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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move - N° 91-92, April - August 2003, p. 417-423

“The Globalization of Solidarity:

We are created equal in God’s image*


Rev. Fr. Frans THOOLEN, S.M.A

Official of the Pontifical Council for the

Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

First, I would like to bring you all a warm greeting and salutations from Archbishop Hamao, the President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant people, and its Secretary Archbishop Marchetto. They wish us, the participants of this meeting, a fruitful and successful week, to gain strength, learn from one another, and gain wisdom, and encourage one another to continue working for those for whom we are appointed, people who have to flee their homes.

1. Introduction

The old rabbi once asked his disciples how they could tell when the night ended and the day was on its way back. “Could it be,” asked one student, “when you see an animal in the distance and know whether it’s a sheep or a dog?”

“No,” replied the rabbi.

“Could it be,” another asked, “when you look at a tree in the distance and can tell whether it is a fig tree or a peach tree?”

“No,” said the rabbi.

“Well then, when is it?” his pupils demanded to know.

“It is when you can look at the face of any man or woman and see that he is your brother or she is your sister. Because if you cannot do this, then no matter what time it is, it is still night.”

Globalization and solidarity have ideas in common. Both cannot be done alone, in isolation. They are not limited to one community or place. They have consequences which are often not foreseen. They change situations, institutions and individuals, and the behaviour of people, starting in one place with world wide consequences.

2. Some experiences

A hospital ward. I am a patient, lying in my bed and look out of the window. All over sudden I hear a woman, crying, screaming, wailing. Then I see her, several other women are running behind her, she rolls over the ground and in the end they take her in their arms. Later I learn that her child died. She is in grief. This happened in Accra, Ghana. But it could be any place in the world. If a mother loses a child, she is in pain, sad, shocked. The feeling is worldwide, but she will express this according to her culture. A global idea of loss, but also a confirmation that as persons we are all the same.

The answers given to the needs are however differently given. Let us look at the food rations in camps in Africa and the amount given for Iraq. The financial means of UNHCR are not sufficient. This results in diminishing food rations, for hundreds of thousands of people. They receive 1250 calories a day. This is quite in contrast with assisting Irak, where the objective of the food sector is to save lives by maintaining the current level of food supply to the entire Iraqi population through support to the Public Distribution System. This stood at 2,472 calories per person per day.1

My question is whether we have two different kinds of persons with different needs for nutrition? Or do we have to draw the conclusion that the political will does not exist to assist people when cameras and media attention is no longer there? Which kind of globalization is this?

3. Globalization

The term globalization has been used to describe the changing circumstances in which people live due to the increase in networks of interdependence among people at multicontentinal distances. Decisions taken in one place directly influence the life of people far away, even in remote areas, and people are obliged to adapt to that reality. It has different aspects.

* Economics is one of them: international trade and the rules of the World Trade Organisation, the rapid movement of international capital and the influence of transnational organisations, the financial policies of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. All of them have a huge impact on the lives of many people worldwide.

* Another element of globalization is related to environment and health. Cutting of trees in rainforests, emissions affecting the ozone layer, changes in temperature - the so-called global warming. They are all indications of the degradation of the environment and have consequences for many farmers in different countries, sometimes even leading to famine. The same applies to the transmission of infectious diseases across national borders, from small villages to urban centres and the other way round. Last month we noticed this with SARS (severe acute respiratory system). For HIV/AIDS this is going on for years.

* Other aspects of globalization have a direct political character. The idea of human rights has increasingly become important in this world. They speak about the protection of people threatened by genocide, ethnic cleansing, forced migration, internal displacement or other grave human rights violations. Frequently voices can be heard asking for the legitimacy of humanitarian interventions, challenging the concept of sovereignty of the national state.

* Another aspect of globalization is linked to communication, the access of internet and mobile phones. I hope that you all put them off. They bring people in contact, immediately and anywhere, while internet provides us with unlimited sources of information.

In his speech to the members of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences the Holy Father said: “Globalization, a priori, is neither good nor bad. It will be what people make of it. No system is an end in itself and it is necessary to insist that globalization, like any other system, must be at the service of the human person; it must serve solidarity and the common good”.2

He added in May this year: “Thus, the true success of globalization will be measured by the extent that it enables every person to enjoy the basic goods of food and housing, of education and employment, of peace and social progress, of economic development and justice. This goal cannot be achieved without guidance from the international community and adequate regulation on the part of the worldwide political establishment”.3 Here is implicit the idea of “governance” for the phenomenon.

