- Prayer for today
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is to create a new monastic community at his London residence of Lambeth Palace. Like many experiments with innovative models of religious life, it will combine aspects ancient and modern
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- Vatican will not step up Pope’s security arrangements for Albania trip despite IS threats
- Pell adds voice to growing opposition to Kasper’s efforts to relax Communion ban for remarried divorcees
- UK is close to being a failed state after decades of inept governance, claims top historian
- Catholic church in Scotland opposes organ donation bill
- If there’s a shortage of priests in Ireland, why not ordain women to the diaconate? Michael Phelan
- Christians and Yazidis in Iraq: unwanted guests in their own country John Eibner, Christian Solidarity International
- Church should rethink its attitude to adoption Katherine Backler
A starving African child is cradled in his helpless mother’s arms. “I wish we were whales”, he says. This was only a cartoon in a Religious Studies textbook but it provoked discussion and pointed to a hard fact in our world: animals sometimes engender more sympathy and concern than human beings. Have we become, as some commentators say, “desensitised” to the everyday and now commonplace scenes of human suffering beamed continually into our living rooms? The poor, as Jesus reminds us in the Gospel, are always with us. Many of us might be inclined to interpret this as the poor is an insoluble problem and even Jesus himself was at a loss to solve it. Or, we might see it as a challenge, a call to action.
But what can we really do in practical terms? I remember the wide-eyed enthusiasm of the Live Aid extravaganza but did it ever provide more than merely a day’s entertainment and a renaissance for some fading musical careers?
The recent Ebola outbreak is, in my view, a timely reminder and disturbing insight into how we in the so-called developed world still enslave and subjugate our neighbours in the “developing” world. Even the terminology of developing, emerging and developed worlds helps to reinforce and perpetuate the deep divisions between us. Pharmaceutical companies have been reluctant to plough funds into developing a vaccine for Ebola because it is, primarily, a disease of the poor and, as such, I suppose, it is not profitable for shareholders and pensions funds. Such is the world we live in. But does it have to always be so? Sadly, yes not because we lack compassion or suffer from charity fatigue but simply, in my view, because the complexity and enormity of poverty seems too overwhelming and intractable to solve. It reduces us to occasional and arbitrary donors – consciences pricked by Children in Need, Comic Relief or some other “worthy” cause or emotive appeal.
I recall a group of middle-school pupils waiting outside my office during lunchtime. They had come to see me about having a charity cake sale to help the poor. I pointed out the irony of the issue: we eat cake to help them live. How virtuous! “But it’s better than doing nothing” replied one of them. Having supported and participated in many such enterprises during my teaching career I am not so sure. It might assuage our own conscience but does it really affect or transform our lives; does it make a lasting and significant difference to the world around us? I have no intention whatsoever of selling all I possess and giving it to the poor even thought the gospel injunction “Whatever you did for the least of my bothers and sisters, you did for me” weighs heavily upon me.
Daniel Kearney is a former Catholic headmaster