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July/August 2011
Vol. 36, No. 4

Maryknoll responds to devastating poverty

No matter where they live and work, Maryknoll missioners witness and respond to the devastation of poverty. Believing that the Gospel and Catholic social teaching clearly call us to a "preferential option for the poor," the eradication of poverty has been one of the central concerns of Maryknoll missioners' work for social justice. In these two years of Maryknoll centennial celebrations (2011-2012), we continue our look at Maryknoll's long term commitment to justice, peace and the integrity of creation – particularly, in this issue and the next, their commitment to economic justice.

The Maryknoll Justice and Peace Office (Fathers and Brothers/Lay Missioners) and the Maryknoll Sisters' Office for Social Concerns were, from their beginnings in the 1970s, looking for ways to address the systemic and structural causes of poverty. Early Orbis Books (published by Maryknoll) such as The Gospel of Peace and Justice by Joseph Gremillion (1976), raised awareness of calls from poor nations for a new international economic order.

Maryknoll was an early and active member of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), founded in 1971 to build a more just and sustainable world by integrating social values into investor actions. Forty years later, ICCR is a highly respected voice in the field of corporate social responsibility. Comprised of nearly 300 organizations with collective assets totaling over $100 billion, ICCR members help shape corporate policy on a host of environmental, social and economic justice concerns. 

Early on, the Maryknoll Justice and Peace/Social Concerns offices also began to give particular attention to the debt crisis in Latin America and the Philippines. In 1980, Maryknoll Father Tom Burns came from Lima, Peru to testify before the U.S. Congress about the negative impact of debt on poor people in his parish. With the help of others, especially the Center of Concern, Maryknoll began to study the roots of the debt crisis and to identify ways that concerned people of faith could respond.

In 1992 Maryknollers meeting in Sao Paulo initiated a campaign called Life Not Debt. Thereafter, Maryknoll was a primary force behind the formation of the Religious Working Group on the World Bank and IMF, which launched Jubilee 2000 in the U.S., and has now developed into the Jubilee USA network.

Consistently working for economic justice with an emphasis on the elimination of poverty and the empowerment of impoverished people, the range of issues addressed by Maryknoll grew substantially beyond debt. From the earliest discussions about the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and establishment of the World Trade Organization, Maryknoll was concerned that the model of international trade taking shape would not serve the needs of poor people. In 1993, as NAFTA was being debated, Maryknoll leadership wrote:

…We know well the impact of unjust economic structures on poor communities and are committed to evaluating all economic proposals by their potential effect on the most marginal, especially on the poor – women, children, minorities and indigenous peoples… We believe that a transnational agreement for fair trade and just commercial interaction is possible. To accept something else is to lock ourselves into a system of trade and commerce that will perpetuate injustice, not enhance the quality of life for all; that will exacerbate environmental destruction, not move us toward a sustainable future; that will exclude the vast majority from participating in the decisions that profoundly affect their lives rather than promoting real democracy and the healthier societies it can produce.

The collaborative Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns (MOGC), which was founded in 1997 to represent the entire Maryknoll family in the work for social justice, peace and the integrity of creation, has engaged in the work for economic justice even more deeply since the process of globalization accelerated in the 1990s. MOGC continues to work for just debt cancellation and for an end to harmful economic policy reforms imposed on impoverished countries by creditors. Maryknoll also helped found the Interfaith Working Group on Trade and Investment and has been fully engaged for almost two decades in efforts to address a series of U.S. bilateral and multilateral trade agreements and trade policies that would have a huge impact on impoverished communities.

The next issue of NewsNotes will continue to explore Maryknoll's work for a just global economy that respects human life and the rest of creation.

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