Globalization of Compassionate Solidarity: Challenges and Opportunities
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Filo Hirota, M.M.B.
As we gather here in Hiroshima in August 2000
A feminist artist, Tomiyama Taeko, drew an image, "Pieta in Kwangju", when she was totally shocked, saddened, and infuriated by the information smuggled out of Korea to let the world know about a brutal massacre committed by the armed forces against the people of Kwangju. This image was globalized as a common expression of peoples committed to a more just and humane world.
We have made a good choice to gather here in Hiroshima in the year 2000, the Jubilee Year, as Asian Major Religious Superiors (AMOR) with the theme "Asian/Oceanian women in search of true reconciliation, bringing forth new life." Hiroshima brings forth memory, a memory that has become a firm determination for life and peace.
Where we are
We have united here after our exposure experience with people in Nagoya, Kamagasaki, Asaka and Ikuno in Osaka, Minamata and Okinawa. We listened to their stories, which sank heavy in our hearts. Words like exploitation, oppression and alienation have faces and voices in those places where we went. Though the concrete circumstances and the histories are different, there is one thing common in these realities where people are treated not as subjects but as objects.
The common characteristics are:
The basic right to life that every person on earth has is not prioritized. Not only are they not prioritized as human beings, these people are marginalized because of their race, place of origin, social and/or economic status, and the policy of the powers that be. If you are a woman, the reality of marginalization is often doubled or tripled. These violations of the fundamental right to life is often accompanied by no concern for the environment.
We also met the people organized to counteract these dehumanizing forces. The victims try to stand up to resist, denounce and struggle, supported by others. These men and women are committed to bring life and solidarity into these realities. Perhaps the key words of their committed actions could be: inclusion and alternatives. They look for an alternative way of organizing the world, which prioritizes life at all levels with inclusion as the fundamental criterion. When the discrimination suffered by the victims is made into a policy, a legal system, and structures, these workers for justice try to provide legal expressions and structures based on the basic right to equality.
Where we come from
Through this same prism, we can look at the realities of the countries where we come from. There, also, we can see the faces and voices that tell the stories of exclusion and marginalization, of deprivation of the basic right to life. In the face of economic exploitation, the principle of inclusion is translated into a struggle to obtain economic justice. Where there is political oppression, the principle of inclusion is translated into an effort to bring about democratic participation of all citizens. Where there is cultural alienation, the principle of inclusion tries to create a culture where everyone is accepted as s/he is and the diversity is appreciated as richness.
Does it make sense?
The phenomenon of exclusion has worsened in the 90's. Everywhere we hear the same story: that the rich are getting richer while the poor are becoming poorer. How can we accept the existence of three men who possess 46% of the GNP of the countries of the South where 600 millions strive to survive, while every 8 seconds, a child under five years of age dies of hunger in the world? And the world is producing enough food to nourish every single person on earth. The environment continues to be destroyed. The global consumer culture gives a false notion of connectedness while it is eating up our consciousness, our value system and our options. The basic message is buy, buy, buy if you want to be someone at all.
We ask: Who is benefiting from this system? Are trade relationships (exchange of money and things) promoting human relationships of mutuality and interdependence? And what is happening to the poor?
How we look at the reality
We look at the reality and ask these questions as the women disciples of Jesus. As we look at this global reality, we are called to be prayerful and contemplative because we know that God speaks to us at all times and in every reality that we come across in our daily life. This prayerful attitude is an attitude of dialogue.
I would invite ourselves to assume this dialogical prayerful attitude as we look at the realities we witnessed in these past few days here in Japan, our own realities presented in the country reports, and the reality of this planet earth. Dialogue is neither debate nor negotiation. If I am to dialogue, I have to be open, attentive, deeply respectful and humble for I am to learn and to be changed. If I remain the same and don't change, I have not really dialogued. I have to experience the otherness of the other. If I am to dialogue, I have to take off my sandals, and enter into a new world of the other for I know that this space where I stand is sacred because God is speaking to me here.
Why Reconciliation in 2000?
