The papal visit and the struggle against poverty

By Pascale Palmer
September 16, 2010

This is a toughy. The Papal Visit. There's a lot to consider and there's a lot that's controversial - and rightly so. But I want to go here on behalf of CAFOD, the official aid agency of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales.

CAFOD works on poverty alleviation - we've got partners on the ground across Africa, Latin America and Asia - through them we push for better human rights, access to education, water, food, sanitation, medical care, land rights, and adaptation to climate change. We work hard towards creating the right environment for democracy, and we support peaceful elections and encourage people's right to vote through campaigning and local media. We work hard to ensure that our projects put women at their heart because we understand that in most cases behind every poor man there stands an even more vulnerable woman.

In the UK, CAFOD lobbies decision-makers at national, EU and UN level, pushing for policies that put the interests of the poorest at their core.

In so many, many countries where infrastructures are shot, or at best ragged, the Catholic Church is the only permanent and consistent institution that looks towards the welfare of the poorest. I've seen it with my own eyes in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo where, in the rural areas, the reality of the power dynamic is the Church, rebel troops and an insufficiency of UN soldiers.

And don't think that the UN is a simple beast when billeted to your country. During my visit earlier this year to the rape counselling centres in Bukavu, a group of UN soldiers had made camp on parish land, just 50 yards from the priest's house. I went to speak to them in English about why they were there and when they would be moving on - and let me just say it wasn't a friendly, respectful or unarmed conversation despite me being flanked by four priests. When there are brutal FDLR rebels in the forests nearby, looking like you've allowed the UN to camp on your land can lead to brutal retaliatory attacks. But the Catholic Church sticks at it even in the most inhospitable areas.

So back to the Papal visit. Pope Benedict's support and promotion of aid work across the poorest regions means that tens of millions of people gain help from the Catholic Church each year. The Pope's latest encyclical push for a radical rethink of the global financial systems that institutionalise poverty in the developing world has been a clarion call for those of faith and those of none to reassess their impacts through the globalisation model. This is palpably good stuff.

Catholic Social Teaching drives CAFOD to believe in the right-headedness of fighting for better and best for the poorest people in the world. Pope Benedict's words on global poverty and injustice offers the organisation the mandate and opportunity to act to our fullest potential.

I'm hoping that in the maelstrom of issues that the Papal visit will throw up this week, the doggedly insistent good work of the Catholic Church for the poorest communities across the world gains its rightful place in the limelight.


(c) Pascale Palmer is CAFOD's Advocacy Media Officer.

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