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Religious and poverty DEIRDRE MULLAN


t was United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who identified people of faith as being on the front line of efforts to help the poorest people of the world. “Religious groups can also be powerful advocates in mobilising political leaders and the public at large…” he told the General Assembly in 2008. “I look to religious leaders and scholars everywhere to work hand in hand with us in that mission.” According to the latest UN Human


Development Report, 1.44 billion people around the world live in poverty and subsist on a daily income of US$1.25 (78p) or less. Moreover, 1.75 billion people around the world experience the many dimensions of poverty – that is, they experience at least 30 per cent of the indicators reflecting acute deprivations in health, education, and standard of living. As an international community of religious women working in 47 countries, my order, the Sisters of Mercy, sees first-hand the con- sequences of poverty. It is not simply the lack of money or resources. It cannot be measured by GDP alone. Poverty is a multi-dimensional violation of human rights. It is death dealing, physically and morally, and it disproportion- ately affects women and girls. But I believe that another world is possible.


My challenge to people who prepare young and newer members for religious life is to


Poor commitments I


seriously address the connection between the United Nations’ analysis of poverty and the vow of poverty, and help our members move beyond parochialism to global thinking and action in relation to them both. I believe that the vow of poverty is an


attempt to find an alternative way of living and to restructure our world – so that all may indeed have enough. To aspire to live in this way will obviously have implications for how


A fault line runs through the vow of poverty taken by today’s Religious, which still looks to the results of poverty rather than its causes. A leading nun working at the United Nations suggests instead a vow of mutual sustainability would be more appropriate today


we try to live our religious life. Traditionally, the vow of poverty – until the Second Vatican Council – was largely seen as personal and a matter of permissions. With the council, a very strong – and even


central – social dimension of poverty for vowed Religious came to the fore. These ideas were clearly were influenced by the writings and thinking of Sr Marie Augusta Neal, and by such thinkers as Paulo Freire in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970). We began to under- stand the concept of conscientisation – an in-depth understanding of the world and of social and political contradictions. As Sr Marie Augusta Neal pointed out in her work The Just Demands of the Poor: essays in socio-theology, when the Church elaborated its theological position on human develop- ment and church ministry, it shifted the primary focus of ministry from alleviating the results of poverty, beyond the goal of human service, to eliminating its causes. And this shift is recognisable in the Church’s post- Vatican II position, as for instance in Pope John XXIII’s statement in 1961, Mater et Magistra and that of 1963, Pacem in Terris. It is also in statements by Pope Paul VI, such as Populorum Progressio of 1967 and Octogesima Adveniens of 1971. The impact of this teaching was profound on women Religious. Many chapter directives


29 January 2011 | THE TABLET | 9


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