Reconciliation is the theme of this AMOR’s meeting. It is a holistic and integrated understanding of our mission as followers/disciples of Jesus the peacemaker who brings the divided realities together. In a conference organized by Sedos in Rome in April 2000, Robert Schreiter from Chicago Theological Union gave a very inspiring talk entitled "Globalization and Reconciliation: Challenges to Mission." He said: "The 1990s saw a dramatic increase of interest in reconciliation" and then gave an analysis of the reality of today's world:
- the end of communism in eastern European countries, the end of military dictatorships and civil wars in Latin America as well as the end of apartheid in South Africa all point to the need for the moral reconstruction of society; the celebration of the United Nations Year of the Indigenous in 1992 prompts and calls from native peoples for colonial invaders to come to terms with the deeds of the past; the discovery of the extent of domestic and sexual violence in families and within the Church, especially against women and girl children; and the proliferation of local communal violence in different parts of the world.
Following Jesus, the Reconciler
1. Reconciliation between a victim and the wrongdoer
A larger vision
Reconciliation is a spirituality that enables a person/victim to create new, just relationships with the wrongdoer. S/he could be convinced of a reason to live, which is not revenge or retaliation. S/he will not desire harm for the humanity of the perpetrator but proposes an entirely new relationship based on the belief in the dignity of every human person. The victim is able to sing a new song of what it means to be a human person, which carries a concrete message of justice and truth. Reconciliation transforms the cycle of hatred and antagonism, of violence and counter-violence into a cycle of compassion and forgiveness where new relationships become possible. The victim becomes a spiritual person, a new creature enlivened and energized by the Spirit of God.
To forgive is to relate
To forgive in this context means one’s determination to "relate" and stay connected with the wrongdoer. The forgiving person does not sever the relationship with the wrongdoer, nor tries to exclude the wrongdoer from his/her world, but tries to create entirely new relationships based on the truth. Now it is the forgiving person, who is the subject of the situation, trying to transform the sinful past so far controlled and manipulated by the wrongdoer. The forgiving person offers humanity to the perpetrator who also has lost his/her humanity for having damaged the humanity of the victim. If one is a Christian, it is to respond to Jesus' invitation to "love your enemy." It is to embrace the Spirit of Jesus the Forgiver and experience the liberating, healing power of forgiving. Reconciliation is a difficult process, which may take perhaps decades or centuries. As such, reconciliation is a way of life, a spirituality, and a commitment.
Reconciliation is an attitude that seeks truth
The idea of reconciliation is often manipulated by those who have a hidden agenda and who are not committed to the restoration of just relationships in a conflictive situation. Injustice always tries to cover the truth by presenting the perpetrators' version of the reality. This "official story" is a lie, and silences the victims, psychologically or physically.
It is therefore absolutely vital that we listen to the stories told from the side of the victims and the excluded. The Church in Guatemala initiated a project called REMI whose objective was to bring out the whole truth of the genocide committed against its people, the majority of whom were indigenous people. During thirty six years of cruel civil war, a culture of silence, intimidation and impunity reigned over its people.
When the peace agreement was reached, the Church prepared people whose mission was to help the traumatized victims to open their hearts and slowly share the memory of the past. Until the truth is revealed, the healing will not begin. The project REMI was not a simple investigation of crimes but a most humane endeavor to restore the humanity of the victims as they revealed the truth. It broke a culture of impunity that protected the wrongdoers.
John W. de Gruchy, a theologian from South Africa, has this to say:
Unless the past is dealt with properly, it will return to haunt the future. For if a culture of human rights is to be nurtured amid respect for the law established, then the crimes of the past must not be swept under the carpet (Gruchy 1997).
This is a precious lesson to be learned especially by the government of Japan, which suffers from a strange historical amnesia and resistance to admitting what really, happened during the thirteen-year war waged against the peoples of Asia and the Pacific Region. One of the examples of this sin of omission is the history of comfort women. For fifty years (50), the history of comfort women was silent and the government kept denying the historical truth even after some brave women stood up to testify. VAWW-NET Japan (Violence Against Women in War Network) has organized Women's International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan's Sexual Slavery in December of 2000. There is no legal entity assuming responsibility for bringing justice to the women victims of wartime sexual violence during the Second World War. Our committed sisters will try to find all the facts and truth to clarify the responsibility of the perpetrators, both state and individuals, and restore the survivors' dignity and justice. They are asking us to support this significant and important action.
James Cone says, "When people no longer listen to the other people's stories, they feel they must destroy other people’s stories" (Cone 1975:102). This is what is happening in Japan today. There is a campaign perpetrated by a group of intellectuals and historians that intends to deny the crimes committed by the Imperial Armed Forces during the period when Japan placed many countries of Asia under its colonial rule. It is a fact that the campaign, which is inviting a sympathetic reaction of people, appeals to a distorted kind of nationalism which is in fact racism. Within this context, I would like to recommend you to read the Easter 2000 Peace Message of the Japanese Catholic Council for Justice and Peace. Bishop Otsuka is President of the Council.
