BY DAN FRANK
THE POPE will make a powerful appeal for the eradication of poverty tomorrow as leaders of the world’s richest countries prepare for their crucial summit at Gleneagles.
Pope Benedict XVI’s message to protestors at the Make Poverty History rally in Edinburgh will come at the end of a week of intense lobbying by Church leaders. The Pope’s call for solidarity with the poor is expected to galvanise campaigners who are putting pressure on G8 leaders to agree a landmark deal to ease the plight of the world’s poor.
Earlier this week the Archbishop of Westminster and senior religious leaders from Christianity, Judaism and Islam publicly urged the Prime Minister “not to fail God” over world poverty.
In an open letter they asked Tony Blair to secure radical commitments on behalf of the world’s poorest people when he chairs the G8 meeting on Wednesday.
Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to descend on Edinburgh this weekend after Bob Geldof called for one million people to march on the Scottish capital to highlight poverty in Africa.
Cafod and Sciaf, the Scottish bishops’ aid agency, both of which are on the Make Poverty History committee, have helped organise transport to Edinburgh for thousands of Catholics from around the country. Both Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor and Cardinal Keith O’Brien will speak at the rally.
The joint message to Mr Blair was signed by Cardinal MurphyO’Connor; the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams; the Free Churches’ Moderator, Dr David Coffey; the Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks; and the Chair of the Council of Mosques and Imams, Sheikh Sir Zaki Badawi.
The letter was the first occasion on which the five leaders have spoken with one voice since a statement they issued before the Iraq war in 2003. The religious leaders outlined a common belief in the dignity of humanity. “We start from the reality that at the heart of our three great Abrahamic faiths stands a shared vision of what is owed by right to those who are most in need,” they said.
“For Christian, Jew, and Muslim alike, a world that fails to offer a full measure of compassionate justice to all our brothers and sisters, whoever and wherever they may be, is a world that is failing to meet God’s design for humanity.” They urged Mr Blair to take the lead in reducing the poverty that causes 30,000 avoidable deaths every day and applauded the cancel lation of debt to the world’s 18 poorest countries that was announced earlier this month. And they called for a fresh commitment to the Millennium Development Goals, which include halving poverty and hunger over the next 10 years and reducing infant mortality by two thirds.
The letter said: “The UK’s chairing of the G8, along with its Presidency of the EU, require and challenge Britain to play the fullest part now in seeking to change the structures and practices that result in suffering and privation. We hope and pray that the opportunity will be grasped with urgency.” The letter ended: “By speaking together now, we commit ourselves and encourage others, especially the leaders who will gather at Gleneagles, to embrace what we believe to be a God-given vision for our world.” But Catholic critics of Make Poverty History have said that the campaign has placed too much emphasis on aid and debt relief and too little on endemic corruption.
Professor Philip Booth of the Institute of Economic Affairs said that the governments of many countries that receive aid spend only a small proportion of the money on high-profile projects that can be shown to donors. Much more is lost to corruption, he said. He argued that institutional reform and trade liberalisation were far more important than increasing foreign aid.
He said: “Debt relief can be helpful as long as it is accompanied by the introduction of good governance, democratic systems and reductions in corruption. But without those reforms, debt relief and aid can actually be harmful because they bolster the institutions that cause the problems.” There are even quietly critical voices within the clergy. Some missionaries in Africa believe that the entire exercise is misguided, but are afraid to speak out because they fear it will get them into trouble with their superiors.