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September-October 2011

Vol. 35, No. 5

Maryknoll addresses poverty in multilateral processes

In communities around the world, Maryknoll missioners have responded to the needs of desperately poor people and neighborhoods. In the last issue of NewsNotes we focused on some of the different ways that Maryknoll has responded to poverty. Whether their ministry was community organizing, advancing the rights of workers, accompanying people marginalized by the stigma of HIV and AIDS, promoting the dignity of women, encouraging children to claim the fullness of life, accompanying communities as they secured water or food, Maryknollers' focus around the world was on the dignity of each person, each child of God.

Our faith calls us to measure this economy, not by what it produces but also by how it touches human life and whether it protects or undermines the dignity of the human person. Economic decisions have human consequences and moral content; they help or hurt people, strengthen or weaken family life, advance or diminish the quality of justice in our land. (Economic justice for all, U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1986)

Maryknoll agreed with the bishops of the U.S. and, with others, worked to put a human face on the consequences of economic injustice. Their determination to address the root causes of devastating poverty and to propose more just and life-giving alternatives for economic life – examples of which they also encountered in local communities around the world – led them to participate actively in campaigns for debt cancellation and trade justice, as well as in multiple multilateral processes over the years.

Involvement in the early stages of the UN Financing for Development process; in meetings of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF); and in the UN Conference on the Financial Crisis offered opportunities for the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns and Maryknoll missioners from around the world to address the root causes of poverty. Repeatedly, Maryknoll brought local partners to major intergovernmental meetings to tell their own stories and to propose policy changes that would facilitate their exit from poverty.

In the fall of 2000, Maryknoll introduced their written proposals submitted to the UN Financial for Development preparatory process with the following words:

"Maryknoll missioners live and work in the barrios and slums of growing urban centers, in rural villages, in refugee camps, in indigenous communities - in dynamic places where people work hard for a life of dignity and often balance on the edge of survival. Many of the people we serve live beyond the reach of macroeconomic measurements, earning their sustenance outside of the formal economy. Often they are not represented by organized labor or by non-governmental organizations. In many areas, there is a remarkable level of local organization that strengthens the capacity of people and communities to survive and to hold on to values and customs important to their identity, but this knowledge and experience has little entree into the political or economic decision-making process…

"We speak not as economists, but as people of faith who have watched with concern the impact of economic policy decisions on the people and the natural environment in these communities. ...

"Time after time we have witnessed the disastrous impact on these communities of decisions made in distant or disconnected places. ... Without their input, profit and growth almost always take precedence over human and environmental well-being.

"The most impoverished people with whom we live and work and the environment are bearing the burden of trade liberalization and the intense promotion of international trade that now mark the global economy. In many countries we have seen good laws meant to protect the worker and the environment weakened or ignored. We have seen whole sectors of the economy in which poor people were participating, such as small scale and subsistence farming and small, locally owned businesses destroyed. Productive investment intended to build sustainable local communities, whether rural or urban, to create jobs, provide education and basic health services and enhance food security is essential to protect the dignity of the people who live there.

"We believe that economic development should be in function of human development and environmentally sustainable. A new global financial architecture, new economic institutions, a new policy paradigm and new power relations are essential to making this a reality."

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