Gratitude and hope in times of crisis
Note: What follows are reflections by Mary Corkery, KAIROS’ Executive Director, speaking at a public event in Victoria, British Columbia, on March 23, 2010.
Why are we here?
We are here because you care so deeply for the well-being of our world – its people and all of Creation.
And we’re here because the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) cut all of KAIROS funding for its overseas partners and global education in Canada – $7 million over four years. That was, and is, a shock to the churches, the human rights community, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), especially those who are themselves waiting for news of their funding from CIDA and for whom this has created enormous anxiety.
What does this disaster have to do with gratitude and hope? Adversity is a moment in God’s time, so it holds both crisis and opportunity. And because this is a moment in God’s time, it is a gift.
What is KAIROS grateful for?
We are grateful for the gift of our mission, which we understand with ever greater clarity as a result of this crisis. Our mission, rooted in the gospels, is to live our faith through action for justice. The work of KAIROS – sustainability and human rights – is about love. Love, in the words of St. Paul, endures all things. For KAIROS this means love is passionate, resilient and long term.
We are grateful for the voices crying out for justice, including those of:
- women in Uganda, sitting in the hot dust – old women, women with babies, girls – learning, with the help of the women’s group (and our partner) AWEPON, how to get involved in local and regional decision-making so they can get water into their village;
- women gathered in a small room in a village near Ramallah talking about how to provide shelter for women and children fleeing the violence of the Occupation;
- Mike Karipko of Oil Watch International in Nigeria showing KAIROS staff the flaring at oil wells with the consequent pollution of water, dead fish and contaminated crops;
- the people of Fort Chipewayan on Lake Athabasca who take KAIROS church leaders to their cemetery to show how many are dying from strange diseases they never had before the tar sands development;
- Creation itself, ravaged by garbage. A KAIROS supporter tells of a retreat led by Jim Profit, a Jesuit and a passionate environmentalist. The retreat centre was beautifully arranged – a small table with a batik cloth, candles, flowers. When the retreatants came to pray the next morning, the table was covered with wet garbage. They were horrified and angry. Jim arrived and said, “I did this. This is exactly what we are doing to our earth.”
We are grateful to you, the KAIROS community of supporters, activists and friends – all of you and many hundreds more who have actively supported us through the last months:
- the religious communities who went to visit MPs as a group and increased their financial support;
- the thousands who wrote letters on our behalf to Minister of International Cooperation Bev Oda, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper;
- those who visited well over 100 MPs to undo the mis-understandings and educate their politicians about what KAIROS really does;
- hundreds of new donors who have found us through this crisis and have turned it into an opportunity to take a stand about genuine development;
- the retired person who decided to contribute $900 a month, explaining that he’ll try to keep up that amount because he understands that this is about advocacy and he wants to be as fully a part of it as he can manage!
Through this crisis KAIROS has grown stronger and even more convinced about the absolutely fundamental role of advocacy – bringing forward the voices of the poor who are calling for real change, an end to poverty and human rights violations, and building enduring peace.
This response is more than an emergency reaction to a crisis. People get what its about and they want to be part of what KAIROS does. I have seen Canadians react with great generosity to earthquakes, tsunamis and famine. If you had asked me six months ago whether there could ever be an outpouring of Canadian response to advocacy, I would have said no, that will not happen. But there is a constituency in this country who care about justice that I have not seen before.
And therein lies the real hope for change.
Hope does not float out there, outside of us. Hope is a decision each of us has to make, and that we need to make collectively.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the death of Archbishop Oscar Romero who, like so many of our global partners, paid with his life for demanding justice. These words were spoken at a vigil commemorating Archbishop Romero:
“That we may speak the truth in love to authority …
That authority may hear and confirm the truth wherever it is heard …
That authority in the Church may open its heart, and a space for the truth to be revealed through the laity, the poor and minorities …
That hearts may be softened for those who suffer …
That we in the church may learn to pray and to act as if they were one movement of the heart.”
To this prayer, I add: that KAIROS keep faith with those to whom we have committed our work of transformation, regardless of the price we may have to pay in losing funds, or being criticized, or marginalized, or even losing our jobs.
Several rather public figures, who are committed supporters of KAIROS, have said, “You will not win this.” Well that depends on what a win looks like.
If it means getting our CIDA money back, or an apology for being called anti-Semitic, then maybe they are right. We don’t know yet.
But maybe winning won’t look like that. Maybe it means that we carry on and will not be silenced. As part of an ecumenical justice movement, aligned with the broader social justice movement in Canada and abroad, we will help to stimulate public dialogue about what international development should mean. Then at family dinners, on soccer teams, in congregations, local pubs and on university campuses people will think about what we as Canadian citizens want to see our money being spent on for international development.
Winning will be taking up our responsibility to undo the structures of poverty and all that enables human rights abuses to persist. We will remember the words of Archbishop Romero facing down the death threats, when he said they may kill me but if they do I will rise up in the people.
We will recognise the responsibility of being those people. Then our hope is the joyful, resilient, faithful decision that we will carry on.