CONSOLATION AND THE OPTION FOR THE POOR
Looking at photographs in recent religious periodicals we cannot avoid the conclusion that the economic growth resulting from scientific and technological progress has been accompanied by the spread of poverty especially in the third world. The news agency, MISNA, shows us the many faces of poverty throughout the world. The experience of so many missionaries bolsters this conclusion: poverty is increasing not diminishing. The poor are everywhere. We see them in those shanty towns that surround cities in the Third World. Illiteracy or near-illiteracy and sickness, especially AIDS, already affect millions of men and women and threaten so many others. There is a generation of orphans in our midst. Malnutrition stunts the full physical and mental development of millions. So many injustices, wars and attacks on human rights lead to the same conclusion: poverty is spreading and is the cause of so many of the evils afflicting mankind.
The Economic World in Which We Live
The main cause of poverty and the growing gap between rich and poor is the theory and practice of neo-liberal economics. The pragmatism of supply and demand determines almost everything. Investment in scientific research is governed by the profit motive. Profit rules both national and world markets with little concern for the common good.
It is not democratically elected national governments seeking justice who make fundamental economic decisions but power players in the world market and in the governments of richer countries. The economic policies of poorer countries do nothing to humanize this ideology – rather they perpetuate it. Since the 1970’s and 80’s and especially since the fall of Communism this economic philosophy is dominant throughout the world. Poorer countries carry little weight in the global market and fear being politically as well as economically marginalized.
Science depends on national and international macro-economic policies that usually benefit only developed countries. It saturates first-world markets with high-tech products and services creating islands of luxury in an ocean of Third World poverty. International conferences spend their time discussing the gap between classes and nations, armed conflict and international terrorism, climate change and pollution, water shortage, erosion of arable land, deforestation, disappearance of bio-diversity, restricted fishing. Mankind is caught in a trap, a global market where supply and demand constitute a vicious circle.
The principle of supply and demand is one of many-sided accumulation. It involves cooperation among financial power players – multinational organizations with immense financial and technological resources – who work together on national and international levels. They define their own financial goals and dictate the economic policies of poor countries.
The free market plays an irreplaceable role in stimulating the creation of products and services that meet the needs of people. Obsession with efficiency and autonomy can suffocate the free market and divorce it from any social concern. There is no interest in the common weal. Society is something to exploit that can be opposed or abandoned when it threatens private control of the means of production or profit. The international economic system is not a common market, a customs union or even a free trade area. It is an arena in which economic forces compete among themselves to derive maximum profit in areas where conditions are all in their favor . There is no central government, no common set of ethics and laws to guarantee justice for all.
The mental/ideological outlook of these economic giants and its impact on the world are of the utmost importance for any understanding of today’s social morality. Market trends are unpredictable. Competition involves a series of requirements: efficiency, effectiveness, rapid updating of methods and techniques, constant re-organization of institutions, diversification of products, constant revision of business strategies to handle changing times and sectors of the market. As a result businessmen who hope to survive in the market place cultivate a cold and rational attitude that sees all things from the perspective of the bottom line. Businessmen are not interested in society’s genuine problems (poverty, illiteracy, sickness, injustices); they are concerned with the competitors who can defeat them. This is a “poison” that is gradually permeating society.
Allamano, the Church and the Poor
Consolation has strong Marian components and is not simply a spiritual attitude. It is a way of being and acting; it is a prism through which we view the world; it is a plan of action that involves the whole man – body and soul – and opens him up to the basic needs of the social-economic world around him; it is a journey with God. Through this perspective the Consolata Missionary can find his place and his identity in the framework of the Consolata charism. Blessed Joseph Allamano was not a theoretician; he was a Father and a Founder who sent his missionaries throughout the world to be salt (Mt 5,13), light (Mt 5,14) and leaven (Lk 21) that would transform and lift up the whole man and renew his social and spiritual status on all levels.
In the spirit of Allamano the Tenth General Chapter discussed the social and economic world in which Institute lives and works. It noted the need for new attitudes and methods to meet the new needs of the missions. We must carry out our mission in the best way possible, without fear of the new or unknown. We must be fully aware of the context in which we work and promote collective responsibility for nature and humankind. Only missionaries open to the Spirit, convinced of the need for Consolation and conscious of the importance of context will make a difference!
Consolation’s key contribution to making neo-liberal economics more moral is the spirit of work. Work gives meaning to and is a fundamental part of human existence. The motor that drives neo-liberal economy is the human being’s capacity for creativity and originality. Sustainable economic growth and the reduction of poverty in poor countries is possible through investment in education; poor people often work very hard without achieving satisfactory results because they lack appropriate technology. A preferential option/love for the poor is a characteristic of the Consolata missio ad gentes. It is a call to action on behalf of the poor.
It is not enough to invest in the productivity of vulnerable segments of the population. Investment must be accompanied by assistance, solidarity and a willingness to help the poor become gradually integrated into the market. Consolation does not diminish human beings but makes them cooperative and productive. Any theory that places undue emphasis on the bottom line or maximum short-term profit cannot provide guidelines for the economy. Such a theory takes no account of justice and fails to define the limits of legitimate profit.
For a human being a commitment to justice and peace is the heart of economic progress and development and the only possible guarantee of the neo-liberal market’s survival. Absolute poverty implies a lack of political will – not a lack of means. Along with humanitarian organizations throughout the world, the Church’s goal is the continuing humanization and integral development of the poor and not the elimination of the market.
The Day-by-Day Work of Consolation with the Poor
Blessed Joseph Allamano laid special emphasis on the importance of knowing first-hand the individuals among whom the missionary works as well as the religious, social and economic world in which they live. Personal and community interpretation of the signs of the times in the light of faith is the best way to be faithful to our charism and to the churches we serve. We must put our interpretation into practice by taking appropriate measures to raise consciousness and promote human welfare. In this way the joys, hopes, disappointments and sufferings of those we serve will involve us as missionaries and become an integral part of our lives.
Vocal segments of the poor are more likely to succeed nowadays than their silent colleagues but even their impact on national and international macro-economic policies is negligible. Both the market and politicians will gradually forget those who have no voice. Our discernment and promotion of human welfare must raise up local leaders who are well trained, cooperative, courageous and ready to sacrifice themselves for the common good.
The economy affects all aspects of human life. The media speak more and more about globalization, liberalization, neo-liberalism, protectionism, privatization, free market democracy, etc. Any discussion of the poor inevitably involves economics. However much poorer countries succeed in making their concerns heard they remain hostages of the First World’s economic domination. Any consideration of justice and peace involves economics and requires a creative understanding of the market’s mechanisms and geo-political implications. The Church provides a framework of morality in which to debate the social, economic and political aspects of development and calls on us to promote awareness of economic issues.
We are already committed to so many human welfare projects. Our witness to and solidarity with the poor are unquestionable and this is a positive beginning. Once conscious of their dignity as human beings and their rights and duties as citizens the poor can demand more of those who hold economic and political power. Promoting human welfare and a sense of responsibility are the keys to economic development, justice and peace.
Consolation is an approach and a program - the content of our message to the world. It is development centered on the human person that goes to the very roots of poverty. It is addressed to human beings everywhere in their own social, cultural and economic milieu. Our missionary mandate does not send us to man alone but to the whole of creation (Mk 16,15) of which man is the apex.
Because of the media the world today is a global village. This is also true of the market. The forces and impact of the market do not respect national boundaries. Even though our respective circumscriptions are local, Consolation opens a window on the whole world and the economic concerns of the entire planet. Consolation moves us to speak of the need for economic reform throughout the world and in the lives of both rich and poor. Our goal is the common weal of humanity. Consolation reaches everyone – Christian and non-Christian alike.
Father Marandu Hipoliti