HOW can a Catholic continue to be a good Samaritan in “the age of terror”?
It’s a question former secretary general of Caritas Internationalis Duncan MacLaren put to his audience at Brisbane’s Australian Catholic University (ACU) when he delivered the Aquinas Lecture 2007 on October 23.
Speaking with Mr MacLaren, now ACU’s visiting professor, just prior to the lecture, the impact of his experiences in locations such as a Rwandan refugee camp holding more than a million people, was evident.
Such experiences will be invaluable in his new role – a continuation of his involvement with Caritas as well as educator to those who will be involved in the Church’s future aid work.
The professed member of Glasgow’s Lay Dominicans and former director of the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF) also spoke of the dangers faced by aid workers in an increasingly conflict-torn world – such as the two Caritas tsunami workers killed by a roadside mine in Sri Lanka late last year.
Yet Mr MacLaren’s expanded definition of terrorists – to include those in the west who “denationalise the wealth of those in the third world” – would have seemed alien to those who put a purely Islamic face to the conflict.
Into this volatile mix, he threw the issue of climate change and its impacts on the third world – of people fighting a civil war for access to water in places such as Dafur.
“And it’s estimated another 61 countries are ripe for conflict as a result of such climate-change related issues,” he added.
It was clear that such spectacular failures of relief work as the 1994 Rwandan genocide, where Christian turned on Christian – the Tutsis versus the Hutus – and hundreds of thousands were slaughtered, had also led to much soul searching and re-evaluation of the work of the modern good Samaritan.
“A changed approach was inevitable – the 1999 four-yearly Caritas general assembly was held against the backdrop of both the Rwandan and Bosnian genocides,” Mr MacLaren said.
He spoke of “new” charity versus “traditional” charity.
“The traditional Catholic ways of supporting social justice initiatives are no longer sufficient,” he said.
“Living justly in today’s world requires more than just giving money to help mission projects.
“Certainly such support is vital – but more than that is required.”
He was also emphatic that the notion of social justice as a hobby for a small group of enthusiasts didn’t wash these days.
“As Catholic Christians we all have a real obligation to advocate change in public policy,” he said.
“This could involve such things as a letter campaign to the Australian Government to say that their attitude towards African refugees is not acceptable.”
Mr MacLaren had an answer to a query on how such a “small thing” as a letter from a concerned citizen could change anything.
“Look at debt relief for the poor in the third world,” he said.
“The Jubilee 2000 coalition moved many Catholics, and others of good will, to act as advocates for the cancellation of unpayable third world debt.
“Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said that this debt relief would not have occurred had it not been for the pressure that people from around the world had brought to bear on their political representatives.
“And look at the good that came from this debt relief.
“A couple of examples are that more than one million children were able to be immunised in Uganda; and Tanzania has been able to give free primary school education to its children.
“The ability to write such letters to authorities should be taught in Catholic schools – indeed I know of a school in Brisbane where this is happening.”
Mr MacLaren emphasised that modern popes from Paul VI on had been very specific about the need for a new direction in both Church agencies and individuals in their role as good Samaritans.
“Pope Paul in the 1967 Encyclical Populorum Progressio said: ‘Development is the new name for peace’.
“He also said: ‘Development cannot be limited to economic growth but looks to total human potential’.”
Mr MacLaren said a major part of his new role was to assist the integration of such Catholic social teachings more fully into aid work – to ensure a holistic rather than economic approach to helping people in third world countries.
With this in mind, he spoke of a whole new direction for Caritas which meant incorporating the concept of peace building into its work.
More than 4000 Caritas workers throughout the world are being trained in practical conflict resolution techniques to build lasting peace in troubled regions.
“For example in tsunami relief in Sri Lanka, Caritas took into consideration the region’s major religions when buying relief products from local merchants.
“So Caritas bought from Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim merchants to avoid unnecessary conflict between the religions.”
He also had wonderful stories of hope as this approach was applied.
“There was a lot of tension in Croatia when many of the Serbs who had left during the conflict started to return.
“Serbs and Croat children were mixing in schools and this was seen as an opportunity to foster peace.
“Caritas is currently looking at a new curriculum which involves parents so they have to talk to each other – the motivation will be the future good of their children.”
Since Mr MacLaren’s lecture title was “Being a good Samaritan in the age of terror”, a perhaps inevitable question was how the Man from Galilee would have dealt with the current situation in such complex times.
“Many see that the good Samaritan in the parable was Christ Himself. Indeed Pope Benedict makes this point in his recently published book on Jesus,” he said.
“In this view, Christ was giving the Samaritan’s behaviour as a model of how He would behave … a model to all of us … a way of living that should be at the very heart of what it is to be Christian.
“A whole generation of Catholics was taught how to be only partially good Samaritans,” he said.
“Clearly this is not enough in today’s complex and conflict-ridden world.
“To be a good Samaritan in today’s world is to realise our duties as global citizens – to consider how our lifestyles impact on the less fortunate – and to take action.”