FAITH . .
HOPE CHARITY . . .
LORD LONGFORD launches a new series NEXT WEEK
Hie theme of an arresting document produced by the Catholic bishops of the world at the end of 1971 was "Justice in the world." In this country it was published in simplified version with a foreword by Cardinal Heenan who claimed that in recent times we had made progress in a sense of responsibility towards our fellows in distress.
But we must now move on much faster. All this was before the British national crisis, the world oil crisis, or the world food 'crisis. Today the message is obviously more urgent than ever. But is it likely that in 1975, a year of painful readjustment, if we are to survive ourselves, there is much prospect of giving effect to it?
"Love", said the bishops, "demands justice." This suggests that love has a certain priority. We are accustomed to regard it as the more fundamental virtue. But the Church has also told us that in another sense justice comes first.
In dealing with our fellowmen, distressed or otherwise, in prison or out of it, we must as Christians accord them their rights before we claim to offer them additional kindness, though the two kinds of service will often be simultaneous.
To quote the bishops again: "For the Christian, love and justice cannot be separated."
In political terms the Synod pronouncement was a distinctly radical document: "Rich nations are making excessive demands on the world's natural resources. One-third of the human race controls threequarters of all income. Unless mankind can develop a totally new conception of human dignity, economic progress can never lead to the unity of the world."
And the bishops speak in the same language about individual rich men: "The rich must accept a less material way of life." The rich are bound in absolute justice to share with all the common human heritage.
Today Bishop Mahon and others remind us that "whatever people in Britain have to stiffer from the raising of oil prices, their plight is nothing to that of the developing countries." But as a nation, are we in fact making any adequate response whatever to the tremendous challenge? So far the answer must be a resounding "No."
In this failure we are far from alone. Other stronger industrialised nations can he held a good deal more culpable. The Justice and Peace Commission of England and Wales deserves the utmost credit for its assault on the whole problem of world poverty, not to mention quite a few others.
By its untiring efforts, in association with organisations such as CA FOD and CIIR, it has created among Catholics an altogether new awareness of the flagrant inequalities between the rich and the poor nations.
At present it is collaborating with the other Churches in a dramatic initiative. As described below, it is making its appeal not only to ordi nary people but directly and insistently to our politicians, in and out of office.
However, it can hardly be claimed that up till now the policy of British governments has been beneficially effective. No party comes out any better than any other. And the present writer has nothing whatever to boast about.
Paul Rogers, an active member of the Justice and Peace Commission, attended the recent World Food Conference, after somewhat abortive approaches to the Minister of Food. His resultng pamphlet bears the revealing title: "Food in Our Time — But Not Yet".
He starkly assesses the conference as "Munich-type" — a surrender by the "goodies" to the powers of darkness. Obviously the matter cannot be left there. Catholics and other Christians have no intention that it should be.
It is. sometimes said to be a question of arousing public opinion — true, no doubt, but too simple a formulation. If all Christians in the country joined in a vehement demand that we should carry out forthwith our declared purpose of giving 0.7 per cent of our national income in overseas aid, the Government would be pushed hard in that direction.
As it is, for the past three years we have been slipping further and further away from such a target, reaching only 0.37 per cent (just over 3-}p in the £) in 1973. (Not so many years ago, the Labour Party solemnly and repeatedly pledged itself to give half as much again — I per cent. And what has happened to that?) Difficulties are admittedly formidable. Help to developing countries is national sacrifice, however you dress it up. Attempts to prove that somehow or other one gets one's money back convince no one for very long. In the days when I sat in the Cabinet I always thought that the Minister of Overseas Develop ment had the hardest task of all.
The Minister for Defence, the Home Secretary, trying to squeeze a little more money for prisoners, had a ticklish time. There were no votes in what they were asking for. But the Minister for Overseas Development had nothing but sentiment to appeal to, and there was so little of that available that the post was removed from the Cabinet.
The fact that any assistance to developing countries involves elaborate technical calculations gives a further excuse for whittling it down.
On the other hand, the poignant sight of mass starvation facing large numbers of our fellow human beings makes a vivid appeal to the compassion of the British public, which often sleeps but is never beyond recall.
So we must make a virtue of necessity. We must take advantage of the present tragic prospect to bring home to the wealthy nations, beginning with our own, their elementary duty to their brethren in distress. They must at last comprehend how their persistent neglect of their duty has contributed to painful hunger and even starvation for many millions in faraway countries.
In the 1840s a million Irish died and a million emigrated, as a result of the famine, with food still being exported from Ireland. Today it is incomprehensible to most of us that such a ghastly thing could have happened in what was then the United Kingdom.
. A century from now the same may well be said about the wealthy nations, including our own, and their negative attitude to the prevention of mass starvation: this at a time when television and other modern forms of communications bring home to us within a matter of hours what happens on the other side of the globe.
Whoever leads the Christian Churches into battle must be thoroughly briefed, so that no gathering of ministers and civil servants. however eminent and dexterous, can outplay them by putting the awkward technical questions. In a personal sense, someone like Lady Jacksoii needs no instruction. Far from it indeed.
But there must be a solid agreement among those who state the case for far more, and more effective, help to the developing nations, with regard not only to ends but to means and policies. The preparatory, work done by the Justice and Peace Com mission will prove of in estimable value. More than 20,000 copies of its leaflet, "The
Truth about Your Food," have so far been requested and distributed to all parts of the country.
By signing the petition which it contains, or writing separately to make similar points, Christians can alert their local MPs to the immediate and desperate need for government support for more grain and fertiliser aid to people on the verge of starvation.
They themselves can show that they are in earnest by lower ing their patterns of consump tion (by family fasts, one meal less a week, a meatless day, etc) and channelling the money saved to voluntary agencies such as CAFOD for agricultural development. In addition, the commission is actively supporting a cam paign which brings together the Christian Churches of all denominations as well as secular agencies. Under the title of "Foodshare," a common front will be presented by all o them in their approaches to the Government with a plea to give much greater priority to the food crisis of the world.
Here again, Catholics at the local level can join together with other Christians and people of goodwill in a joint approach to their MP.
The evidence of our concern needs to be lasting and con tinuous. It can be spearheaded by the Justice and Peace Commission, but solid grass-roots support is essential to enable the work of the national organisations such as the Commission to obtain maximum impact at the decision-making Governmental level.
But no one could fairly claim that at the recent election, for example, candidates were much troubled by Christian pressure. Something on a different scale, something far more precise and closer to the realities of politics, is indispensable. Most of the "crisis talk" in this country at the present time is, not surprisingly, related to the national crisis. There is also the question of what is just or fair, and the answer to it, is likely to be decisive. There also we shall make little headway without a new and explicit spirit of sacrifice fostered by example high and low. In each case, the national and the international, the Christian
will discover the solution in the same principles, the same concern for Individual human beings and the same life of the Spirit.