Economy of exclusion showcases injustice

Millennial Reflections
By Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem
In Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis renders an accurate picture of our situation today.
In Chapter Two,“No to an Economy of Exclusion,” Pope Francis writes, “Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and discarded. We have created a throw away culture which is now spreading.”
Much has been written how groups throughout the world have been exploited, oppressed or marginalized. This immoral situation is even worse. As Pope Francis has written, “It is no longer about exploitation or oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live, those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the ‘exploited’ but the outcast, the ‘leftovers.’”
Pope Francis has nailed it. The disregard for human and worker harkens back to the days of slavery. Slaves were considered investments, not people. Major insurance companies in the United States made their reputations insuring slave ships during the African slave trade.
The condition today is worse, as the Pope describes it. People are used and discarded and easily replaced. In some parts of the world conditions are frighteningly similar to what those slaves endured. We only have to look at the horrendous garment factory fire with huge loss of life in Bangladesh, or sweatshop conditions in Hong Kong or Singapore, or New York or Chicago.
From 1980 till the present, trickle down economics has barely trickled down, but gushed upward creating a new powerful elite. Pope Francis gives us his take on it.
What Pope Francis has to say encourages us on the progressive side of Catholic social justice who have long criticized these policies.
He condemns this with an even greater moral voice. “In this context some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile the excluded are still waiting.”
His last sentence, “The excluded are still waiting” is echoed and dramatized throughout the world by those fighting for improved living and working conditions. The very phrase “free market” like “free trade” evokes cynicism and sarcasm by those the Pope calls excluded. This word “excluded” says it so well. Back in the day when we marched for civil rights or demonstrated for the right to choose a union, things happened. Perhaps undocumented immigrants in this country, even those from the Pope’s native Argentina, are part of the new “excluded.”
Pope Francis charges on, “To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed.” The frustration of activists to the budget submitted by Paul Ryan illustrates precisely what the Pope is criticizing.
As the rich get richer they cultivate an indifference, even a moral disdain for the plight of the poor who get poorer. Even middle class families are disregarded as their unemployment benefits are discontinued. The Pope further goes on, “We end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.”
A perfect example here, down South, is the iconic picture of hundreds of African Americans holding up a sign, “HELP US!” standing on the flooded freeway while surrounded by Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath. They were left stranded. The callous disregard for people struggling to make it is a judgment on our society. We can do better.
(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson)

Hope always wins

Millennial Reflections
By Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem
Recently I got a request from someone in Bangladesh urging people to sign a petition seeking full and fair compensation from two national clothing retailers for the survivors of a horrific fire that killed more than 1,100 people in a clothing factory a year ago.
The individual, Aklima Khanam, was a 20-year-old survivor. Some of you may remember the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York around the turn of the last century where almost 200 immigrant women died. They were locked in to keep them working. This galvanized the new movement for worker rights. The rest is history.

The event last year in Bangladesh dwarfs what happened 100 years ago in the United States. Here, too, survivors say they were locked in to keep them working and the cost in human life and injury was staggering.
Looking at the way workers are treated in these international sweat shops unencumbered by American labor law begins another chapter in human oppression and exploitation. It is always the most vulnerable poorest classes of people affected, especially women and children.

This came to me right after we celebrated total destruction. Jesus faced a rigged trial and was tortured and executed in the most grizzly way possible. His followers were dispersed. The Scriptures told how this was the plan of God, and Jesus did what he promised, he rose from the dead. His resurrection was the final statement that injustice of every kind would come to an end.

There will always be a push back from the kind of exploitation I just outlined, and, despite the lack of material resources, such movements will not stop. We always preach the death and resurrection of Jesus as a unit. One explains the other. It also says that no matter how much evil we encounter, people will keep getting back up to resist it.
These next two years we will celebrate the 50th anniversaries of the two major civil rights laws in our country. The struggle for civil rights and worker justice did not begin in the 1960s or 1860s, but from the first time one group exploited another.

The theological inspiration for every movement for social justice can be found in the Scriptures we read on Easter, in the Easter season and throughout Lent. The prophets are quite explicit about justice and fairness. Those who have been exploited can look to the trial and execution of Jesus. The followers of Jesus came from the exploited and marginalized.

Things we rely on as basic: food and clothes are produced all over the world by young, poor, invisible people. When we buy brand named clothes at high prices, we have no idea where they were made. Labels tell very little. Think for a moment about an $800 suit going at clearance for less than a $100, then try and figure out the real cost of its manufacture. Then think about the wages the workers get who make the clothes. No, the answer is not to react and make your own clothes. The answer is to change the system that is built on exploitation.

We can turn to food and those who grow and harvest the crops. That leads us to the broken immigration system. We just saw pictures of Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson  reaching through the border fence trying to give someone communion during the Mass for unity the bishops had at the Mexico-Arizona border.

The point is the endless push back for justice. They can build fences. They can build sweat shops, but people will always fight for justice. This is the power of resurrection over death. Real Christians know that our religion is built on optimism. Easter is the great feast that anything resembling despair, weakness, misery, etc. will be overcome by the power of justice, the joy of freedom and the peace that comes out of the empty tomb.
(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson)