Helen Forde, Acting CEO of Caritas Australia | Speech at launch of “Lazarus at our Gate”

Helen Forde

Helen Forde

Acting CEO, Caritas Australia, 11 September 2013

On behalf of Caritas Australia, I would like to acknowledge the Cammeraygal people, the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which we now stand.

It is a delight to be here today at the Australian Catholic University, to join in the launch of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference 2013–2014 Social Justice Statement, Lazarus at our Gate: A critical moment in our fight against world poverty.

We have been very eloquently reminded of the history of our treatment of Australia’s First peoples. It is a sobering thought that up to 30,000 Aboriginal children, women and men were killed in the cause of occupying Australia. It is humbling to realise that Lebanon is providing protection to one million Syrians and that Pakistan hosts two million refugees.

It’s just four days after the election and there are huge changes afoot across our nation. We stand at a crossroads in the fight against global poverty. As our Bishops say, we face A Critical Moment in the fight against world poverty.

As Catholics, and as the broader Christian community, in this moment we pause… We pause – and reflect – on the gift of life and the face of Christ. We pause – and reflect – Who is the rich man and who is Lazarus? This is the moment to hear the call of Jesus.

Helen Forde SJ launchAustralia is a rich, prosperous nation with a strong economy. Unlike the rich man, we must ask, ‘Who is at our gate?’ Who is Lazarus and where do we find him?

Lying at our gate in South East Asia and the Pacific are about 20 per cent of the world’s poorest people. They’re families, they’re children, mothers, fathers and grandparents too.

Excluded from our table, we find many of Australia’s First peoples and millions of the world’s Indigenous Peoples. In our world today Indigenous Peoples make up just five per cent of the world’s population; yet they account for 15 per cent of the world’s poor. They are daughters and sons, they are aunties, uncles and elders too.

And standing at our doorstep, as John Menadue said, we find some of God’s most desperate children. Those who are fleeing conflict, persecution and war. They number about 45 million people, about twice the Australian population. All forcibly displaced, with nowhere to call home. They too are our brothers and sisters.

It is these people, and many more, who are the companions of Lazarus. They are people like those named in the Bishops’ Statement – Flabiana from East Timor, Haman from Nigeria, Samphors from Cambodia, and Zarfeh from Syria. Each has a story, each reveals the face of Christ, each calls us in Jesus’ name.

As our Bishops say in the Statement: ‘Their dignity demands that we hear their cry and respond.’

As you know, Caritas Australia is the International Aid and Development Agency of the Australian Catholic Church. With the support of our Catholic community every day we seek to live out God’s mission in our work to end poverty, promote justice and uphold dignity.

For us, it is about recognizing that God is the host, that Lazarus is the treasured guest and that the table’s sumptuousness is for all. And so Caritas’ mission statement begins, ‘Children, women and men most vulnerable to extreme poverty and injustice are rich in the eyes of Jesus, whose life and compassion inspires Caritas Australia.’ First and foremost we build right relationships by centering all our work on the people we serve. They are Lazarus – rich in the eyes of Jesus.

At Caritas, we honour and protect the innate dignity of God’s most marginalised people through our work.

It’s grounded in principles of Catholic Social Teaching as illustrated in Flabiana’s story shared in the Bishop’s statement.

Flabiana lost everything in the conflict that followed Timor-Leste’s declaration of independence in 1999.

Working in solidarity with local experts and our generous Australian supporters, Caritas accompanied Flabiana’s community, to harvest more crops, to breed animals and for Flabiana to process and sell her food in the markets. Flabiana was able to enrich her own life and offer her whole family a brighter future.

Stories, like Flabiana’s, demonstrate how together we can make a real difference.

As Pope Francis said to representatives of the United Nations in June 2013:

‘A way has to be found to enable everyone to benefit from the fruits of the earth, and not simply to close the gap between the affluent and those who must be satisfied with the crumbs falling from the table.’

We can open our gates, warming the cold of indifference to build the heart of living.

Every day at Caritas we are challenging the ‘globalisation of indifference’.

Pope Francis, like many of the Popes before him, has repeatedly challenged us as the Church to be poor and for the poor.

Pope Francis’ message is simple and timeless. It is the Gospel message of Jesus.

Caritas is Latin for love and compassion. But how do we show this to the world’s most marginalized?

Today, many Syrians, particularly children, face an uncertain future. It is one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. More than 8.3 million people are in need of urgent assistance.

The use of chemical weapons adds to this devastation and uncertainty. Again, Lazarus lies at our gate, covered in sores.

Through our Caritas partnerships in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, more than 100,000 people are being helped with food, education and health services.

They lie far from Australia’s table, but they are not forgotten.

Our faith calls us to look more closely at who is most affected by poverty and to challenge ourselves and global leaders to bring about change for the poorest.

Australia is currently well positioned to help in this critical moment in the global fight against poverty. We have a place on the UN Security Council for the next two years. We will soon chair the G20 group. Our Leaders are in an influential position to reach out to our neighbours with love and compassion, and lead through actions, not just words.

And yet we are saddened by the habit of our political leaders, diverting and proposing to cut our foreign aid budget in order to balance the books and fund their domestic policy, such as transferring asylum seekers to other countries and building better infrastructure. The incoming Coalition government is proposing $4.5 billion in cuts to foreign aid over the next four years.

Are Australia’s gates, its indifference to poverty and the plight of our neighbours growing taller and wider?

In 2000, world leaders committed themselves to halving extreme through the Millennium Development Goals.

Thanks to the successes of the MDGs, globally over 34 million extra children are able to attend and complete primary school, while over 4 million people suffering from HIV/AIDS are now able to access life-saving antiretroviral treatment.

In 2015, just under 18 months from now, global leaders will be making decisions that affect the lives of millions of people for generations to come as they navigate the post-2015 MDGs framework.

We call upon our leaders to put the children, women and men living in poverty at the forefront of their decision-making, as well as at the forefront of their hearts and minds.

Today there are many of you who have been working with us in our journey, far and wide across the world. Next year we celebrate 50 years of this vital work and we thank you and appreciate your support and efforts.

How can you continue to help at this critical moment in the fight against poverty?

You can contact your local MP and other political leaders as they settle their cabinet:
Encourage them to use our seat on the UN to bring peace and justice.
Encourage them as they host the G20 to show responsibility to the world’s poor.
Ask them to keep their commitments to the Millennium Development Goals.
Ask them to protect our overseas aid budget.

You can also support, volunteer or donate to Catholic agencies who live out God’s mission.

We are at a critical moment in the struggle to eliminate poverty, but it is a battle that can be won if our extensive Christian community unite and reflect on who is the rich man and who is Lazarus. This is the moment to hear the call of Jesus. This is the moment to respond.

It is a battle that requires the gentlest of weapons in response – our love and compassion. It is a battle that requires every one of us.