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Weekly reflection for March 21, Solidarity Sunday (fifth Sunday of Lent): Advocacy, a need of justice

Gospel: John 12:20-33

In the face of the inequalities of the world, desire for justice is a most normal human reaction. For Christians, there is an added motivation. The incarnation and life of Jesus show us that knowledge of God passes through the practice of justice. In Jesus’s life, prayer was very important; it led him to become involved with the realities of suffering and injustice. Jesus was no stranger to conflict because of this choice. He suffered hostility and resistance because he became involved.

Today, the prophetic voice of Pope Francis reminds us of the enormous disparity between the North and the South. Drawing on the parable of the Good Samaritan, he says, ‘“Robbers” usually find secret allies in those who “pass by and look the other way”.’ He deems such complicit bystanders as people who “live off that system and its benefits.” (Fratelli Tutti, 75).

We must confront our complicity when we witness and benefit, even if indirectly, from the North’s plundering of the resources of the South.

I was lucky enough to live as a missionary in Ecuador and collaborate with the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM). For three years I accompanied the people of Tundayme, a town in the southern part of the Ecuadorian Amazon. The town’s experience with the mining industry shows how people do not just happen to be poor but are systematically impoverished.

In the year 2000, a Canadian company arrived in Tundayme. For ten years, it carried out a strategy of land appropriation that was characterized by cover-ups and deception. In 2010, after cheating the townsfolk off their land, the company sold it to a Chinese firm that currently operates an open-pit copper and gold mine. In the process, the Canadian company raked in billions in profits.

Left with no means of subsistence, the people of Tundayme now have no recourse but to seek precarious, poorly paid jobs from the very mining company that dispossessed them! They are not poor; they are impoverished.

In the face of such gross injustice, legitimate and robust mechanisms of resistance become imperative. As Pope Francis recommends, “Society, through non-governmental organizations and intermediate groups, must put pressure on governments to develop more rigorous regulations, procedures and controls.” (Laudato Si’, 179).

At a hearing of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held in Washington, DC, on March 17, 2017, REPAM highlighted the Tundayme case in a larger presentation on the Amazonian situation. It was an important moment for the many Amazonian victims of multinational corporations and adverse American policies, because they were able to give frank testimonies, articulate their situation themselves and demand justice.

REPAM could not have organized this deposition or helped the witnesses testify without financial help from Development and Peace, which, in turn, would not have been possible without your generosity. I thank you on behalf of all of us who participated in that IACHR hearing. Such North-South solidarity alliances are a manifestation of God’s mercy.

Our presence in spaces like IACHR is important, because ‘All of us should insist on the urgent need to establish “a legal framework which can set clear boundaries and ensure the protection of ecosystems….”’ (Querida Amazonia, 52).

To be consistent, we must also be aware of our power as consumers and investors. We cannot ignore the connection between our consumption, the behavior of our extractive companies, and the suffering of many communities in the Global South.

On the path of solidarity, one has the great satisfaction of meeting others who share the same path. At a deeper level, the path of solidarity is also a path of realization and intense spiritual experiences (Laudato Si’, 231, 232).

“Let us sing as we go. May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope.” (Laudato Si’, 244).

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