Together we can … provide support for those New Zealanders most affected by the global economic crisis.
This is the conviction and the invitation of the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services (NZCCSS) as we face the effects of the recession. The Catholic Church works alongside Anglican, Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian churches and the Salvation Army in this response.
At their March meetings, the Council of Priests and the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council studied the recommendations of the church leaders and planned practical ways we could respond to the most vulnerable, especially families and those living on benefits. Copies of the NZCCSS document, ‘Together we can …’ have now been distributed to all parishes and pastoral areas of the archdiocese.
Our reflections made me think of a striking line from Pope Benedict’s first encyclical: Deus Caritas Est,
A Eucharist which does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented (# 14).
The passage from Matthew’s gospel (25:31-46) that we read at the beginning of Lent reminds us that on the last day, we will be judged by what we ‘have done to the least of these’: by the way we have fed the hungry, clothed, visited and welcomed the neighbour or stranger in our midst. If our regular celebration of Eucharist does not inspire us to this concrete practice of love, it is ‘intrinsically fragmented’. It is once more a ‘broken body of Christ’.
The NZCCSS recognises that difficult economic times ‘impact disproportionately on children and young people, on Māori, on low-income families and on Pasifika and other immigrant communities’.
Our challenge is to identify those most in need in order to be the compassion of Christ towards them. We have a responsibility for each other in these hard economic times.
It is a time for solidarity, a time to create networks of solidarity, as the President of Caritas Internationalis, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, said recently in Mexico, ‘The crisis is not so much economic as ethical and when people marginalise ethics from life, crises flourish’.
He continued, ‘We must all work as children of God to help one another, thereby avoiding related consequences of poverty, such as the spread of violence and organised crime’.
I believe we can also be messengers of hope to one another and this hope will be founded on the way we look after each other.
The NZCCSS statement says:
‘This break in the culture of consumerism will allow us all to reconsider our values. We believe that together we can create a more sustainable future where wealth is measured by the well being of all of … people, and most particularly of our children.’
I urge you in parish and pastoral areas to look at how you can contribute to families and communities in need and, in particular, to support community organisations such as Catholic Social Services, St Vincent de Paul, Salvation Army services and food banks.
As Catholics, we have a long tradition of well-established networks of solidarity and practical generosity. This is a strength we can draw on.
At the same time the church is committed to working proactively with the government to ensure there are effective policies in place to move us through a long and slow recovery. This will include further support for families with children, increased availability of state houses and the accommodation benefit, education funding for children of low-income families and additional funding for social service providers.
As church leaders, we are committed to working for the structural change that will create ‘a civilisation of love’, rather than of competitive consumerism.
I have often spoken of the church as a community marked by hospitality, helping, healing and holiness: the current economic situation calls us to live these four qualities together in a new and deeper way.
This is an opportunity for us to show ourselves as communities of helping and hospitality as we reach out to those who struggle. There will also be opportunities to heal the wounds of those who are hurt and to be people who grow in holiness as we pray through this time together.