A Catholic call to end payday lending abuses

Jean HillSay the words “payday lender” and stories of friends, family members, or neighbors who sought quick loans to make ends meet and ended up caught in a devastating cycle of debt will begin to flow. Often, these stories begin with someone living paycheck to paycheck and unsure how to make a rent payment, buy food, pay bills, and cover other expenses short term. The tales end with harassing phone calls and court filings for repayment of ridiculously high-interest rate loans, and mounting debts that now include court costs.

As Catholics, we are called not only to empathize with these stories, but to act to protect the poor and vulnerable who find themselves preyed upon by unscrupulous businesses.

Prohibitions against charging outrageous interest on loans go back to Babylonian times. More than one Old Testament prophet condemned usury, along with exploitation of the poor. Yet usury not only persists in our modern economy, it prospers.  In 2010, there were an estimated 19,700 payday loan stores in the U.S. (That number does not include Internet loan sources. A recent federal agency report found at least 332 separate Internet loan providers). Thirty-two states permit loans with triple digit or no caps on the amount of interest the lenders may charge.

The Catholic Catechism insists that “economic life is not meant solely to multiply goods produced and increase profit and power; it is ordered first of all to the service of the entire human community.” In theory, payday lenders provide a service to individuals who are often barred from traditional bank loans. In practice, however, these loans are vehicles for exploiting people already in a highly vulnerable financial state.

In a typical payday loan transaction, the customer seeks to make ends meet until the next paycheck, or maybe two. Unlike a traditional loan, however, the individual will not sit down with the lender and determine a reasonable repayment structure based on ability to pay.  The customer will not be able to bargain for a better rate or realistic payment plan.  Instead, the astronomically high interest rates (the national average is above 400% per loan), fees and payment schedule will be based solely on the needs of the lenders.

In short, the loan is all about the profit of the business, rendering the persons seeking help, in the words of Pope Francis, “as consumer goods which can be used and thrown away.”

The social doctrine of our faith compels each of us to be involved in changing such an unjust system. We can raise our Catholic voices to remind payday lenders that their customers are first and foremost human beings, not profit centers. We can insist that our state and federal governments establish reasonable limits on the actions of the lenders to ensure they are not “so powerful as to reduce the [consumer] to subservience.”

Now, as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau considers regulations to address some payday lending abuses, is an opportune moment to challenge our congressmen and women to take additional actions against usury to protect the working poor, as our Pope and our doctrine urge us to do.

Jean Hill is Government Liaison for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City. Salt Lake City, Utah.


Go Deeper!

 

Wage Theft: A Threat to the Worker and to Economic Development

Don Bosco's Gonzalo Cruz with Cardinal Dolan at Pope's Workshop

Don Bosco’s Gonzalo Cruz with Cardinal Dolan

Wage theft is not only an urban problem. Don Bosco Workers began as a parish program at Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Westchester County in 2000. The program was in response to the growing social unrest in Port Chester over “workers on the corners” and the alarming levels of wage theft as a consequence of workers being uninformed and unaffiliated.

A Catholic Campaign for Human Development — the domestic anti-poverty program of the Catholic bishops of the United States — grantee beginning in 2006, we incorporated in 2008 including a worker-driven board of directors. Today, we represent more 200 paid members organized as a General Assembly of Workers who decide on how to strengthen the organization through skills training, leadership development, and education.

In September 2014, in collaboration with Communications Workers of America, Local 1103 in Port Chester, we launched a new campaign to address wage theft as a threat not only to the Westchester worker but to economic development throughout the county. No Pay No Way: Wage Theft Is Bad For Business educates the community on how responsible business owners suffer, when other businesses fail to follow labor law. Research shows responsible businesses are simply less competitive because their cost of doing business (paying their workers) is higher.

Just about one year into No Pay No Way, we collaborated with the Attorney General of New York in the prosecution of a local restaurant owner for wage, overtime, and safety violations for five female workers. The employer was sentenced to repayment of $47,000. The women are now thinking about investing their recovered wages in a worker-owned eco-cleaning business.

Last year, we were honored to construct the chair that Pope Francis used when he celebrated Mass at Madison Square Garden. We were called the Pope’s workers, and this continues to inspire our work for justice.

When workers are treated fairly according to the law, workers and responsible small business thrive, and there is greater economic development for all.

Gonzalo Cruz is the Director for Don Bosco Workers, Inc.