Reconciliation invites the truth to be accepted
To reveal the truth from the side of the victim is to situate the crime in its just context. The project REMI of Guatemala brought the unexpected result of some perpetrators seeking to confess the crimes they committed. It is necessary to listen to the stories of the perpetrators too, not the official story of the unjust system, but the stories of those who are also oppressed by their own silence and lies. Jose Aldunate, Chilean Jesuit, describes the reconciliation process in his country as follows: "Reconciliation takes place when victims and transgressors come together in justice to repair the injustice" (Aldunate 1997:62).
To place the crime in its just context
Not only does the perpetrator admit and tell the truth but there is also a need to redress the wrong inflicted upon the victim. To accept a judgment or a sanction, and to commit oneself to make restitution for the wrong committed one needs proof of the perpetrators’ honesty and sincerity. To seek justice in this way does not mean revenge or retaliation but a concrete way to restore wholeness to the history of men and women whose humanity was destroyed. A declaration made by the religious leaders from Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia in 1996 states: "Without repentance and compassionate action in response to these tragedies, reconciliation is an empty word" (Ecumenical Dialogue for Reconciliation in 1966). Mutual conversion begins when one learns to read one’s story from the perspective and experience of the other. Thus, the other comes to form part of one's story. A new common story emerges and so does reconciliation, the work of the Spirit.
"How" is a message
To demand justice means that the truth is to be revealed, acknowledged, and accepted by all the parties, that judgment be declared upon the wrong committed, that the culpable be sanctioned properly, and reparations be made accordingly. Reconciliation involves all of these aspects. The "how" is the proof of the values which the reconciler tries to engender in the process of creating new relationships. It is a deeply humanizing attitude of dialogue, which enables the person to keep doing everything possible to really "understand" the other.
One of the challenges in dealing with conflictive situations is that a conflict in many cases is an extremely complex reality. We all know that, in many conflictive situations, we cannot and should not blame one party as fully and solely responsible for the problem caused. Through a process of conflict resolution in search of reconciliation and peace, we know there will be neither loser nor winner. It is a process through which everybody involved will be transformed.
2. To be communities of reconciliation
If we, as women religious in Asia/Oceania are to become agents of reconciliation in this violent conflictive and fragmented world, what are the challenges and possibilities?
Integrity and coherence
One of the questions we often ask ourselves about our missionary vocation is: How is our living together a sign of the communion we preach? We, women religious all know from our experience how difficult it is to live in a community. I should say that 95% of our problems come from the interpersonal relationships among ourselves. I would like to look at the missionary significance of our community as a response to the conflictive, divided world. We can ask some critical questions about our communities or houses where we share our mission and community life:
- Do we have truly equal relationships where domination and subjugation do not occur?
- Does every member enjoy the freedom of a daughter of God to speak and live the truth always?
- If we sense that we are afraid of talking about the truth, can we name the fear?
- Many of us are members of international missionary congregations. We always experience multi-cultural diversity in our life. Have we learned to be a group of women who appreciate and celebrate the diversity as a gift?
- Do we know how to deal with conflicts as opportunities to grow in liberating communion, trust and compassionate solidarity? Do we know how to dance with conflicts?
- Do all our ministries promote reconciliation?
- Are we open, humble, and free to prayerfully reflect on ourselves as community to see if we are what we say we are? Is self-criticism, both personal and collective, an important aspect of our journey together?
- What kind of message are we as community bringing to a broken world? And how can we incarnate the message of the compassionate God to the concrete people we encounter who are victimized and wounded?
- Are we deeply convinced of a common mission to be an open and welcoming community of women to any person in need of compassionate solidarity?
- Are we, as a group of women, a genuine witness of a reconciled community? We can repeat the same question everyday as our examination of a collective conscience. Are our communities safe places where victims feel welcome and their brokenness can be healed?
Listening to the stories
I would like to emphasize that a community of reconciliation is a community always ready and open to listen. It is a community where everybody feels at home, at peace and free to tell his/her stories which have perhaps never been told. As people share their stories, they experience warm connectedness to those who listen with attentive, respectful, and nonjudgmental compassion. Together they open themselves to sacred space. It is a process through which the victims recover their damaged humanity and experience an extraordinary power of healing. Storytelling is not simply a means but it is the way to be human, it is a way to life.
