Continuing to reflect on the Commission for Social Development

Reading from Mark Gospel 8:1-8 on Saturday February 10, I was struck by the feeding of the people and was reminded of words quoted by the Chair of the Commission María del Carmen Squeff of Argentina ‘we need to be kind when thinking of each others’ suffering’. Response to suffering is not a platform but an action. These phrases echo Jesus’ words ‘I feel sorry for all these people, they have been with me for three days now and have nothing to eat. If I send them off home hungry they will collapse on the way; some have come a great distance.’ His disciples replied, ‘Where could anyone get these people enough bread to eat in a deserted place.’ Ched Myres (“Binding the Strong Man: a Political reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus”) notes that the response of the disciples was one of despair in the wilderness. There were outside of the dominant social order and it’s markets. How can one find resources to feed the hungry? I felt myself pulled into the suffering of people experiencing increased hunger and malnutrition throughout the world because of ‘desert like conditions’ due to COVID pandemic, climate change, displacement, ongoing conflict, mining, deforestation, some traveling distances to leave behind oppression and extreme poverty as migrants and refugees vulnerable to being trafficked.

Often we (you and I) feel desperation in attempting to make a response in the midst of these situations. People are being exploited by today’s markets, with patents, profits and monopolies ruling to the exclusion of people and care of the planet. In the midst of the situation Jesus asks ‘How many loaves have you?’ Immediately my mind jumped back to our Chapter and a morning prayer reflection which challenged us ‘FEED THEM YOURSELVES’ inviting us to a mindset of abundance which can be contrasted with a mindset of scarcity. Resources are within and among us. We have the 7 loaves. These loaves symbolize resources, good stewardship, co-responsibility, capacities and a culture of justice. As I continue to reflect I realize more and more that the policy issues pursued by the GSIJP Office are from a mindset of abundance – national floors of social protection, inclusion of all, gender justice, ending all forms of exploitation, climate justice, sustainable livelihoods, food and decent work – in collaboration with like-minded NGO’s and the ‘Gospel Space’ within the United Nations, the Commission for Social Development in this case.

Ched Myres comments that in the organizing of the people there is a superabundant result. “FEED THEM YOURSELVES’ is possible through the organization of the people. Everyone shares their resources, all the people are listened to and empowered to act for change. There is an upholding of human dignity, recognizing each person’s inalienable human rights, encouraging participation, voice and action. There is one paragraph in the Resolution from the Commission on the priority theme Paragraph 25 Encourages Member States to facilitate the meaningful participation and empowerment of those in vulnerable situations, including those living in poverty, in the design, implementation and monitoring of COVID -19 recovery plans.” The feeding of the people includes building peoples’ self-esteem, unleashing the capacity of the people themselves to bring about the change that is required. We declare that our programmes have moved from a ‘charity model’ to a ‘right-based’ approach. How open are we to engaging the participants themselves in the design, implementation and monitoring of our multiple projects and programmes? We have good practice from our experiences with girls for the Day of the Girl activities.

February 20 was Social Justice Day – “Change means more than charity and occasional service. Two
strands of practice must intersect in us to establish justice for permanent change. First and obviously, we have to create relationships, institutions and communities ruled by just practices. Second, and perhaps equally obvious, we need to change ourselves” from Just Prayer: A Book of Hours for Peacemakers and Justice Seekers.

The resulting resolution recommended that the Economic and Social Council urge Member States to address multiple causes of poverty, hunger and inequality by creating decent work, improving coherence between social protection, food security and nutrition policies, and prioritizing investment in early childhood education, nutrition and care to break intergenerational poverty. “Sustainable agricultural production, food security, food safety and nutrition are key elements for the eradication of poverty in all its forms,” the Commission emphasized through the text.

The priority theme of the sixty-first session is “Creating full and productive employment and decent work for all as a way of overcoming inequalities to accelerate the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. In the tradition of the Commissions at the UN one closes and the following one is immediately opened.

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