Go Deeper!

As Don Bosco Workers, Inc. works to protect worker rights, visit this page from WeAreSaltAndLight.org which contains resources on ethical practices for business leaders and institutions.”

Few Words and Many Deeds

Headshot of Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C., D.Min.

Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C.

Pope Francis is calling all to be missionary disciples, to go out and draw others into relationship with Jesus Christ, not simply by words, but by deeds. During Lent, particularly on Fridays, he is witnessing to all how simple it is to do by making informal visits to the poor and the marginalized – a homeless shelter, a nursing home, a drug rehab center. Simple, but very clear actions that show how to live the Works of Mercy in everyday life.

His actions remind me of a member of my religious community who worked in the city streets caring for the poor, but at the same time helping others to recognize ways in which they could work together to be more merciful, charitable, and just. One day this community member met a woman who was physically challenged and nearly homeless. She thought that she was not capable of doing anything worthwhile. He invited her to collaborate with him and together with others – lay people, those in consecrated life, and clergy – they worked in that city to care for those most in need.

The year – 1835,
The city – Rome,
The priest – St. Vincent Pallotti,
The woman – soon to be Blessed Elisabetta Sanna.

St. Vincent Pallotti believed that all are called to be apostles – sent not only to preach, but to care for the suffering in the world since all human beings are in the image and likeness of God. He understood that our actions can be minimal when we do them alone. Instead, he promoted greater collaboration and co-responsibility among all. In a rather polarized world, both of these words can seem quaint and unattainable. But, without collaboration, solidarity cannot happen effectively and without co-responsibility, subsidiarity is not possible. Each person, then, is called to work together with God and with others and recognize who and how best to assist those in need. As Pallotti said,

“Remember that the Christian life is one of action; not of speech and daydreams. Let there be few words and many deeds, and let them be done well.”

 

Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C. is the Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center and Provincial Rector of the Immaculate Conception Province of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottines).

Vaviroa’s story

Photo by Heidi Yanulis for Catholic Relief Services

Photo by Heidi Yanulis for Catholic Relief Services

Vaviroa is a smart, hardworking woman — with four children to feed. Though she had been raising her children alone for many years, their family was doing very well. They ate crops grown from Vaviroa’s family farm, and they even made money selling extra vegetables in nearby villages.

Then, in 2013, Cyclone Haruna hit, destroying most of northern Tulear, the part of Madagascar where Vaviroa and her children lived. Her fields flooded, and her crops died. With no way to feed her family, Vaviroa needed some help. She was already a great farmer — she just needed extra support to get back on her feet. And that extra support came in the form of seeds.

CRS’ seed fair program gives vouchers to farmers and their families so they can buy seeds, farm tools and livestock at local seed fairs. The goods they buy help them replant and rebuild their communities. The fairs also give farmers a chance to sell their crops in a safe place to people who need them. And these seed fairs help the environment by giving farmers the tools they need to care for God’s creation.

With the seeds she received at a CRS seed fair, Vaviroa has been able to replant her fields. Once again, her children are receiving the nutrients they need to grow and are able to attend school. Vaviroa is proud of all she’s accomplished-and looking forward to the next planting season.

Read more stories about how Lenten alms become lifesaving aid at crsricebowl.org.

Eric ClaytonEric Clayton is CRS Rice Bowl Program Officer at Catholic Relief Services (CRS).


This Lent, USCCB is partnering with CRS to bring you Stories of Hope from CRS Rice Bowl, the Lenten faith-in-action program for families and faith communities. Through CRS Rice Bowl, we hear stories from our brothers and sisters in need worldwide, and devote our Lenten prayers, fasting and gifts to change the lives of the poor.

Now is the time for peace!

Pic 1 posterA poster with the message, “Now is the time for Peace,” greeted bishops from Europe, South Africa, Canada and the United States when they arrived in Jordan for a solidarity visit. The “peace now” theme permeated meetings with Iraqi and Syrian refugees.

Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces represented the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at the meetings in Jordan. Then the Bishop and I went on to Lebanon to meet with the local Church and more refugees.  The situation in both Jordan and Lebanon is a humanitarian crisis of staggering proportions.

In Jordan, we learned that they are hosting about 1 million Syrian refugees and 60,000 Iraqi refugees. This is a heavy burden for relatively small country of modest means with about 7 million people.

