Category Archives: Development

Deus Caritas Est

Deus Caritas Est

Many of my fellow Catholics have read Benedict’s first Encyclica the minute it came out and the days and weeks after. It was much talked about, discussed, praised, welcomed. However, when browsing the internet, I sometimes get the impression like some of its content went unnoticed. Let’s take a look:

The Church’s deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable. For the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally well be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being. (Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 25a)

What Benedict states here is by no means new. The entire encyclica is not a work with originality claim. On the contrary, it deals with the oldest identity questions of the Catholic Church. Charity is a part of Christian identity, not by choice but by definition. As the bride of Christ, the Church is called to love and to help. In fact, that very part of the Church’s identity stems directly from Jesus’ final commandment (Jn 15:12).

Keeping the state of our planet in mind, it seems obvious and self-explanatory where the focus of Christian efforts should lie these days.

The Pope obviously stated the other two fundamental tasks of the Church’s identity, the kerygma and the leitourgia. While those two are undoubtedly extremely important as well, they seem to have a huge edge over the third one in terms of what is being dealt with on Catholic blogs these days – especially the latter.

This is by no means to say that spreading the word of God and discussing the liturgical challenges the Church faces in an age of post-counciliar confusion is a bad thing. On the contrary, it is much needed and appreciated.

But, in all honesty, sometimes I wish that when browsing the Catholic blogosphere, I would find a tad bit more (positive) articles about the work of Caritas International and the Order of Malta in Myanmar than (negative and mocking articles) about the latest potato-head puppet liturgy by Call to Action. Those that frequently browse through the blogosphere themselves will easily understand what I am talking about.

Hoffnung means hope…


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Education of the Heart

Progress can only be progress when it serves mankind and when mankind itself grows along, not just our technical capabilities, but also our moral strength. I think the true problem of our historical situation is the imbalance between the immense, rapid growth of our technical skills and our moral capabilities that did not develop along with it. That is why education of mankind is the true key! If we only pass along know-how and how to create and handle machinery, or how to apply contraceptives, we cannot be surprised if it results in war and aids-epidemics. What we need are two dimensions – we also need the education of our hearts.

-Pope Benedict XVI

Hoffnung means hope…

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cut the c(r)ap…

The average EU cow receives a higher daily subsidy than more than half of the world’s population.

A fact that can’t go unnoticed by the average human being on this planet. The fact that billions of people are suffering from poverty and struggling to survive day after day after day is worrysome enough. Trying to help them out of this inhumane situation is one of mankind’s biggest endeavor. And while you’d expect a continent that prides itself with humanistic traditions to be the very forerunner in this effort, I can’t help but shake my head in disbelief every now and then when I think about European policies. Let’s start with the sample mentioned above, shall we?

The Oxfam calculations obviously go back to net EU spendings on subsidies to the dairy industry per annum. Added up, this amounts to a good €16 billion a year. Money used to… to do what, exactly? Polemically speaking, it’s used to keep European dairy farmers busy while paying for their “fair standard of living”, as the original CAP framework stated. Economically speaking, it is used to finance exports of overproduction to non-EU markets and for domestic “sales schemes”, which is nothing else but a market distortion by artificially lowering prices for dairy products, hence creating demand. The former, also known as “export refunds”, are payments to the European dairy industry intended to cover the difference in costs of products sold at the world market because domestic demand was exhausted. Whether in the form of deficiency payments or, as intended by the Fischler reforms, of direct income support payments, in the end the whole concept stays a huge waste of money that is economically unreasonable, and it’s far from restricted to the dairy industry. What worries me even more than the waste of taxpayer’s money is, however, the negative externalities included in this scheme:

  • A) Negative environmental externalities

The obvious triggering of overproduction, in almost all agricultural sectors, overstrains the capacaties of nature and supports big style industrial agriculture. The unnecessary damages done to the environment are manifold and easy to imagine: emissions, fertilizers, deforestation…

  • B) Negative development-related externalities

Not only are the terms of trade with the rest of the world distorted, but EU export subsidies (and import restrictions) also heavily influence world prizes of agricultural products – up the point where it is pushed below the costs of production of small farmers in LDCs that have no chance to compete with the high-standard EU products that are being dumped on their markets. Their existence is in danger, and I’m not just talking about the existence of their farms and jobs, but their lives… Putting this in direct relation to the first line of this entry, you really wonder where this world is coming to.

While the CAP as Europe’s biggest problem child is certainly a big black stain on the white vest of the Old Continent, it’s by far not the only one. And even if Europe tries to help out, does it really do any good? In the framework of the ACP and GSP programs, all dealing with PTAs with developping countries and LDCs, and manifested in the Cotonou agreement, lots of money is flowing into development aid and support. In addition, favorable trading conditions are generously offered to those countries, seemingly eliminating artificial barriers to trade and hence, laying the foundation for economic growth. Realistically speaking, however, the finest PTA isn’t good enough if signed with a European Union that offers even better PTAs to other (groups of) countries. In addition, the highest amount of development aid doesn’t seem to do too much good if it’s finally used inefficiently, be it to pay corrupt politicians or to finance militias and armies, just because conditionality in giving out aid is a no-go these days and creative alternatives to traditional aid are frowned upon. Not to mention all that money that doesn’t even reach the development programs.

