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Make globalization user-friendly is Catholic plea

NCR Staff
Genoa, Italy

The rap on Catholic anti-globalization rhetoric has long been that it is strong on diagnosis, weak on cure. Church leaders can denounce poverty, war and disease with passion, but are often vague on what to do about it.

Such complaints may cut less ice after an early-July meeting in Genoa, where more than 60 Catholic lay groups and missionary orders offered a detailed blueprint for economic and political reform to the leaders of the G-8 group, the world’s eight most developed nations.

The G-8 met in this northern Italian port city July 20-22.

Some 3,000 Catholics, a solid majority under age 35, braved tight security in anticipation of the G-8 summit July 7 to listen to speeches, participate in working groups on themes such as debt and international conflicts, groove to pop bands from the Third World, and take part in a nighttime march.

Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi of Genoa, often mentioned as a frontrunner to become the next pope, was the event’s keynote speaker. He called on the world’s great powers to pursue policies in which “man does not exist for globalization,” but “globalization for man.”

“One African child sick with AIDS,” Tettamanzi said to thunderous applause, “counts more than the entire universe.”

Among the proposals in the “Catholic manifesto” handed over to an official of the Italian government in Genoa for eventual presentation to the G-8:

  • Rules for international trade that allow impoverished nations to offer goods at predictable prices and without barriers;
  • An end to banking secrecy laws that conceal money laundering, especially illegal transfers of currency out of impoverished nations;
  • Adoption of the Tobin Tax (a tax of 0.25 percent on the $2 trillion a day exchanged on global currency markets, designed to discourage speculation and to create funds for international development);
  • Cancellation of debt accumulated up to June 1999; assurance that debt payments will be required only after health, education and other basic needs are met; and a process of arbitration to identify “in terms of justice” the real debt levels of impoverished nations;
  • Effective norms to protect labor;
  • Stronger environmental safeguards, including adoption of the Kyoto Accords on global warming;
  • National and international laws to guarantee a plurality of voices in the media;
  • Augmented public funding for medical research, especially for producing drugs to combat diseases that afflict the poor;
  • Efforts to halt the global arms trade, including full disclosure about the flow of weapons, and a halt to public support for manufacturers and distributors.

In a point aimed at the United States, the document calls for abandonment of the Bush administration’s Star Wars-style space shield, suggesting that the money be devoted to resolving the causes of conflict, above all poverty.

The complete text is available on the NCR Web site under “documents.”

Signatories included Catholic Action, Pax Christi, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, Caritas, the Community of Sant’Egidio, and a youth wing of the Focolare movement, as well as religious orders such as the Comboni Fathers, the Saverians, the Missionaries of Africa and the Salesians.

Speakers at the Genoa assembly urged an “ethic of responsibility.” Participants were asked to adopt lifestyles consistent with church language about social justice, including reasonable patterns of consumption. A video pointed out that one American or European consumes as much in food, goods and services in a year as 43 Rwandans.

Another frequent refrain was the need for international institutions capable of “governing” globalization.

“To you gentlemen of the G-8 we send a message,” said Luigi Bobba, head of a Catholic pro-labor movement. “You will not be able to dream tranquil dreams as long as you are incapable of overcoming the gap between the birth of a new global consciousness and the absence of global institutions.”

While the focus in Genoa was on remedies, prophetic cries were not lacking. Filomeno Lopes of Guinea-Bissau said the struggle should not be against globalization itself, but against merciless capitalism that operates on an implicit theology of extra mercatum nulla salus -- “outside the market there is no salvation.”

Ecuador’s Monica Espinoza described how in her country only 2 people in 10 have a stable job. The median salary is $1.86 a day, while the most impoverished scrape by on an average of 11 cents. Debt payments command 45 percent of the country’s financial resources, leaving 4 percent for public health and 10 percent for education.

In that context, she said, desperation is widespread. Espinoza told a story of three Ecuadorians who tried to go illegally to the United States, paying for passage on a boat that instead ended up in Croatia. For the 12-day journey, each of the three was given four lemons, two bottles of water, four apples and a can of tuna. Two died; the third is still hoping to immigrate.

Youth at the Genoa meeting called themselves “sentinels of the morning,” lifting the phrase from Pope John Paul II’s address at last summer’s World Youth Day in Rome. On that occasion, the pope called on young people to resist “a world in which other human beings die of hunger, are illiterate and lack work.”

Despite the effort to wrap the event in papal approval, the “Catholic manifesto” drew criticism from church conservatives.

Leaders of the right-wing Communion and Liberation movement derided it as a flirtation with the “people of Seattle,” reminiscent of the way some progressive Catholics allied themselves with revolutionaries in the 1960s.

A six-page open letter from 30 conservative Catholic intellectuals blasted the manifesto as an example of “subordination to ideologies and slogans of political groups and movements that have nothing to do with our faith.”

“The signatories of the manifesto are longwinded in talking about the most varied subjects, but nowhere consider it necessary to mention that Jesus Christ is man’s only savior, and this proclamation is their fundamental duty,” the letter said.

Leftists, meanwhile, objected to the decision to hold a separate “Catholic” event rather than joining in the broad secular protests, bringing together youth, labor and environmental groups, that will take place during the summit itself.

Leaders of the Genoa Social Forum, the secular group organizing demonstrations for the G-8 summit, said they shared the content of the manifesto but objected to the way Catholic activists projected an air of superiority.

Catholic organizers told NCR they met separately to avoid being mixed in with the street violence anticipated during the summit.

Many Catholic groups and missionary orders will be present in Genoa during the G-8 summit, taking part in a protest of prayer and fasting (see related story on this page).

Tettamanzi’s presence at the event was taken as an implicit blessing. He praised the tendency among young people to volunteerism, but urged them to be politically engaged as well. “Being volunteers is good but it’s not enough,” he said, again to loud applause.

Tettamanzi has just published a new book, Globalization: A Challenge, with the Italian house Piemme.

At least one other prominent Catholic seemed pleased with the results: John Paul II applauded the assembly’s work during his July 8 Angelus address.

The ironies of protesting globalization in a world already globalized were thick in Genoa. Speakers who decried cultural homogenization using fiery Italian rhetoric drew lusty cheers, but the crowd was also obviously delighted by slick videos with a soundtrack of English-language pop stars such as U2 and Bruce Springsteen. Complaints about a growing “information gap” dividing rich and poor, meanwhile, were fed in real time over the Internet in both audio and text formats.

The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is jallen@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, July 27, 2001