Scarboro Missions' commitment to Justice and Peace
By Mark Hathaway and Fr. Gerald Curry, S.F.M.
Scarboro missionaries have always been concerned about the situations of poverty and injustice which so strongly affect the people among whom we work. The first members who went to China in the 1920s were deeply moved by the suffering of the inhabitants of Lishui caused by poor health and nutrition. They worked closely with the Grey Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of Pembroke whose medical clinics and orphanages for abandoned children reached out to the poor.
On one occasion, Fr. John Mary Fraser, who had been in Canada raising funds to build churches in China, returned to find the people of his area suffering from famine. His immediate response was to use whatever money he had collected to help alleviate the suffering of these people.
From their first days in the Dominican Republic in 1943, Scarboro missionaries concerned themselves with the lives of the people. This concern was manifested in many ways, one expression being the formation of co-operatives and credit unions, especially through the work of Fr. Harvey Steele and the late Fr. Jack McIver.
In 1960 Fr. John Gault was forced out of his parish of El Seibo and later forced to flee the Dominican Republic because of his solidarity with the people and his refusal to collaborate with the dictator, Rafael Trujillo. Trujillo was well-known for the murder and torture of thousands of Dominicans and his sale of the country's forests and other natural resources for his own personal gain.
In 1965 Scarboro missionary Fr. Art MacKinnon was assassinated because of his defence of the young members of his parish who were unjustly imprisoned by the Dominican military.
For the past 30 years Fr. Lou Quinn, along with his pastoral work, has animated and coordinated the building of roads, aqueducts and homes for the poor in the San Josée Ocoa area of the Dominican Republic. Today reforestation is one of many community development projects coordinated by a group centred within this parish.
In Japan, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Scarboro missionaries formed parish credit unions to help their parishioners reestablish themselves in the aftermath of WWII.
In 1964 the Interamerican Cooperative Institute was founded in Panama by Fr. Harvey Steele to train leaders for the cooperative and credit union movement throughout Latin America. After more than 30 years this institute continues to train community leaders so that they may empower others in the struggle for justice and peace.
More recently we can point to the example of Frs. Pat Kelly and Charles Gervais who stood in solidarity with local communities in the Bukidnon region of the Philippines. The people succeeded in stopping logging companies whose practices devastated the ecosystem of the area and the livelihood of indigenous peoples.
Another recent example was the work of Gerry Heffernan, a lay missionary who served with Scarboro Missions for over 20 years. Gerry, who died tragically in Peru, worked tirelessly to help poor Dominicans and Peruvians build decent housing for themselves.
Indeed, it would fill the pages of a book to give a full account of Scarboro missionaries sharing in the lives of the peoples among whom they have lived and worked, and walking with them in their struggles for dignity and justice. The pursuit of justice has always been an integral part of their proclamation of the Gospel.
Making the Canadian Connection
Over the years as Scarboro missionaries gained more experience we began to see that there was often a connection between situations of injustice overseas and First World countries like our own.
From the early 1970s onwards Scarboro Missions produced audio visual programs depicting the lives of people in the Dominican Republic and Guyana where our missionaries worked. These programs emphasized the connection between Canadian government policy, the actions of corporations based in Canada, and the struggles of the poor who were often affected by such policies and actions.
As well Scarboro Missions distributed audiovisuals such as "Guess Who's Coming to Breakfast", documenting the activities of Gulf and Western Corporation in the Dominican Republic and its connection to North America. "Banking on South Africa" showed how Canadian banks were using our money to support apartheid in that country. Other programs questioned the buildup of the nuclear arms industry and the cost of the arms race, especially its affect on the poor, as well as its dangers to all humanity.
Scarboro members cooperated with the newly-formed Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, and participated in the activities of the ecumenical church coalitions from their very beginnings. Fr. Robert Smith joined a group interested in forming an independent Catholic news service out of which was born the Catholic New Times, a national publication based in Toronto, Ontario.
In 1974 Fr. John Walsh became the first Catholic to work as co-director of the Ecumenical Forum (now the Canadian Churches' Forum for Global Ministries), a long-established Protestant church organization dedicated to promoting the mission of the church.
In cooperation with other missionary groups, Scarboro helped to form the National Missionary Council promoting mission in Canada at the parish and diocesan levels. In 1971, Fr. Bill Smith was chosen to work at the missions office of the Canadian bishops.
With Vatican II, Scarboro Missions, the monthly magazine of the Society, increasingly dedicated its pages to missionaries whose experience helped reveal to Canadians how poverty and violence in many countries is often connected to decisions made in First World countries and to our patterns of consumption.
As a policy, Scarboro Missions has always contributed financially to the work of the ecumenical coalitions. Grants have also been given to help organizations to get started, for example Bridgehead, now under the aegis of Oxfam Canada. Bridgehead sells the produce of cooperatives in Latin America and Africa and returns a greater share of profits to the workers producing these products.
Enabling people from Third World countries to visit Canada to share their lives and struggles, and helping groups here who are interested in a Third World experience has been another area where Scarboro Missions has used its financial resources.
It has recently established the Mission Interchange, a clearing house of information to help Canadians who wish to work in and experience the Third World. Scarboro Missions is now offering a program for diocesan seminarians wishing exposure to overseas mission as part of their preparation for ordination.
