Social inclusion is key for tackling economic exclusion, according to Catholic religious leaders at a January 31 event sponsored by nine different NGOs tied to Catholic religious congregations and co-sponsored by the Holy See Mission.
The event was entitled “Connecting Development and Human Rights in the Eradication of Extreme Poverty: Strategies for the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda,” and explored among other things the question of human rights and the work of religious organizations in combatting extreme poverty globally.
The event took place during Fifty-Sixth Session of the Commission for Social Development, which focused on the priority theme of “strategies for eradicating poverty to achieve sustainable development for all.”
Sister Justice Gitanjali Senapati, UN Representative of the Congregations of St. Joseph, who helped moderate the event, began with a moment of silence in honor of the more than 700 million people throughout the world living under $1.90 a day, which is the definition of extreme poverty for the World Bank.
Monsignor Tomasz Grysa, First Counselor of the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations, said, on behalf of Archbishop Auza, that religious communities play an essential role in ensuring the sustainable development agenda is implemented ethically. The development agenda is sometimes manipulated in order to push radical social agendas with regard to human sexuality, abortion, family structure and even basic anthropology in exchange for providing development assistance, he said, a practice that Pope Francis has called “ideological colonization.”
“Just like anything good can be misused, if we exclude from our deliberations these deeper questions about the why-behind-the-what of sustainable development, then the enormous international developmental infrastructure could end up actually being used in some circumstances to undermine the very development and peace they were designed to advance,” he said. “It’s essential for religious leaders, communities and believers — like so many represented today — to help provide, with courage and perseverance, what we could call the “soul” or “conscience” of the sustainable development agenda.”
The panelists suggested that communities with strong social cohesion are proven to catalyze sustainable development while respecting the dignity of every human person.
Father John Rausch, an economist and missionary who works with impoverished Appalachian communities in Kentucky and Virginia, emphasized that authentic development is not merely limited to access to essentials like food, clothing, and water, and shelter but also a sense of belonging.
“My work is the development of people,” he said. “It also entails promoting belonging to something that is going to propel them into a better life.”
Marina El Khoury, UN Representative for Franciscans International, who helped facilitate discussion, said community-based cooperatives need to be a major strategy in economic development.
“They put the person at the heart of what poverty eradication really means,” she said.
In Southeast Asia, the Sisters of Charity close this gap by promoting economic and human developmental needs through community based cooperatives that provide skills training and microloans within the community. Their UN Representative, Sister Teresa Kotturan, shared the journey of a women named Sabitri, who joined the women’s cooperative run by the Sisters of Charity, learned beekeeping and secured a loan to buy a small house. She taught her trade to her husband and he trained her in running his mushroom farm, and the symbiotic skills enabled their family to become among the most successful farmers in Nepal.
“The most important part is accompanying the people,” Sister Kotturan said. “We accompany them so that they themselves can be the decision makers, and they can take their destiny into their own hands.”
Sister Elsa Muttathu, a Presentation Sister of the Blessed Virgin Mary, shared a short video documentary that highlights the successes of 24 Zambian families her community serves through village based cooperatives. The sisters promote not only economic wellbeing, but sustainable practices that respect the environment and lifelong learning. For example, if a tree needs to be cut for any reason, families must replace it with two trees. Another requirement is that for families to receive land on the cooperative, their children are required to receive an education.
For many countries, deeply rooted cultural biases can be hurdles for economic advancement.
Father Ajaya Kumar Singh serves India’s communities as the Director of Odisha Regional Forum for Social Action in India, and said that while the country has many policies that promote economic development, the society’s caste system prevents the implementation of many of these policies. He stressed the need for social and cultural cohesion as key for human development.
“You cannot speak only from the perspective of economics,” he said. “It is a question of human dignity, human rights and human respect.”