As usual, I watch the sun go down behind the Vrijthof churches with that feeling of dissatisfaction in the back of my head… the feeling that there’s so much more that can be done.

Hoffnung means hope…

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Heiligendamm heats up

When the G8 meet, there’s important things to talk about. In two weeks, climate change, development aid and hedge-fund transparency will be on top of the agenda at Heiligendamm, Germany. Huge issues and pressing problems of global scope. If there’s ever been a moment where the world’s misery needed to change, then definitely now that international icons like Bono and Bob Geldof have openly and directly critized the G8 for not taking appropriate actions. Cough. Completely apart from trends of public opinion, however, it should be clear that much responsibility lies with the representatives sent to the Heiligendamm summit. Nothing will change fundamentally within a 3 day summit, but foundations can be layed to solve the problems chancellor Merkel so rightly specified as the most dangerous problems threatening our planet and our kind these days. In the light of the severity of these problems, you’d expect the media to constantly report about ways how to tackle them, how to make this world a better place, how to end poverty and stop climate change… right?

Well think again.

The topic dominating the German news media in combination with the Heiligendamm summit is far less substantial, if you want. At least, it’s not in direct context with the topics discussed. It’s all about security… and measures taken by the police and national security to ensure that riots like those in Genoa 2001 will not be repeated. The last couple of weeks, both camps have been pretty busy arming up and adding fuel to the fire. Anti-globalisation organisations have called for huge and massive protests, sometimes even using the 2001 summit as an example. Security forces have responded with razzia and raids, trying to acquire information about potential autonomous protesters and building up fences preventing protesters from entering the city in the first place. Quite interestingly, this has sparked an intensive media debate about democratic values, the freedom to demonstrate and express your positions, and security. No doubt an interesting discussion that needs to be held – but isn’t it unfortunate that the police as well as supporters of economic and political ideas alternative to those dominate global economics these days are willing to violantly fight in the streets just to get their voices heard? Isn’t this killing the original idea of protesting?

In the end, hardly anyone would disagree on the importance of the issues on the Heiligendamm agenda and the pressing need for them to be solved. What people disagree on is the manner in which to achieve such a positive change… and as so many times in the history of mankind, those differences will most likely result in violence, stolidity and regression instead of progress. Very unfortunate indeed, as the resulting inactivity and the shifting media focus will only come back to hurt those who are in need right now… and eventually, us as well. In an optimal world, the time would have come to join hands and work together. In the real world, we cling to inefficient paradigms and methods of protest that never helped anyone out of trouble. At least that’s the way it looks like right now… you never know, miracles happen at times… if you have hope.

Hoffnung means hope…

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Think Global. Hope Global.

“How is it possible that Americans were smart enough to vote for Clinton… and then end up with 8 years of Bush right afterwards?”

Interesting rhetorical question a friend of mine was asking today. Cause of the question? I made her watch this video:

The Clinton Global Initiative is a project of the William J. Clinton foundation. The idea is very simple: Select powerful and important people, global leaders, and invite them to become members of the project. Membership fee: $ 15,000 per annum. Hold a conference once a year with inspiring speaches and a fancy party. Convince the members to make a (financial) commitment to a project related to one of the four principles of the William J. Clinton Foundation: Education, Energy&Climate Change, Global Health and Poverty Alleviation. Raise tons of money – make an impact.

The Clinton Global Initiative, along with the entire work of the Clinton Foundation, is an admirable effort to remind those who have power, money and influence of their responsibility and obligation to help those at the other end of the spectrum. Thanks, Bill. I like you a lot as a private do-gooder. And I mean it! I am impressed by the CGI and I think it came at exactly the right time. When watching the video, watch out for Condie Rice at about 3:00:

“We want governments and peoples around the world not to be dependant on foreign assistance, but rather to become self-sufficient”

While she of all people certainly wouldn’t argue for autarky, I believe Condoleeza’s making an excellent point here: Dependance. You can raise all the money in the world and spend it wrong. Aid money is wasted money if your returns to aid are minimal and create artificial dependancies among nations and peoples. I think Peter Bauer would have agreed. But how do we help without creating dependancies? How do we foster self-sufficiency? Is micro-finance the one and only solution, as Muhammad Yunus suggests? Is it “reasonable” for industrialized nations to stick with traditional patterns of development and aid? Isn’t it time for a major change in development policy? It’s amazing how miss Rice can seperate profession & private interests in her role as member of the CGI. Step on the podium of the US Foreign Press Center, Ms Rice, and tell me again that the Middle-East focussed development aid policy of the United States does not want to create dependancies, but much rather self-sufficiancy. Bill, what do you think?

“When you leave here, I hope you will feel your own faith strengthened – but I also hope you’ll leave here with a sense of humility about how much better we could do…”

As I said, I am madly impressed by the CGI – more, please! But as long as the pieces don’t fit, the pieces don’t fit… and there’s still so much more to be done. Let’s all applaud us for efforts taken and keep our eyes on the future, taking one step at a time without slowing down. The CGI meeting 2007 is coming up. There will be more inspiring speaches and fancy parties… and most importantly, more projects started and more commitments signed. Let’s take up the sparkle this initiative, among many others, puts in the world… you can find all you need at 5:47.

Hope Candles
source: Clinton Global Initiative

Hoffnung means hope…

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