One of the most shocking facts recently revealed by Bishop William Kenny was that if arms spending was stopped for three months the world could be fed. Some US$1.25 trillion a year is spent on war.
Another alarming fact is that by the end of this century the population of the world will have come down to 1 billion due to the ravages caused by climate change. Putting that into context children like my nephew, who is now 11, and those younger will probably be nearing the end of their lives - and be at their most vulnerable - when these horrendous changes take place.
These injustices should really inspire people to get involved. Human beings have been put on the earth by God. They have been entrusted to care for God’s earth and participate in a just world. What is just about so much money being expended on the means to kill each other and destroy the earth, while two thirds of the world live on less than a dollar a day?
As Christians we are not called to go to the Church as a place of sanctuary, allowing the “real” world to go by outside untouched. As followers of Christ, we are called to act to bring transformative kingdom values to the world. This means getting involved.There is real concern that people in the pews are just not engaging anymore, there is a lack of formation in the work of social justice. Research conducted by Catherine Waters Clark has found that just 12 out of 22 diocese have paid J&P resources. CAFOD partly fund 8 out of 12 diocese. The average age of a justice and peace person is 55 to 60. Most dioceses are working on fair-trade, poverty, the environment, homelessness, migrants and asylum seekers.The generation that was inspired by Vatican II really looked beyond the Church walls, saw the challenges and got engaged. As with much else in the Church there is every sign that much of this work has stopped or at best moved to the periphery in those generations that came after Vatican II. This suggests that the structures of formation have declined.The society ofcourse in which we live has changed beyond all recognition also since the Vatican Council of the 1960s. The last 30 years has seen the domination of the neo-liberal market model of development. This is an extreme form of capitalism that leads to hero worship of those who feature on the rich list but derision for the single mother struggling to get by on the sink estate. It is a society that when crisis hits seeks to pass the burden of debt via cuts onto the poorest and most vulnerable in society, rather than increasing the taxes on the richest.For those involved in social justice – which by definition should be all Catholics – many of these changes in the world are dispiriting but Catholic Social Teaching says we have to press on.There is a new awareness now arising out of the Pope’s visit and the ongoing domestic political situation of the need to get involved in the work for social justice. The Caritas Social Action Network has organised a series of conferences bringing together different individuals and agencies involved in the work of social justice. It is conducting a mapping exercise to find out what is going on across the country. The next stage of this process should involve finding out exactly what is happening at grass roots parish and schools level in terms of social justice work.The work of justice and peace in particular has long been underfunded, with those involved often feeling like pariahs in their own parish and beyond. But in reality these people are the prophetic voice of the Church, questioning the injustice of the arms trade, the challenges of climate change and inequity of the economic system. They are not a sect or wing of the Church but are essentially doing what all should be doing.It is though not all bad news. As Rosemary Read, the president of the National Council of Lay Associations rencently pointed out: apartheid is no more, there is peace in Ireland, the fair trade movement has taken off and become mainstream and much international debt has been cancelled. There have been huge achievements by a relatively small group of people. Imagine what could happen if everyone got involved – there could be genuine transformation of the world for kingdom values.The Church though needs to step up to the mark. There must be proper resourcing provided for justice and peace, not marginalising the work by restricting funding. The processes for formation need to be re-established and they must be bottom up, not top down. Our Church leaders must be more prepared to speak out on matters of justice not just keep a safe silence. Silence often equates with approval for the whole edifice of injustice outlined at the start. We live in an unjust world and it is high time that we as Church began playing a far more active role in bringing about its transformation for the common good