Fr Kevin Hegarty
‘Come, you whom my father has blessed, take for your heritage take kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.’ – Gospel of Matthew.
The above scriptural quotation indicates that it is a fundamental theological insight that Christian faith must be actualised in compassion for and support of the poor, the marginalised and the oppressed.
This insight informs Pope Paul VI’s encyclical ‘Populorum Progressio’ (‘On the Development of Peoples’), issued in March 1967. The opening sentence sets the tone:
“The development of peoples has the church’s close attention, particularly the development of those people striving to escape from hunger, misery, endemic diseases and ignorance; of those who are looking for a wider share in the benefits of civilisation and a more active improvement of their human qualities; of those who are aiming purposefully at their complete fulfilment.”
In dealing with issues of trade debt, the limits of capitalism, oppressive regimes, superfluous wealth and the requirement for generous development aid, Pope Paul set out the agenda that became Trócaire’s mandate when the Irish Catholic bishops founded it in 1973.
In a pastoral letter marking its establishment, the bishops declared that “Abroad, it will give whatever help lies within its resources to the areas of greatest need among the developing countries. At home, it will try to make us all more aware of these countries and of our duties towards them. These duties are no longer a matter of charity but of simple justice.”
In its 38 years of existence Trócaire has brought humanitarian relief to people embroiled in war or hit by natural disasters in Sierra Leone, Nepal, Syria, the Philippines, East Africa, Guatemala, Haiti, Rwanda, Somalia, Ethiopia, El Salvador, Cambodia, Vietnam and Chile. The coins poured into Trócaire boxes on Irish kitchen tables during Lent have made a positive contribution far beyond our shores.
This year’s Trócaire Lenten Campaign focuses on South Sudan. It is fertile territory for the mission of social justice. A landlocked area in East Africa, it is the world’s newest state, set up in 2011. It came into being through an agreement that ended Africa’s longest civil war.
Independence, however, did not bring peace. Another civil war broke out in 2015. Almost 400,000 people were killed in the new conflict. Peace has been restored but it is fragile.
South Sudan is a most distressful country. You women are often forced into marriage and experience sexual abuse and domestic servitude. Maternal mortality is the highest in the world. In a revealing statistic, a 15-year-old girl is more likely to die in childbirth than finish secondary school. Up to 10 percent of babies die before they are three months. Unemployment is at a high of 90 percent. Over half of the population have no access to medical services. Witchdoctors flourish. Thousands teeter on the brink of starvation. There are only 200 kilometres of tarred roads in a country ten times the size of Ireland.
A recent UN report on the country is a 200-page litany of horrors. It states that “rapes, gang rapes, sexual mutilation, abductions and sexual slavery have become commonplace in South Sudan”.
In this heart of darkness the Irish Loreto Sisters have shone a beacon of hope. When they arrived in South Sudan in 2006, influenced by the plight of young girls forced into early marriage, they started a female boarding school. Their mission now consists of three core programmes: a community and co-educational primary school for 1,200 students, an all-girl boarding school for 300 students, and a women-and-child health centre, which deals with up to 1,600 consultation every month.
The informative Trócaire Lenten Pack tells us that €5 can buy a spade and seeds for a family, €25 can provide a soap and sanitation kit, €75 can provide food for a family of six for a month and €2,500 can bring clean water to thousands of people in South Sudan.
Giving a little in Ireland can mean a lot in the developing world.