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 The Peace Pulpit:  Homiles by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

By special arrangement, The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company is able to make available Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton's weekly Sunday homilies given at Saint Leo Church, Detroit, MI.  Each homily is transcribed from a tape recording of the actual delivery and made available to you as an NCR Web site exclusive.  You may register for a weekly e-mail reminder that will be sent to you when each new homily is posted.  From time to time, Bishop Gumbleton is traveling and unable to provide us with the homily for the week.
NOTE:  The homilies are available here five days after they are given, always on Friday.  By signing up for our weekly e-mail, you will be notifed as soon as each is available. (See the upper right corner of this screen.)
December 14, 2003

 * A longtime national and international activist in the peace movement, Bishop Gumbleton is a founding member of Pax Christi USA and an outspoken critic of the sanctions against Iraq.

He has appeared on numerous radio and television programs, and has published numerous articles and reports.

** The Web link to Pax Christi is provided as a service to our readers.

Editor's Note: Because Bishop Gumbleton was traveling in Colombia with a Human Rights Delegation for the past eight days, he was not able to be at St. Leo's Church to offer a homily.

In lieu of a homily, Bishop Gumbleton offers the following reflection. He was invited to join a panel discussion held in Bogata in September 2003 as part of a conference titled Alternatives to Globalization. Following is the paper that was read at that meeting.

I am happy to send you my response to the topics for discussion by Panel III on Ecumenism. I must caution you that my contribution is that of an "outsider." I cannot speak from lived experience as so many of your other panelists. But perhaps there is some value that can come from sharing the perspective of one who is not so intimately involved in the everyday struggle of the poor and oppressed.

First of all, I affirm that an Ecumenical approach to analyzing the situation in Colombia and providing positive direction for a plan to develop genuine protection for the oppressed people of Colombia and to confront the negative aspects of globalization as well as a call for reparation to those who have been deprived of their rights for so long is essential. People of every religious tradition have insights flowing from their faith experience that are helpful in working for a resolution to problems of such complexity as those now found in Colombia. Surely unity among people who come from various faiths can be at least to some extent a model for the unity that is hoped for among all social and religious segments of Colombian society.

Further I affirm that a peace process in Colombia, which implies a concerted response to the linked problems of violence, poverty, extreme economic inequalities, drug cultivation and trafficking, deserves the urgent and committed support of the international community. One of the immediate steps to be promoted is a close control of the arms trade with Colombia. I would call for a strong denunciation of the massive military intervention supported by the so-called Plan Colombia. As an attempt to stop the drug trade this plan will certainly fail and will in fact add to the widespread abuse of human rights.

In order to provide for "Social and Political Protection" for the poor of Colombia, especially those in the rural sector, we must demand that the destruction of rural communities by the indiscriminate fumigation of crops be ended. Instead, it is necessary to promote alternative forms of agricultural production. The Colombian government must provide both the resources and the time for this to happen with support from the international community, especially the U.S. government.

Regarding the question of developing a situation of justice for the poor of Colombia, I urge that the negative effects of globalization must be addressed. As Pope John Paul II has pointed out, the globalization of the economic systems is a fact. But it can have a positive outcome for all the people who are part of this international economy only if there is developed a "globalization of solidarity" together with economic globalization.

Based on my limited awareness of what is happening in Colombia as a result of globalization, I must judge that only the negative effects of globalization are happening at the present time.

Colombia's traditional rural economy is in crisis. Since Colombia opened its agricultural markets in the early 1990s, the coffee harvest has been reduced almost by half. Ten years ago, agricultural imports for Colombia were 700,000 tons. Today they are 7 million tons. The same thing that is happening to Colombia has already happened to Mexico and other countries of Latin America. They are forced to open up to so-called "free trade," but they are unable to compete. The peasants in Colombia who were able to make a living growing coffee are now displaced from their land. Some of them turned to growing coca instead of growing coffee. One million rural jobs have been lost in the past decade, and a quarter of a million peasants have turned to coca production. They cannot compete in "free trade," so the peasants are forced to leave their land and give up the coffee growing or turn to coca. Then the U.S. fumigates and tries to destroy the coca and leaves them without anything.

All of this has had a devastating effect on the majority of the people of Colombia. They are forced to try to survive in a situation of even more extreme poverty. For many the effects of poverty are so degrading that you cannot call it human.

A sign of hope in this desperate situation is the attempt on the part of large numbers of "grass roots" people throughout the world are who are struggling against so-called free trade and are demanding fair trade. There have been massive demonstrations at the past few meetings of the World Trade Organization, and there was such a demonstration again this year when the WTO met in Cancun, Mexico a very short time ago.

I hope that one result of this international "Encuentro" will be enormous support for those efforts to influence the outcome of the meetings of the WTO. One immediate concern is that we find ways to stop the development of The Free Trade for the Americas act (FTAA). Without profound modification, this Act will only add significantly to the impoverishment of the majority of the people throughout Latin America just as the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) has done to the people of Mexico.

I conclude this brief paper with a call to all of us to heed the words of the prophet Micah who taught us what true religion is: "To act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with the Lord your God."

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