For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.
1 Peter 2:19-21
To: D&P National Council members
It is with a heavy heart that I write this letter.
Two years ago, I came to Development and Peace as a young woman profoundly struggling with my Catholic identity. I felt stuck in a Church embedded in structures of sin, perpetuating oppression within its own walls and in society at large. Seeking a community that could restore my faith in the Church and its mission to be bearers of Jesus' call to love and serve one another, it meant a great deal to me to find that community in Development and Peace.
These past two years as part of this movement have been very transformative for me. As part of the youth movement, I have encountered young people with a passion for justice rooted in profound love for our brothers and sisters all over the world. I have been able to meet some of our partners in the Philippines, engaged in important and inspiring work that has united communities and had a meaningful impact on the lives of the poor. I have worked with a committed Diocesan Council, seeking to reinvigorate Ottawa's D&P movement despite small numbers and overworked volunteers. All of these experiences have allowed my understanding of solidarity – that is, to live in relationship with those on the margins and to be committed to sharing in a struggle for peace and justice despite inevitable obstacles and opposition – to grow and develop. Development and Peace has been my vision of Church, and has given me a reason to hold fast to my faith in a better future for the Catholic Church.
But these past couple of months have drastically changed what I thought this organization was about. When Fr. Luis' visit to my diocese was canceled by the Archbishop, I was shocked and angry. But I believed that Development and Peace, an organization I had come to trust, would stand by our partner and defend their important work despite opposition from members of the Church hierarchy. But that support never came. Instead, the funding for Centro PRODH was quietly cut, leaving myself and members with whom I have spoken hurt and confused. This approach to global relationship - whereby if a Bishop in the South expresses unjust and unfounded concerns over the work of one of our partners, we are obliged to cut ties with that partner – runs counter to everything I have learned from Development and Peace about solidarity in the midst of struggle. It totally delegitimizes what we claim is our approach to international work – that which sets us apart from so many other development agencies.
Development and Peace is a lay organization for a reason. Rooted in the Gospel message and a meaningful understanding of how to do “development”, being led by the lay Catholic movement means we can be spiritual activists in a secular world, recognizing that we are all (regardless of faith tradition, political views, economic status, region of the world, etc.) a part of the body of Christ. We know in our hearts that the Kingdom is now, and it is for all to share, and our partnerships reflect that. If we move towards a model whereby the Church hierarchy can control how we manifest our vision of a more just world, we are doing a great disservice to our partners and to ourselves. Our ability to live in enduring solidarity – our very identity as a movement – will be compromised.
I recognize that the poltical climate – both in the Church and in Canadian society – is undergoing drastic changes. NGOs that have for decades been at the forefront of progressive social movements are now being forced to reassess their priorities to suit the agenda of a Conservative government, lest they face devastating funding cuts. As more and more progressive Catholics find a home in other denominations, our church is also becoming increasingly conservative and fails to see the importance of the justice work that Development and Peace has been engaged in for close to half a century.
But we cannot let this climate silence our voices. The Church, now more than ever, needs Development and Peace to be a strong advocate for a justice-seeking church community that strives to live out that preferential option for the poor in all of its work. We need to stand up for life issues as we understand them: standing with the oppressed and the marginalized, having courage to continue fighting against incredible odds, much like Fr. Luis Arriaga, Centro PRODH, and all those wronged by the justice system in Mexico with whom they work.
We are living in fear of a backlash from the small but vocal Conservative contingent in the Church. But the bigger backlash we should be fearing is the one that will come from our most committed members if our approach to solidarity undergoes the fundamental shift towards which it is currently headed. We have already seen that outrage manifest at some of the regional meetings this year, and it will only get worse as this elephant in the room gets bigger and more difficult to avoid.
I thank you for taking the time to read and consider this letter, and I hope that the concerns brought up herein, and in the many letters and recommendations that have been flooding in from all over the country, will be promptly addressed. We can turn this ship around, but we need to be strong in community with each other.
Eastern Ontario Youth Representative