The Justice and Peace Office
While all Scarboro missionaries are called to work for justice, peace and the integrity of creation in their respective ministries and outreaches, the Society began to see the need to develop a more systematic and effective way of dealing with issues of justice and peace. To that end, the Justice and Peace Office was established in 1980. It serves a special role in gathering information on these issues and channeling them into vehicles of solidarity here in Canada. At the same time, the office provides information to Scarboro missionaries overseas in order to keep them up to date on the larger global context in their work for justice.
At present, the office team is made up of two persons. Fr. Tim Ryan, its director, has extensive experience as a Scarboro missionary in Brazil, as an active participant in ecumenical justice structures, and as a missiologist. The associate director of the Justice and Peace Office is Scarboro lay missionary Mark Hathaway who worked previously in popular education in Peru and later served in the Department of Lay Association (now called the Lay Mission Office).
Working Ecumenically for Justice
Today, most of the work of the office is focused on our involvement with ecumenical coalitions. Over the years, we have found this to be one of the most effective ways to share our experience with other Christians involved in the struggle for justice. Tim Ryan serves on the boards of the Taskforce on the Churches and Corporate Responsibility (TCCR) and the Canada-Asia Working Group (CAWG), while Mark Hathaway works with the Inter-Church Committee on Human Rights in Latin America (ICCHRLA) and the Ecumenical Coalition on Economic Justice (ECEJ).
Through TCCR we work with other churches to raise ethical concerns about the activities of Canadian companies overseas. In CAWG, we are able to share our experience in the Philippines and Japan while at the same time enlarging our own vision with other concerns in the entire region of Asia. ICCHRLA has done extensive work on Peru, where Scarboro missionaries worked for many years, and is now beginning a new focus on Brazil. In ECEJ we share our concerns about structural adjustment policies and the changes to the global economy which are severely affecting the communities we work with overseas.
In all these coalitions, we are enriched by the work, experience and insights of members of other churches and religious congregations who share our concern for justice. Together we are able to raise a collective voice with a greater capacity to influence governments and public opinion while also providing research for justice education in our respective churches.
The Justice and Peace Office also interacts with non-church organizations involved in justice work both in Canada and overseas, including the Canadian Council for International Cooperation. Through these involvements we are able to make a contribution to common causes and learn from the experience of others.
Work on Specific Issues
Over the years the office has focused on specific issues of concern to Scarboro missionaries overseas. Former Justice and Peace Office director, Dan Gennarelli, did significant work to halt construction of the Balbina hydroelectric dam in the prelacy of Itacoatiara, Brazil. Scarboro missionaries in the area provided information demonstrating how this dam threatened to contaminate the water of thousands of people and destroy the fisheries upon which they depended. Unfortunately, in the end, the dam construction went ahead, devastating a huge area and causing widespread sickness and hardship.
The work done focusing attention on World Bank loans for the Balbina dam, however, did raise concerns about the role of the Bank in financial 'maldevelopment'. Ultimately, this has contributed to stricter environmental criterion in the World Bank (albeit much still remains to be done in this area) and the call for its fundamental restructuring and remandating. This is evidenced in the recent "50 Years is Enough" campaign, promoted by the Inter-Church Coalition on Africa and the Ecumenical Coalition on Economic Justice in collaboration with a number of groups internationally. The campaign is aimed at re-evaluating the Bretton Woods agreement out of which the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund was born.
Challenges for the Future
As many of Scarboro Missions' traditional activists in justice issues retire or return to Canada, a challenge to the Justice and Peace Office is to involve a new generation of missionaries in the struggle for a more human society and harmonious living within the Earth's ecosystem. To this end, the office is involved in the preparation programme for new missionaries which includes popular education and community development, social analysis, the work of the ecumenical coalitions, and the social teaching of the church. As new people become involved in their place of mission, we hope to be able to feed their experience back to the Canadian church and become involved in new initiatives.
As we prepare to enter the 21st century, many issues challenge us in our continuing work for justice. Increasingly, the global economic system is redistributing wealth from the poor to the rich. The rights of workers and the poor are being eroded as social programmes are pared back and economic rights reduced in the face of structural adjustment programmes. Transnational corporations continue to grow in power, eroding the sovereignty of nations and marginalizing democratic institutions. Meanwhile, destruction of the ecosystems we are all a part of is taking place at an ever-faster pace, threatening to destroy the fabric of life itself on the planet.
In view of these challenges, the work of Scarboro missionaries and the Justice and Peace Office will continue to evolve, as will that of all Christians involved in the struggle for a more human, ecologically sensitive and compassionate world. We are called to look for alternatives to the current structures and to put them in practice as best we can. In many places where Scarboro missionaries work, communities are working to create these new alternatives. The Justice and Peace Office will continue, with the generous support of our benefactors, to support these initiatives as best we can and to share these experiences with others who endeavour to renew the world.
Added note: In March 1999 Scarboro lay missioner Karen Van Loon began working in the Justice and Peace Office after returning from Brazil where she worked with a community health ministry. In 2003 she became the coordinator after Fr. Tim Ryan retired. Mark Hathaway left Scarboro Missions in 1998 to begin a new endeavor called Visioncraft Consulting.