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Pope encourges us to help our neighbors Print
Guest column
Thursday, Apr. 29, 2010 -- 12:00 AM

Guest Column

The devastating earthquake in Haiti has focused our attention on that country and the living conditions of its poor. Hunger, disease, and illiteracy can be found in other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

This region provides a good background for reflecting on Pope Benedict's latest encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, which addresses the development of peoples.

Countries affect their neighbors

The pope acknowledges that internal problems, like corruption, can impede a country's progress. However, in a globalized world, there are ways that countries can affect their neighbors. We can, too, for good or for ill.

For example, a country can allocate funds for international development aid. The pope urges rich countries to try to increase those amounts, while warning that such aid must not pursue secondary objectives. The U.S. gives much aid to poor countries, but as a smaller portion of its national income than some other developed nations.

In the pope's vision for development, all economic activity must be directed toward the common good and not governed solely by commercial reasoning. Businesses are important, but they should be accountable to stakeholders -- workers, suppliers, consumers, and the environment, and not just to shareholders.

In particular, outsourcing of production may obscure the responsibility a business has to contribute to the society in which it operates. This can pertain to U.S.-based companies, since many continue to operate throughout the Western Hemisphere.

Dealing with financial issues

The pope notes that international financial institutions have pressured poor countries to make cuts in social spending, which endangers human rights. Many of our neighbors have enormous debts to these institutions.

This is true for Haiti, even after its bilateral debts to some countries, including the U.S., were forgiven after the earthquake. Financing must be available, but it must be brought back to its original purpose -- assisting development. The U.S. wields great influence in the international financial institutions.

Underdeveloped countries must have access to international markets, according to the encyclical. They must be allowed to produce and export agricultural goods. This enhances their food security and ensures their survival. Unfortunately, U.S. tariffs, subsidies, and quotas can undermine market access for poor countries and significantly alter the rural sectors of countries near us.

Contributing to human advancement

Being open to God, respecting human life in all situations, trying to deepen our relationships with others abroad, being mindful of the consequences of our consumption and investment choices -- these are ways the pope mentions that we can contribute to human advancement.

It seems appropriate that we apply them to peoples in our own part of the world, those with whom we interact most.

Christian faith attaches profound meaning to the word "neighbor." Pope Benedict speaks of the poor knocking on the door of the rich.

In the global context, those closest to us, whether across the Caribbean or the Rio Grande, deserve our special consideration as we seek to follow the pope's recent teaching.

Fr. David Wanish is pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Argyle; St. Michael Parish, Yellowstone; St. Joseph Parish, Gratiot; and St. John Parish, South Wayne.