‘Advent: the time to listen for footsteps — you can’t hear footsteps when you’re running yourself.’
At this time of the year most of us are blessed with many gifts that God has granted to us. Most of us will manage to spend time with loved ones, share the seasons’ bounty in peace and find time to celebrate the birth of our saviour. In being granted such blessing perhaps we should all stop for a moment in the hectic pace of Christmas preparations and reflect what are we doing with these gifts? How are we being called to use these gifts to help those less fortunate in our society.
It is those on the margins of our global community that the Australian Catholic Bishops called us to stand in solidarity with in the fight against world poverty. The Bishops ask us to focus on those who are hungriest, those most vulnerable to disasters, Indigenous peoples, those with disabilities and those displaced from their homelands. In the context of the wealthy global community, that there are people suffering from poverty can be viewed as criminal action through failure to act responsibly. If we were to view members of these five groups as being victims of crime, it might be helpful to ask who the offenders are that perpetuate such criminal behaviour and how can we mitigate restorative justice to heal our world.
While it would be easy to blame the anonymous governments or corporate bodies in contributing towards the plight of those suffering from poverty, we do need to look into our own lives as well and determine our own complacency in supporting the structures that maintain global poverty. Are we using our gifts to support the work of those who work on the frontline is this fight such as Caritas or The Salvation Army? Are we buying goods from organisations that support fair trade and just working conditions ? Are we keeping informed about the plight of refugees and asylum seekers so that we can take appropriate action?
The Social Doctrine of the Church tells us that we need to fully protect the rights of each individual the fulfilment of the essential needs of the person in the material and spiritual spheres. “These rights apply to every stage of life and to every political, social, economic and cultural situation. Together they form a single whole, directed unambiguously towards the promotion of every aspect of the good of both the person and society. In their statement Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration on Crime and Criminal Justice, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops said “All of us are called to stand with victims in their hurt and in their search for healing and genuine justice” Although the Bishops in this statement were referring to victims in the more traditional sense of criminal justice, the application of restorative justice principles to both victim and offender can be applied to global poverty.
In brief, restorative justice is about valuing all people, victim and offender, about addressing the needs of the victims, the community and the offender. It’s about providing constructive frameworks to guide responses to injustices. It seeks to repair damage, re-establish the dignity to those harmed by injustice and mitigate the alienation of both victim and offender. It results in community building and creates resilience rather than taking punitive actions. The late Nelson Mandela is perhaps one of the greatest advocates of this principle. He forgave his abusers and sat with those who jailed him to work for the common good. Rwandan genocide survivor Immaculée Ilibagiza forgave the man who led the gang who murdered her family. When asked why she said “Forgiveness is all I have to offer.” Restorative justice offers the victim back their voice and asks the offender to take on the responsibility for repairing the harm done to victims, their families and the community.
All of us have witnessed the restorative effect that such dialogue has on our community. The recognition of the plight of Aboriginal Australians in Paul Keating’s Redfern Speech followed by Kevin Rudd’s National Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples began the healing and reconciliation process. According to Fred Chaney in his Human Rights speech last week, this process is in the strongest position of the last 40 years and many Australians are now fully engaged in building this process further. Can you imagine how restorative justice could potentially repair the damage that has been done through denying access to adequate food, suitable housing and personal security to those around the world suffering in poverty? If we were to view refugees and asylum seekers as victims of crime rather than illegal migrants, how much more willing our nation would be to provide them the help they need to restore hope for a better future. If we were to view the aid we send overseas to disaster victims as part of our responsibility in mitigating the harm done in failing to help reduce risk and strengthen vulnerable communities to prepare and respond to disaster.
Now we just need to work out how to use those God given gifts to achieve this!