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CURRENT ISSUE:  November 5, 2007
VOL. 45, NO. 19   •   Oakland, CA
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Cathedral dedication date set

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Global poverty must be U.S. priority
declare religious leaders and activists

Global poverty can end if rich countries make good on their promises to help poor ones, and Congress must begin now by reforming U.S. foreign aid and trade policies, Catholic and interfaith representatives declared at a national conference in San Francisco.

The urgent call for the House and Senate to pass a set of global anti-poverty measures pending in the current congressional session capped the Point7Now! Action Conference, which drew more than 500 activists to St. Mary’s Cathedral on Oct. 27.

Conference organizers had planned to deliver the message in person to Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Reps. Anna Eshoo, Tom Lantos and Lynn Woolsey. Each was invited in a letter signed by San Francisco Archbishop George H. Niederauer; Episcopal Bishop Marc Andrus, and Rabbi Stephen Pearce of Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco. In addition, individual parishioners urged the lawmakers to attend.

But none appeared, and only Pelosi sent an aide.

“The empty chairs speak for themselves,” Bishop Andrus said from the stage.

“I was disappointed,” George Wesolek, archdiocesan director of public policy and social concerns, said after the conference. “You can almost tell it’s not an issue of high priority.”

Feinstein had planned to attend but canceled because of the fires in Southern California.

“The representatives who were unable to be here today are ready to work with you to achieve what you want,” said Pelosi aide Phil D’Andrade, rising from a row of empty seats set aside for the lawmakers. He explained the difficulties of lining up a majority vote and urged faith communities to do more organizing.

The demand for an immediate political response to the humanitarian crisis of global poverty was the result of a year of mobilization by Catholic, Episcopal and Jewish organizations. The effort to influence U.S. policy began in San Francisco last October when 1,000 faith activists gathered for the first Point7Now! conference.

Speakers at the follow-up conference included Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndugane, archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, who underscored the disparities between rich and poor.

“Sometimes I think we have constructed a new global apartheid, an economic apartheid where a small number live the life of selfish consumption and enjoy the benefits of science and technology,” he said. “But the great majority lives in want with far too many dying of hunger, malnutrition and preventable, manageable diseases.”

“Yet economists tell us that God provides a world in which actually there is an abundance for us all if we only shared it equitably,” he said.

Alex Baumgarten, an international policy analyst for the Episcopal Church, USA, decried the political status quo as a “moral blight” that divides the world into beggars and givers.

“Poverty is a part of how the economic equation works,” he said. “The Gospel of Jesus Christ has no patience for such an approach. The Gospel tells us the poor have faces, but more important they have just as much to contribute as we do.”

A theme of the conference was the role people of faith can play by their willingness to work in partnership with sufferers instead of merely providing charity.

“I wish to share the spirit of giving and how it feels to receive,” said Bridget Chisenga, who works in HIV/AIDS treatment for Catholic Relief Services in Zambia. She told the story of her own recovery from a health crisis. “I don’t have enough words to express my happiness that I have a life. This hope in me has really come from all of you out there.”

The purpose of the Point7Now! campaign is to urge lawmakers to dramatically increase U.S. spending on anti-poverty measures overseas. The United States must spend seven-tenths of 1 percent of its gross national product to relieve poverty in the developing world, up from the current two-tenths of 1 percent, conference organizers said.

The higher spending is needed to meet all eight Millennium Development goals set by the United States and 190 other UN member states in 2000. The goals, if implemented as planned by 2015, would have their greatest impact on the 1.1 billion people who suffer the world’s most dire poverty because they live on less than a dollar a day.

If the U.S. House and Senate enact aid, debt and trade reforms now pending, these extreme poor would experience less suffering from preventable diseases such as malaria and HIV/AIDS, conference organizers and speakers said.

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