ROME — Anger against the leaders at the recent Group of Eight summit in Genoa was misdirected, suggests a missionary.
Father Piero Gheddo is a member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions and co-author of the book David and Goliath at the G-8: Dialogue on Globalization, soon to be published.
The causes of the violence of the protests in Genoa were, in the first place, “the ideology of ‘everything now,’ which began in ‘68,” he said.
“Why protest against leaders of rich countries and not against our society of waste and the superfluous, [which is] indifferent to the poor of the world? … If our ‘model of life and development’ does not change, not even a leader can do very much.”
In the second place, the missionary pointed out, is “the analysis of the poverty of poor peoples, which is Marxist in origin — the world divided between exploited and exploiters.”
“However, this analysis is totally mistaken,” he countered. “Ethiopia is much richer than Italy in natural resources, but immensely poorer or rather, impoverished. How and by whom, I ask? Because of six years of Italian colonization? What great stolen riches should we return to Ethiopia? The obelisk of Aksum?
“The causes of poverty in the Third World are much deeper — historical, cultural and religious.”
During the days of protest in Genoa, the priest said, “there was no talk of [missionaries’] successful endeavors against poverty, which include proclamation, education, sharing, and solidarity, paid with their life.
“The rich world can produce money and machines to send to the poor, it can produce protesters and opponents of the G-8, but every day it produces fewer men and women who are prepared to give their life for others.”
Father Gheddo spoke more extensively about these issues with the Vatican news agency Fides:
Fides: Italy's new prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, made his first visit to the Pope a few days before the G-8 meeting in Genoa. What advice would you give to Berlusconi?
I would tell him, Italy and the G-8 leaders to turn their attention to the chasm between the rich and the poor of our world. This is the greatest scandal of our day. I would like to see the G-8 show concern for those countries who are considered unworthy of entering world trade.
Until the 1970s black subSaharan Africa shared in 3% of world trade; today it takes part only for 1%. It is excluded. Globalization is a train running on advanced technology which bypasses many countries.
Do you agree then with those who protest against the G-8 meetings?
I am positive toward these protests. I am well aware that they also include anarchical, violent and anti-Christian tendencies. But it is right to react to this division of the world.
International figures show that at the beginning of the last century the proportion of wealth between north and south of the world was 8 to 1. Today it is 70-80 to 1. We cannot continue this way; it is not right, it is not human, it is not peace building.
We cannot have 49 least developed countries living on aid, prevented from making their own specific contribution to international trade.
But in this context could this not be paternalism toward the poor?
Certainly. I am afraid that none of these young protesters has ever visited the Third World, or even has any desire to do so. …
To the G-8 protesters I would say: “I admire your intentions, but you must be real brothers of the poor. Make a minimum gesture against useless and superfluous consumerism — for example, close discos at midnight. But the most serious proposal would be to throw your life into life with the poor. Join our missionaries in Africa, don't just battle with police.”
In 1985 in Africa there were 1,700 Italian lay volunteers belonging to various associations and organizations. Today there are only 400. This is because the Italian governments have cut funding to these bodies and no one objected.
Secondly there are fewer young lay people willing to give three or four years of their life to the poor. The money ran out, so did the volunteers. It is no good protesting against the G-8 while enjoying the North's abundance.
What can missionaries give to the G-8 and to justice in the world?
We must be convinced of what Mother Teresa used to say for India: “The greatest unhappiness is not to know Jesus Christ,” not only for eternal life and salvation, but for this life. When we meet Christ our life changes.
A hundred years ago the pariah, or low caste Indians, were slaves to the other castes. Thanks to Christian missionaries, Catholics and Protestants, who brought the influence of the Gospel and education, today low caste Indians are recognized by society.
In [the encyclical] Redemptoris Missio, Pope John Paul II writes: “Man is the principal agent of development, not money or technology” (58).
For the Jubilee Year 2000, Pope John Paul II led the Catholic Church to propose, universally and locally, cancellation of international debts of poor countries, but response was poor.
I agree with the anti-debt campaign. I am disappointed that the Church in Italy, the various committees and even missionaries only joined the slogan of the moment. The international debt is in fashion, so we talk about international debt.
There are other things that no one talks about, not even Christians.
Recently an anti-G-8 manifesto was published by Catholic associations and missionaries in Italy. It is a list of criticism of the G-8, analysis of GNPs, technology, taxes, but there is not a word about Jesus Christ, the only Savior, the only One who can change the heart of man. And yet this should be the first and fundamental task of missionary institutes.
In the last two years I visited much of Africa and I spoke with missionaries about the problem of international debt. They all agreed: If you simply cancel the debts you will only help the dictators. What you must do is to make the governments change.
Why do African governments assign 30% of national resources to their armed forces and only 2% to education and 1.5% to health care? This calls for a profound change and missionaries can do much in this field.
Can missionaries be agents of development?
We cannot do everything; we are too few. But we can build bridges.
Italian missionaries in Africa, about 7,000, are helping the continent to develop. More than applause and admiration, they need help.
(Zenit contributed to this story.)