Paul Hansen, a Redemptorist priest well known for his lifelong commitment to justice and peace, spoke in the Sacred Heart Cathedral’s CYO Hall in Whitehorse Monday evening.
The day before, on Sunday, September 25, Wangari Muta Maathai, a Kenyan environmental leader, political activist and Africa’s first woman Nobel Peace Prize laureate, died.
Though half a world apart these two people’s lives share a common bond in their dedication to the vision that another world is possible.
Father Hansen’s CYO lecture entitled Reference Letter from the Poor Required called out to those present to focus in on core message of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. He pointed out the key sin in the Jewish Scriptures was idolatry. The very first commandment after all reads, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
However Rev. Hansen, past chair of the board of KAIROS (2004-2008), the Canadian ecumenical social justice coalition at the centre of the funding controversy last year with the Harper government, noted, “You become what you worship.”
In the wealthy Western countries, a Christian veneer over a distorted civil religion revolving around consumerism, “junk food alienation,” has evolved.
In our southern neighbour this is amplified by the imperial values of a waning superpower.
Too often the institutional churches make it “easier for the pharaoh to be pharaoh,” he said.
And, as he told Yukon teachers earlier, we are “swimming in an idolatrous culture.” Money and power hold sway.
The Christian scriptures see our relationships with each other as reflecting our relationship with our God. For Hansen, this builds on the Jewish roots so clearly expressed by Isaiah: “Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people … to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the crushed go free ….”
Therefore, Hansen states, “worship of God and solidarity with your neighbour is the same thing.” And, today, the concept of neighbour must be global.
Listening to the poor, the disenfranchised and the powerless today must be a priority, if Christians are to be truly faithful to their creed, according Paul Hansen. Voices like that of Maathai are silenced or marginalized at our temporal and spiritual peril.
On receiving the UN Africa Prize for Leadership in 1991, Maathai challenged African and world leaders.
“It is not as if leaders do not understand the impact of the unjust political and economic systems, which are promoting environmental degradation and promoting a non-sustainable development model,” said Maathai. “When will such business be considered unacceptable in the world community? … The concepts of sustainable development, appropriate development models, and participatory development are not foreign. We are aware that our children and the future generations have a right to a world which will also need energy, should be free of pollution, should be rich with biological diversity and should have a climate which will sustain all forms of life.”
Later, on receiving the word of her Nobel Peace Prize award in 2004, she said; “It is evident that many wars are fought over resources which are now becoming increasingly scarce. If we conserved our resources better, fighting over them would not then occur … so, protecting the global environment is directly related to securing peace … those of us who understand the complex concept of the environment have the burden to act. We must not tire, we must not give up, we must persist.” (www.greenbeltmovement.org)
Ultimately our actions must demonstrate the depth of our belief. As Paul Hansen reflected, “I don’t want to hear a homily, I want to see a homily.”
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.