In Lebanon, the statistics are even more startling. With a native population of only 4.5 million, Lebanon is hosting about 2 million refugees, mostly Syrians, but also some Iraqis.  That would be the equivalent of the United States taking in some 140 million refugees over five years!  We are scheduled to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees this year, not exactly our fair share.

pic 2 mass for migrants refugees

Maronite Patriarch Béchara Boutros Cardinal Raï distributes Communion at Mass for Migrants and Refugees at the Basilica of the Shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon in Beirut.

But statistics only tell part of the story of the suffering that war, violence and persecution have brought to the region. Caritas Jordan and Caritas Lebanon are doing amazing work assisting both refugees and local people.  With the support of Catholic Relief Services and others, they serve Muslims and Christians.  It makes you proud to be Catholic.  They enabled us to meet with refugees, to hear their stories.

An Iraqi Christian family told us they had good relations with their Muslim neighbors before they fled the Nineveh plains in the wake of so-called Islamic State. They found refuge in Dohuk in the Kurdish region of Iraq, and now Jordan.  They hope to be resettled in a country of refuge.  They cannot contemplate going back to Iraq.

We also met a woman who had fled Mosul. Her family left in the middle of the night with only the clothes on their backs.  She, a teacher and her husband is a hospital worker, escaped with their three daughters, ages 28 to 24.  It took them ten tense hours at night in constant fear to reach nearby Erbil. Protecting their daughters from being raped or kidnapped was a challenge.  They witnessed killings and saw young women who were taken hostage as they fled.

Another woman reported that her father was kidnapped in Syria because Christians are being persecuted. When her brother reported the kidnapping he was put in jail for two days.

Refugees struggle in Lebanon where everything is expensive. One man said he works long hours but barely makes enough for them to live in Lebanon.  Life was better in Syria.  They want to go to Australia where they have been accepted, but their UN file is not moving.  A mother reported that her children only get milk once a day.  She is willing to go back to Syria if the situation improves because her son needs medical assistance.  Originally, they thought they’d be in Lebanon for two months.  It has been years.

These encounters and many others give a face to the statistics. There are lives and families behind the numbers.  At these and many other encounters, Bishop Cantú assured the refugees that they are not forgotten.  And he affirmed what we heard time and time again, “Now is the time for peace.”  For only peace can alleviate the refugee crisis.  I hope all sides realize that at the peace talks in Geneva.

Colecchi headshot

Stephen M. Colecchi is director of the Office of International Justice and Peace of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.


Go deeper:

Read Archbishop Kurtz’s statement regarding refugees fleeing Syria.

Learn about the work of Migration and Refugee Services/USCCB in resettling an supporting refugees in the United States.

Join Catholics Confront Global Poverty, an initiative of USCCB and Catholic Relief Services, in advocating to improve the lives of poor and vulnerable people worldwide.

 

Hongkham’s story: Hungering to Give Back in Laos

Hongkham Phengsaphone, age 36, holds a bowl of lentils at the Nahangnoy Primary School, where CRS’ LEAPS program provides students with a free school lunch. Photo by Jim Stipe/Catholic Relief Services

Hongkham Phengsaphone, age 36, holds a bowl of lentils at the Nahangnoy Primary School, where CRS’ LEAPS program provides students with a free school lunch. Photo by Jim Stipe/Catholic Relief Services

Hongkham lives close to where she grew up in Nongdeune, Laos, with her husband and their five boys. Her husband is a farmer, and her family relied on his crops for food and income. When Hongkham’s husband got sick, the family had to sell a lot of what they owned-including their land-to pay for medicine. Soon, the family faced real hunger.

Then Hongkham found an opportunity to use her love of cooking to help her family and community through CRS’ school literacy and hunger program. She volunteers as a cook at her children’s school, which provides free school lunches for students, literacy training for teachers and principals, and nutrition training. Hongkham uses that training in the school kitchen-and when she’s cooking for her family at home.

She also receives a monthly ration of food to take home, which helps her family grow and thrive. But the best part about CRS’ program is that students are learning to read and write. Hongkham says that before the program started, students would go home and often wouldn’t return for afternoon classes, but now, students return to school after morning classes to receive their free and nutritious lunch. She even sees the change in her own children-in their studies and their health.

Good nutrition has made a real difference in the lives of the people of Laos.

Read more stories about how Lenten alms become lifesaving aid at crsricebowl.org.

Eric ClaytonEric Clayton is CRS Rice Bowl Program Officer at Catholic Relief Services (CRS).