Many of us come from international congregations, which give us opportunities to share our daily life with the sisters of different nationalities. We learn how to listen to the stories of people who come from different cultures. We learn how not to understand what we hear in the light of our own culture. It is important that we know how to be sensitive to listen to other stories shared in different ways. Above all, we have to learn how to listen to eloquent silence impregnated with meaning.
If we are to be agents of reconciliation in a conflictive situation, how can we guarantee that our mediation is truly just? To be neutral does not mean not to side with any party, not to take a stand. I believe we should be clear and determined in our preferential option for the poor in our mediation, while being aware that the poor, too, can succumb to the temptations of greed and oppression. We should try to listen to the voice of those who have not been able to articulate their stories as we try to be faithful to Jesus' bias. This is what it means to be prophetic.
3. Mission as Reconciliation: alternatives and networking
We have begun this reflection, looking at ourselves: the realities of places where we come from and the world we live in. We saw the conflictive and divided world where reconciliation as mission has become a new urgent call. Reconciliation as mission invites us to look at the reality of the world that is violently divided at all levels.
The world needs reconciliation between rich and poor in the face of the gap that keeps widening. There has to be reconciliation between nature and humankind as forests and species are rapidly disappearing. To be committed to a mission of reconciliation calls for an integrated, inclusive and holistic spirituality to incarnate the message of Jesus at all levels. Since there is no reality that does not have to do with God, our mission tries to see that the world is organized and structured according to Jesus' way to reveal the feminine face of God who is compassionate, tender and unconditionally inclusive.
An alternative message
The Church in Asia has developed action-oriented interfaith dialogue with people organized and committed to their basic human rights, environmental protection, and alternative ways of organizing production, technology, trade, banking, consumption patterns, information, and communication.
Schreiter says that women's endless experience of domination by men in cultures of patriarchy has been a school for thinking about alternatives, for seeing in a different way. The wounded world needs women's genius to be put into practice to create different ways to organize the world. In a world where the force of exclusion is terribly strong, our challenging mission in Asia is to know how to work with others so as to offer a clear message of inclusiveness.
There are people, organizations and movements committed to a new way of organizing relations that connect, share, participate, dialogue, heal, nurture, and liberate, There is an alternative way of organizing society that enables justice, equality, freedom, solidarity and communion, in all the aspects and areas of human life: business, trade, finance, politics, agriculture, health, education, family life, arts, entertainment, the media, science, etc. I would like to introduce a few examples of sharing our experiences in Rome among the religious congregations.
Globalization from below: Fair Trade and Socially-Responsible Investment
More and more congregations have Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) promoters based in Rome. We meet every month to share information, to understand better the problems, and to plan concerted actions together. We asked how could we implement the Jubilee vision of liberating the slaves, rectifying the accumulation of land ownership, letting land fallow, and canceling debts to bring God's justice and mercy into the concrete reality of the world today. All of us collaborated in collecting the signatures for the Jubilee 2000 campaign for debt cancellation. Of 17 million signatures collected, the organizers tell us that 1/3 came through religious congregations all over the world. One concrete way of bringing Jubilee justice into our lives was to look at our consumption pattern: How do we buy, what do we buy, how much do we buy? Thus, a number of congregations began buying fair trade products. In general, fair trade goods are more expensive since the market is still small, so it has not been easy to conscientize our bursars and ourselves. We have learned, however that it is important to be conscious consumers who make value-oriented investments, where a just wage and better working conditions are provided for direct producers; where environmental protection is provided for both producers and consumers, and just relationships minus exploitation are assured.
Another example from Rome is that of ethical banks for socially responsible investment. It is a known fact that money invested in financial institutions is often used for the arms industry, drug trafficking and other dubious purposes. Transparency and accountability are not common virtues for banks. Alternative financial institutions are coming up with the criteria of accountability, transparency, sustainable development and poverty reduction. Some congregations decided to invest in those financial institutions as a Jubilee pledge.
In an unpublished article, Sr. Rose Fernando, FMM says, "Consumerism is an evil, for it destroys our human dignity and spirituality. Uncontrolled greed does not help relationships with God, with other people or with the rest of creation. There is an urgency to promote a spirituality of sufficiency within a creation-centered spirituality, which will help us to be content with less" (Fernando 2000). We need to know when and how to say "enough." Pope John Paul II in his Peace Day Message in 1990 said, "Simplicity, moderation and discipline must become a part of everyday life" (no. 13).