4. A biblical concept of solidarity

The Jewish tradition and the Old Testament have a great respect for human dignity, especially in the prophetic tradition. This becomes especially visible in the treatment of the anawim, the little ones, those overwhelmed by want, in fact the poor. This group consists primarily of widows, orphans and strangers, (see Exodus 22,20-22). To be faithful to Yahweh, the Israelites had to give special protection and attention to them. They had to love them as themselves, especially the stranger, the exiles, and to avoid treating them with the same injustice they had suffered in Egypt: “For you were once aliens yourselves”.

The New Testament speaks also about man made in God’s image. A new relationship comes into existence, taken up into Christ and therefore in the life of God himself.

I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty (see John 15,5-6).

St. Paul extended this parable using the example of the human body. It is made up of many different parts, but it is nonetheless one body; so it is with Christ’s mystical body, the Church (see 1 Cor, 12,12-30, Rom. 12,4-8, Eph. 4, 11-13).

“And you are, all of you, sons (and daughters) of God through faith in Christ Jesus. All baptised in Christ, you have all clothed yourselves in Christ, and there are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3,28)

This is also a global concept, one community despite the differences and the contrasts (like slavery). The community is the messianic body, a reflection of God’s kingdom. That’s why the contrasts are removed within the community. By acting in this way the community becomes a ‘foreign body’ in society. It does not fit with the surrounding existing environment. It carries the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, and presents, here and now, the new life, elements of the kingdom whose full coming she awaits in hope. Love becomes the yeast of society and questions existing sinfull structures of society.

And so the Church embraces from its very beginning, at least as a tendency, all the inhabitants of the earth, from whatever region they are, or colour they have. No difference will be made; everybody is welcome in the community of Jesus. In the Church there are only Christians, followers of Jesus, in spite of the differences of vocations, charismas and ministeries..

Charity among them is a duty and originates from the love of God. The parable of the Good Samaritan and its practical implications demonstrate this most fully (Luke 10, 29-37). Christ was talking about solidarity with his suffering brethren whoever they are, not only those of the Jews. ‘I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you made me welcome, naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me...’ (Mat 25,35-46).

The Gospel which united man to God, therefore has become a Gospel of brotherhood and solidarity. This new aspect has been the basis of Christian works of charity in which the Church has been outstanding from the earliest times.

Being the Chosen People and being a foreigner seem to be related, and this for three reasons:.

  1. The call to become a witness of God in this world brings a certain separation between us and others. You do not consider yourself as the others, and they may see you as somebody who does not belong to them.
  2. The believer is, in a certain sense, a foreigner in this world. He does not have a permanent dwelling place in this world. He is not from this world, but lives in this world. His attitude is rooted in the unrest and profound dissatisfaction with the daily reality around him/her, which does not answer sufficiently to God’s meaning.
  3. The vocation to be a witness for God becomes especially visible in the concrete care for the foreigner in our midst. Displaced persons and strangers are our brothers and sisters, children of the same God and Father, and like us created to God’s image and likeness.

5. A historical perspective of solidarity

What is most fundamental is the courage not to turn away from the eyes of the poor but to allow them to break our heart and shatter our world. To let them share with us how their children suffer, how it feels to live together in a crowded camp under a plastic sheet. What does it require to offer them perspectives for the future, what has to develop to prevent early death?

Solidarity is the working out of love and justice in practice: Pope Leo XIII used the term friendship, Pius XI referred to social charity, and Paul VI to the civilization of love (see Centesimus annus 10). Solidarity exists when the members of society recognize one another as persons, whatever their social class or standing, race, nationality and tribe. Those who are more powerful or influential because of their greater wealth should feel responsible for the weaker and be ready to help them. Those who are wealthy should, while claiming their legitimate rights, do what they can for the good of all and refrain from passive or destructive attitudes.

Pope Jean Paul II puts it this way in his 1987 encyclical letter Solicitude rei socialis: ‘By virtue of her own evangelical duty, the Church feels called to take her stand beside the poor, to discern the justice of their requests and to help satisfy them without losing sight of the good of groups in the context of the common good. “ (no 39)

This has been done throughout history in many different ways. Each time and situation requests that an adequate answer will be given. And so we have seen that the church presented and developed different initiatives, often now forgotten. Just to mention a few, we might recall that:

