respond accordingly," Father D´Silva said.

Oblate Father Tissa Balasuriya, a Sri Lankan priest who writes on Asian liberation theology, maintained that globalization existed as a process as far back as the 15th century. He lamented that the Church has failed to address resulting problems in the centuries since, despite good intentions. "The Church itself has been responsible for injustices heaped on innocent peoples, especially in the distribution of land," he added.

Father Balasuriya questioned how this and other faults could be remedied and whether the Church is ready to take up radical issues such as reparation and redistribution of land following the principle of "people without land are entitled to land without people."

Virginia Saldanha, executive secretary of the Office of the Laity of the Federation of Asian Bishops´ Conferences (FABC) and an advocate for women´s rights, raised another question: "Who is the Church?"

Saldanha said it was sad that the official Church leadership had not arranged a prominent presence at the world forum, which she said Jesus would "definitely" attend were he alive today. She shared with the other participants the commitment the FABC has made in various statements to work for justice, peace and development.

Julian Filochowski, former director of the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development of the Catholic Bishops´ Conference of England and Wales, observed that the work of many Catholics around the world indicates the Church is relating to social justice and global solidarity issues.

He stressed the importance of Catholics finding alternatives to "free trade," which he said has become a "license to exploit." While globalization is an option for the rich, he added, "the Church is an option for the poor."

A positive development cited by Asian participants was Church groups´ increasing collaboration with other religious and secular organizations.

However, Father Balasuriya said Asian Catholics generally see Jesus more as a gift-giver than as someone who resists injustice and promotes liberation. The theologian proposed that the Church promote a "spirituality of resistance" that would mirror the perceived rationale behind the World Social Forum.

Many participants at the Catholic forum represented lay movements and official Church agencies such as Caritas and justice and peace commissions. A number of bishops attended as well as students, Religious and clergy.

One issue they addressed was a common perception that social activists within the Church, whatever their vocation or place, remain a minority among their peers and often feel marginalized from the mainstream Church.

In light of this, participants reaffirmed the importance of such gatherings to re-energize themselves, support each other and continue their struggles.

Several participants including a Japanese university student raised the point that social action and spiritual activities need to be integrated. An Indian student pointed out that Church leaders have a ready audience every Sunday, and that this opportunity should be utilized to raise awareness of social issues, particularly those affecting the impoverished.

The International Catholic Movement for Intellectual and Cultural Affairs -Pax Romana and the International Movement of Catholic Students organized the Catholic forum.

The World Social Forum 2004 is the fourth such world forum, the first three of which were held in Brazil. Its website at (www.wsfindia.org) says the forum is neither an organization nor a united platform, but "an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas."


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