 

This Lent, USCCB is partnering with CRS to bring you Stories of Hope from CRS Rice Bowl, the Lenten faith-in-action program for families and faith communities. Through CRS Rice Bowl, we hear stories from our brothers and sisters in need worldwide, and devote our Lenten prayers, fasting and gifts to change the lives of the poor.

“A Church Which is Poor and For the Poor” – Poverty Awareness Month

Pope Francis holds dove before his weekly audience at the Vatican

Pope Francis holds a dove before his weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican May 15. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Since Pope Francis was elected Pope in March 2013, he has made evident through both word and deed that poverty is a core theme of his papacy. He implores us to make the circumstances of those who are poor a central concern guiding our action in the world at all times, not just for a day, a month, or for an hour a week.

He began his papacy by expressing “How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor!” And in the first homily of his papacy, Pope Francis reminded us that it is everyone’s responsibility to “embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love.” Pope Francis challenges us to take a disposition of ‘encounter’ offering that “you can’t speak of poverty without having the experience with the poor,” and that “the path to Jesus is to find his wounds, to touch his wounds, to caress the wounds of Jesus, and to bind them with tenderness.”

In the United States, 46.7 million people, including 1 in 5 children, experience poverty, and an additional 14.7 million Americans are ‘near poor’, or have incomes between 100% and 125% of the federal poverty level.

Poverty continues to disproportionately impact families of color, and some states and jurisdictions have child poverty rates at 29 and 30%. In their 2015 book,  Edin and Shaefer offer a portrait of deep poverty (income below half the poverty line), in which 20 million Americans, including 7.1 million children, live in conditions and are forced to make choices that undermine their dignity and imperil their health and safety.

Pope Francis speaks about poverty as a ‘scandal, in a world where there is so much wealth,’ and calls us to address “the structural causes of poverty, inequality, the shortage of dignified work and housing, and the denial of their rights as members of society and as workers.” The Catholic Campaign for Human Development is the U.S. Bishops’ initiative to address the structural causes of poverty through community organizing and economic development. Their grants support movements for living wages, affordable housing, and dignified work, as well as economic development initiatives that give attention to the dignity of people and the care of our planet. Cultivating a deeper awareness of poverty and supporting CCHD are two ways we can heed Francis’ call to fight against the ‘globalization of indifference, [and help build] a new civilization of love and solidarity.’

 

Photo by Ed Pfueller

Photo by Ed Pfueller

Linda Plitt Donaldson, MSW, PhD is Associate Professor at the Catholic University of America, National Catholic School of Social Service and serves as a consultant to the bishops’ subcommittee for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

 


Learn more about Poverty Awareness Month at the USCCB website, including downloadable resources in English and Spanish.

 

 

 

 

 

Faith-based Groups Leading Efforts for Racial Equity

Rich WoodPope Francis, on his recent visit to the United States and in his customary hopeful tone, remembered “the great struggles which led to the abolition of slavery, the extension of voting rights, the growth of the labor movement, and the gradual effort to eliminate every kind of racism and prejudice directed at successive waves of new Americans.  This shows that, when a country is determined to remain true to its founding principles, based on respect for human dignity, it is strengthened and renewed” (Sept 26, 2015).

Many Americans—Catholic and non-Catholic alike—remain inspired by Pope Francis’ visit. Yet America also struggles to live up to his hopeful vision of eliminating racism and prejudice. Racial controversies roil our universities, incidents of racialized policing lead to deaths, and mass incarceration curtails the life chances of too many young black and brown men. We have failed to build racial equity into the fabric of our society. That task remains urgent three decades after the U.S. bishops diagnosed it thus: “Racism is not merely one sin among many; it is a radical evil that divides the human family and denies the new creation of a redeemed world. To struggle against it means an equally radical transformation, in our own minds and hearts as well as in the structure of our society” (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Brothers and Sisters to Us, 1979).

The bishops and Catholics in the United States have been putting money into that struggle for decades through the annual collection for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), which takes place in many parishes throughout the United States in November. CCHD’s systematic investment in faith-based community organizing in dioceses and archdioceses around the country represents perhaps the Church’s best investment in fighting racism and working for racial equity in America. These groups fight poverty by empowering people in poor and working class communities to work for social policies in line with Catholic social teaching—often collaborating across racial and ethnic lines.

