Pope Sounds Justice Notes During Angola Visit

Stephanie French works in CRS’ Economic Justice Program in Angola

A visit like the one the Pope Benedict XVI recently made to Angola naturally raises expectations—expectations of an unattainable manner. Every single one of us wants the pope to address our own pet issue. How could he possibly? I admit, when his comments about HIV hit the press, I was afraid that no matter what else he talked about, everything else would be forgotten.

And since the Pope was coming at the invitation of the President of Angola, I certainly didn’t think that our issues—transparency, corruption, and economic justice—would get much attention. I figured that he would come and praise Angola for six years of peace after 30 years of war, and stick mostly to pastoral issues.

I am happy to say that I underestimated Papa Bento (as Pope Bendict is referred to in Portugese), and maybe that I underestimated the Bishops of Angola and their preparation of the Pope for his visit. From his welcome ceremony to his final address, the issues of poverty in a country of plenty stayed at the forefront of his message. Upon arrival at the airport, he called upon Angolans to “share personal resources, both spiritual and material, for the good of all.”

The CRS ego that I had to keep in check before the visit was in turn stroked when he gave a strong charge to the Angolan people: “Society needs to grow stronger and more articulated, both among its constitutive elements and in its dialogue with the Government.”

CRS and our CIDSE partners in our Economic Justice Program are working with the Angolan Church to do just that—to grow stronger and more articulated through research-based advocacy; to become a prominent actor in the promotion of just use of resources coming from Angola’s abundance of natural resources. Papa Bento gave credence to our work!

Later on, at the presidential palace, the Pope gave even more particular recommendations to the country’s authorities about oil, mining and other extractive industries, encouraging their support of the “Kimberley Process”, the “Publish What You Pay Coalition” and the “Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative,” whose “common goal is to promote transparency, honest business practice and good governance.”

For four years, the Peace and Justice Commission (CEJP), through the Economic Justice Program, has been lobbying the Angolan bishops so that they in turn push the government to support these initiatives. I have no proof of this, but I like to think that maybe, just maybe, due to CEJP’s hard work, the Bishops of Angola encouraged Pope Benedict XVI to include this in his agenda.

In between his last parade in the Popemobile and his plane ride home, the pope made one last appeal, firmly rooted in Catholic Social Teaching:
“…that the just realization of the fundamental aspirations of the most needy peoples should be the principal concern of those in public office, since their intention – I am sure – is to carry out the mission they have received not for themselves but for the sake of the common good. Our hearts cannot find peace while there are still brothers and sisters who suffer for lack of food, work, shelter or other fundamental goods.”

Peace and justice. Martin Luther King said it; I and millions of others repeat it. You can’t achieve the former without the latter. Today, I am particularly happy that Papa Bento reminded the leaders of Angola of the link as well.

– Stephanie French

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