  1. Benedictine branches of different branches and Trappist monks have been modelling the landscape in many parts of Western Europe and introducing agricultural techniques, as early as the seventh century. They emphasized agriculture and introduced new techniques.
  2. Remarkable service has also been rendered in respect of the care of the sick, the needy, orphans, elderly and other victims of society. The precursors of hospitals, homes for elderly, assisting hungry and needy people started hundreds of years ago. Educational systems were developed for children. Universities were founded. Last century the workers were assisted by organising labour unions to defend their rights. In a number of countries, like the United States, the origins of labour unions were Christian or Jewish, and for half a century the Church appointed chaplains for the labour movement.
  3. The experiences of the Second World war led to an active international movement promoting peace: Pax Christi International for instance. It was also the time of millions of refugees in Europe which forced the Church to come to their assistance: the International Catholic Migration Commission was born, to mention the most important organization for us, in this field.
  4. In the sixties all over a call for development assistance. It was not absolutely new, but during this time it got a boost. Churches in many places entered social and economic activities and were supported by their sister churches from Europe. Different structures were developed to assist socioeconomic projects, like the International Lenten Campaign (Misereor, Cafod), which are still operational today. Emergency assistance was often given by Caritas, organized in many different countries which are forming Caritas Internationalis. New realities appeared and answers had to be given. One result was that Caritas Internationalis focussed the last five years on reconciliation: What should be done in order that people who have been fighting one another in civil wars and conflicts can start living together as one people in one country?  Training seminars and handbooks have been developed to promote these ideas. Catholic NGOs are nowadays dealing with the integration of child soldiers into society and the rebuilding of their lives. They are coping with the traumatic experiences of civilians caused during a civil war. Special projects are designed for mining victims and disabled civilians mutilated by rebels.
  5. At the same time the origins of the problems need to be tackled. The movement justice and peace is entering this field. Human rights have to be defended. “Extreme poverty is perhaps the most pervasive and paralysing form of violation of human rights in our world. The renewed international commitment to fight extreme poverty must thus also have a human rights dimension. As long as scientific progress and social development are not shared equitably by the whole human family, the human rights ethic, centred on equality, will not produce the desired global equity. An ethic of equality must be integrated with an ethic of solidarity. We must build new coalitions of solidarity to ensure that the ethic of equality becomes a reality for all.”4 

This explains why policy makers are approached by the Holy See, various Episcopates, Catholic NGO’s and also the presence of religious congregations in the international arena.

Wherever you start or whatever choice you make, you need to take into account two dimensions.

  1. The individual, the person you meet, face to face, the victim.
  2. But also ask the question: Why? Why are the conditions for this person like this? What is dramatically influencing her situation? What are the root causes of her problem? Then tackle the situation. What could be done in order to change the situation for the better? Wherever people are in need, adequate answers have to be given.

“Our task is to make solidarity a reality. It implies acceptance and recognition of the fact that we, as one human family, are interdependent. It calls us to international cooperation in favour of the poor and powerless as our own brothers and sisters. Loving and assisting our neighbour has global dimensions in an interdependent world. ‘[Solidarity] is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual because we are all really responsible for all’ (John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis n. 38 )”.5

6. Concluding:

“Let us instead open our hearts and minds to the great challenges lying before us” - said the Holy Father - :

  • the defence of the sacredness of human life in all circumstances, especially in relation to the challenges posed by genetic manipulation;
  • the promotion of the family, the basic unit of society;
  • the elimination of poverty, through efforts to promote development, the reduction of debt and the opening up of international trade;
  • respect for human rights in all situations, with especial concern for the most vulnerable: children, women and refugees;
  • disarmament, the reduction of arms sales to poor countries, and the consolidation of peace after the end of conflicts;
  • the fight against the major diseases, and access by the poor to basic care and medicines;
  • the protection of the environment and the prevention of natural disasters;
  • the rigorous application of international law and conventions.
Of course, many other demands could also be mentioned. But if these priorities became the central concerns of political leaders; if people of good (will) made them part of their daily endeavours; if religious believers included them in their teaching, the world would be a radically different place” ...6

* Presentation at the Annual IMBISA Regional Refugee Conference: Poverty and Economic Justice - Refugees, Migrants and IDP Situations. The Church's Vision for Life in all its fullness. Harare, Zimbabwe, 20 May 2003.
1. ‘Flash Appeal. Iraq and Neighbouring Countries. Six-Month Response’, United Nations. March 2003. 
2. Pope John Paul II. Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sociel Sciences. 27 April 2001 
3. Pope John Paul II. Address to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. 2 May 2003. 
4. Intervention of the Holy See to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Geneve 10 April 2002. 
5. Intervention by the Holy See at the Ministerial Conference of 140 Signitory States of the Convention of 1951 on the "Status" of Refugees. Geneva, 12-13 December 2001
6. Pope John Paul II. Address at the Exchange of Greetings with the Diplomatic Corps .10 January 2002