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May/June 2011
Vol. 36, No. 3



Maryknoll centenaries: Promoting social justice

In 1971, the world's Catholic bishops issued Justice in the World, a remarkable document, which is well worth reading 40 years later. Because Maryknoll missioners working in countries around the world have listened, as the bishops proposed, "to the cry of those who suffer violence and are oppressed by unjust systems and structures" (#5), their individual and institutional commitment has been strong and vibrant to "action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world," which the bishops called "a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the Church's mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation." (#6)

Often, Maryknoll action has been "directed above all at those people and nations which because of various forms of oppression and because of the present character of our society are silent, indeed voiceless, victims of injustice" (#20) – most especially, women, children, migrants, indigenous peoples and people living with HIV or AIDS.

Maryknoll missioners around the world feel the impact of social injustice and see its effects in the communities were they live and work. Flowing from their ministries of presence and accompaniment, as well as from the concrete programs and projects in which Maryknollers participate, Maryknoll justice and peace/social concerns ministries have engaged in the hard work of identifying root causes of social and economic injustice. With a particular focus on the geographical regions where Maryknoll is present (see NewsNotes, March-April 2011) as well as on structural or systemic injustice affecting women, children, indigenous peoples, migrants and refugees and people with HIV and AIDS, Maryknoll joins with others of like mind to identify potential pathways to social transformation and to move our world in that direction.

Promoting respect for the dignity and rights of women, Maryknoll advocates nationally and internationally for policies that eliminate the abuse of women and gender discrimination and promote the full participation of women in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the community. Maryknoll, particularly the Maryknoll Sisters' with their then-separate Social Concerns Office, participated actively in the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. The Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns has remained active in follow-up to the conference and in the promotion of women through the United Nations, including the work of the Commission on the Status of Women, the establishment of UN Women and on the role of women in peacemaking and disarmament.

Maryknoll also has worked to raise awareness of the rights of children, supporting U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and development of the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC), especially in Latin America and Africa.

For many years, Maryknoll has supported the right of indigenous peoples to a life of dignity and respect by honoring and learning from traditional practices, ensuring access to land, and strengthening their capacity to respond to the challenges of urban life. Increasingly, Maryknollers working with the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns have identified the indigenous concept of "buen vivir" as a very important antidote to the accumulative and unsustainable thrust of consumerism. Annual participation in the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues has provided good opportunity to learn about indigenous ways of thought and organization. In earlier decades Maryknoll in Latin America sponsored occasional conferences for missioners working in indigenous communities.

Maryknoll also has important experience with migrant and refugee communities in Asia, Africa and the Americas, including on the U.S.-Mexican border. A Maryknoll statement on migration, Toward Global Solidarity, written in 2006, guides current work on this issue. Based on Maryknoll experience, it articulates principles that are rooted in the inherent value of each human person; in the community's responsibility to protect the most vulnerable; and in the Gospel mandate to welcome the stranger.

Because Maryknoll missioners in many countries, including Namibia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Kenya, Cambodia, China, Taiwan, Peru, Bolivia, El Salvador and Guatemala, work in programs responding to HIV and AIDS, the Maryknoll AIDS Task Force was established to provide information, to educate about the pandemic and to advocate for just policies of the U.S. and international financial institutions that affect HIV and AIDS projects. HIV and AIDS-related advocacy and education continue through the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns.

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