Many CCHD-funded groups have come to focus on explicitly working for racial equity. One such group is Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower & Rebuild (POWER).  POWER brings together Philadelphians across lines of race, income level, faith tradition, culture, and neighborhood. More than 40 congregations from every section of the city have actively participated in the building of POWER, which works to address racism and promote policy changes to improve communities in Philadelphia, such as fair funding for education, economic dignity through fair wages, and access to affordable housing.

The work of POWER in Philadelphia is but one example of how CCHD-supported groups are realizing the hopes Pope Francis expressed during his visit to the United States. There are hundreds of groups carrying out this work throughout the United States. These kinds of local faith-based organizing efforts offer Catholics a chance to be part of answering those questions.

Answer Pope Francis’ call. Learn more about what CCHD-supported groups are doing in your area and get involved!

Richard L. Wood serves as a consultant to the CCHD Subcommittee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. He is the author of the just-published A Shared Future: Faith-Based Organizing for Racial Equity and Ethical Democracy, and works as a professor of sociology at the University of New Mexico


Learn more about the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and the state of poverty in the United States at PovertyUSA.org.

During the month of January, don’t forget to celebrate Poverty Awareness Month using this printable calendar (en Español), longer daily reflections (en Español), and our daily emails.  These resources provide food for prayer and action to address poverty in the United States. 

The need for relief for island nations burdened with debt

Richard Coll, policy advisor for the Office of International Justice and Peace at USCCB

Richard Coll, Policy Advisor for the Office of International Justice and Peace at USCCB

In Pope Francis’ message for the 2016 celebration of World Peace Day on January 1, he asks that leaders of nations “forgive or manage in a sustainable way the international debt of the poorer nations…” This is an important issue, especially for many island nations.

Highly indebted island nations, located in the Caribbean and the Pacific, are burdened by debt obligations that impede their ability to foster economic development, reduce poverty, and provide adequate social services. These island nations include Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica and St. Kitts, among others. In each of these countries, the Catholic Church, along with ecumenical partners, has been actively engaged in addressing both the causes and the consequences of debt, while championing the human rights and the common good of affected populations.

The human consequences of high levels of indebtedness can be very severe. By requiring a high percentage of their national income to be devoted to the servicing of foreign debt, little is left over for investments in infrastructure, education, or health.

Not only does this put at risk the economic growth and development of the country, but it may also lead to severe deprivations in nutrition and medical care for the affected population. One hears, for example, of nations with such inadequate water systems, due to disrepair, that mothers are forced to offer their children bottled soda rather than risking their children the exposure to the dirty and polluted water they face in the local water systems.

As Pope Francis said when he addressed the United Nations General Assembly in September, “The International Financial Agencies are should care for the sustainable development of countries and should ensure that they are not subjected to oppressive lending systems which, far from promoting progress, subject people to mechanisms which generate greater poverty, exclusion and dependence.”

Inspired initially by the call of Saint Pope John Paul II for Jubilee 2000, the global Jubilee movement aims to influence worldwide decision makers, including the United Nations, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, to promote poverty reduction and advance solutions to international financial problems.

USCCB has long stood in solidarity with the Church in the Caribbean, as well as with the work of Jubilee USA, in alleviating the debt burdens of highly indebted nations.

For this reason, my colleague Dr. Stephen Colecchi, Director of the Office of International Justice and Peace, and I attended a recent conference in Grenada hosted by Jubilee. The commitment of the Church in the Caribbean regarding this issue was evidenced by the participation of a number of prominent religious leaders, including Catholic bishops from Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, and St. Kitts, as well as the Apostolic Nuncio to these nations.

There we discussed strategies for effective debt relief, as well as greater level of financial accountability and administrative diligence on the part of the borrowing nations. Participants urged lending institutions to assure that loans are structured in ways that make successful development and repayment possible.

The religious leaders at the conference agreed to establish a formal structure of consultation and advocacy throughout the Caribbean region to address on a systematic basis the concerns of these highly indebted nations.

The efforts of these religious leaders, including Catholic bishops and other Christian leaders from the Caribbean, deserve support, including here in the United States.

USCCB will continue to pursue and support energetically these important endeavors, thereby expressing solidarity and providing support for both debt relief and poverty reduction.

 

Richard Coll is a policy advisor for the Office of International Justice and Peace at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.


Learn more information about the USCCB’s position on debt relief.