I would like to insist on our option for the poor, especially for women. An example of those who struggle for women is the JPIC Working Group on Trafficking in Women based in Rome. The objectives of this working group are to inform, conscientize and encourage the congregations of women and men to be more actively involved in this growing problem. Of three "items" being trafficked, women are far more lucrative and easier than arms and drugs. We believe that a transnational/multinational network of religious congregations should be fully developed to tackle this global crime that places moneymaking over and above the dignity and rights of women.
Religious congregations could be a formidable power to consolidate a globalization from below, a globalization of compassionate solidarity in favor of life. Networking is the key to consolidate a globalization of compassionate solidarity bringing the so-called feminine values of inclusiveness in favor of life into economic, political and social structures of society.
The world is organized and structured to further globalize the world economy. Can we, as disciples of Jesus, imagine an alternative network of globalization from below, globalization of compassionate solidarity in favor of life? Can we connect ourselves with all the peoples who look for a more humane and just world where reconciliation and dialogue become the way of relating among ourselves and with the universe? How can we creatively use our structure as transnational and multinational networking?
In the movie Dead Man Walking, when Sr. Helen Prejan visits the parents of the young woman who was murdered, the parents react with shock when they realize that the sister has agreed to be the spiritual advisor of their daughter's murderer. "How can you come here?" reproaches the mother. The father says, "Sister, I think you need to leave this house right now. You can’t have it both ways. You can't befriend that murderer and expect to be our friend too." This is exactly what reconciliation means, I think.
We have to have it both ways, making ourselves available to everybody. It is another way of saying that we live an attitude of dialogue at all times with every reality we come across in life. It is to live Jesus’ attitude of loving one’s enemy. It is to dance to a different rhythm, sing a different melody from a cycle of violent reactions so common in today’s world. Are we capable of dancing with conflicts? The Diocese of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico tells us from its experience and commitment: "It is impossible to understand peace unless we understand it from conflict. Peace is not negation or evasion of conflict but the process towards peace which begins when we assume conflict. Conflict and peace form part of one and the same process of change, of transformation."1
It is important to continue reminding ourselves that reconciliation is God's work, the Spirit working in us in some incredible, beautiful way. Henri Nouwen in one of his writings says that as long as I agonize over the pain of others but cannot carry the pain that is uniquely mine, I may become an activist, even a defender of humanity but not yet a follower of Jesus. We accept our brokenness so that we can journey, with people in whose lives there is so much pain. Can we truly believe in the God of Jesus who rose from the dead so that we can affirm life in the midst of many forms of death we encounter everyday? We are like the women at the empty tomb who are sent to Galilee to announce that Jesus is alive-the Jesus who has come to give life, abundant life (Jn 10:10).
As I close, I would like to recall the message of Mahatma Gandhi.
"Hate sin and not the sinner" is a precept which is rarely practiced, and that is how the poison of hatred spreads in the world. It is quite proper to resist and attack a system, but to resist and attack its author is tantamount to resisting and attacking oneself. For we are all tarred with the same brush and are all children of one and the same Creator, and as such the divine powers within us are infinite. To slight a single human being is to slight those divine powers, and thus to harm not only that being but also the whole world.2
I believe that we, women religious in the 21st century, are called to commit ourselves to live the spirituality and ministry of reconciliation in today's broken world like Mary, who lived through the harsh realities of conflicts from Nazareth, Bethlehem, Egypt to Calvary. She was a woman who knew how to sing a new song of God's solidarity with the victims of this earth: My heart rejoices because God scatters the proud and haughty ones and exalts the lowly.
1. This quotation is taken from a personal communication received from human rights organizations in the diocese of Chiapas, Mexico.
2. This quotation was read at a recent prayer service in Rome.
Aldunate, José S.J.
1997 The Christian Ministry of Reconciliation in Chile: The Reconciliation of Peoples’ Challenges to the Churches (New York: Orbis Book).
1975 God of the Oppressed ( New York: Seabury Press).
De Gruchy, John W.
1997 "The Reconciliation of Peoples: Challenge to the Churches", in The Dialectic of Reconciliation (N.Y.: Orbis Books).
2000 Creation-Centered Spirituality. Unpublished paper.