 

Pope Francis’ Messages to Africa

Pope Francis visited three African nations November 25-30 (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters, June 6, 2015)

Pope Francis visited three African nations November 25-30, 2015 (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters, June 6, 2015)

“Passing to the other side” – the theme of the Holy Father’s recent Apostolic Visit to Africa – references the crossing of the sea when Jesus calms the storm and calls on his disciples to faith. This image is poignant for a continent that many see either poised for a leap ahead to a new “African Century,” or doomed to continued stagnation caused by conflict, bad governance, and environmental degradation. Pope Francis offered the people of Africa calm guidance in a stormy time.

1. “May you always be concerned for the needs of the poor…”

Throughout his three-country visit, he reminded political and religious leaders that the way of Jesus is to serve those who are poor and marginalized. Pope Francis made this point in the middle of the slum of Kangemi, a place where 150,000 people live in tin shacks with no access to clean water nor proper sewage facilities.  He quoted an African proverb, “there is always room for one more seat at the table” to illustrate the wisdom of the poor, but he condemned poverty and exclusion as “…wounds inflicted by minorities who cling to power and wealth, who selfishly squander while a growing majority is forced to flee to abandoned, filthy and run-down peripheries.”“A highlight of my visit will be my meetings with young people…”

Africa is the youngest continent in the world. In 2010, 70% of Africans were below the age of 30. The Holy Father reminded leaders that, “[t]o protect [youth], to invest in them and to offer them a helping hand, is the best way we can ensure a future worthy of the wisdom and spiritual values dear to their elders….” He called leaders to feed the aspiration of the youth for a more peaceful and just society.

2. “Corruption is something which creeps in. It’s like sugar: it’s sweet, we like it, it goes down easily. And then? We get sick!”

Pope Francis addressed the problem of corruption in Africa in response to a question from a Kenyan girl, “Can corruption be justified simply because everyone is involved in wrongdoing, everyone is corrupt?”

Pope Francis replied, “Corruption is not the way to life. It is a path which leads to death.” He added that it steals a person’s joy and harms those living in poverty. It also robs society of peace.

3. “There is a clear link between the protection of nature and the building of a just and equitable social order.”

In his first speech in Africa the Holy Father said, “We have a responsibility to pass on the beauty of nature in its integrity to future generations, and an obligation to exercise a just stewardship of the gifts we have received. These values are deeply rooted in the African soul.” The Pope cited an African proverb that says that we don’t inherit land from our ancestors, but rather borrow it from our children and are responsible for passing it on in better shape than we found it.

This message is so important to Africa, a continent that is rich in natural resources, but mired in poverty.

4. “Passing to the other side, in the civil sense, means leaving behind war, divisions and poverty, and choosing peace, reconciliation, development.”

The theme, ‘Passing to the other side’ was most prominent in the final leg of Pope Francis’ visit to CAR, a country that is desperately struggling to emerge from a bloody two-year conflict.  In a gesture that raised this peripheral country to the world’s attention, Pope Francis opened the Jubilee Year of Mercy doors to the Cathedral in Bangui and announced that, “Today Bangui becomes the spiritual capital of the world. The Holy Year of Mercy comes in advance to this land. A land that has suffered for many years as a result of war, hatred, misunderstanding, and the lack of peace. But in this suffering land there are also all the countries that are experiencing the Cross of war”.

5. “Ecumenical and interreligious dialogue is not a luxury”

Pope Francis stressed the need for ecumenical and interfaith dialogue throughout his visit. In Uganda, he along with Anglican and Catholic bishops prayed at the monument of the holy martyrs where in the late 1880’s 45 Catholic and Anglican men and women were killed for their faith.  He noted that “[e]cumenical and interreligious dialogue is not a luxury. It is … essential, something which our world, wounded by conflict and division, increasingly needs.”

The Holy Father spent even more time discussing interfaith dialogue between Christians and Muslims, especially in Kenya and the CAR where violent conflict has been perpetrated in the name of faith. At the central mosque in Bangui, CAR he stated that, “Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters….”

 

On the plane home, the Holy Father told a team of journalists: “Africa is a martyr. She is a martyr to exploitation in history. Those who say that from Africa come all calamities and all wars do not understand well, perhaps, the damage that certain forms of development do to humanity. And it is for this reason that I love Africa….”

 

Hilbert headshotSteve Hilbert is a policy advisor on Africa for the Office of International Justice and Peace at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.