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Conference on Humanizing the Global Economy


Opening Remarks
Archbishop Brendan M. O'Brien
Archbishop of St. John's

Washington, D.C.
January 28-30, 2002

It is a pleasure for me to welcome you, on behalf of the Canadian Bishops to this important conference. I join my colleagues from across the continent in extending a hearty bienvenue or bienvenido to you all.

I am joined today by 4 other Canadian bishops from each of the regions of our country along with 10 other Canadians who will participate in the discussions & experiences of the next two and a half days.

Lest you think that we are not that noticeable or necessary for the functioning of this hemisphere, I would challenge you to unplug your headsets for a moment and see how far many of you would get without our team of Canadian interpreters. Our thanks in advance to Père Michel Côté and the translation team for your help in allowing us to communicate in three of the languages of our hemisphere.

The theme of our conference, globalization, is of substantial importance to the people of Canada since more than 45% of everything that Canadians produce is exported. As well, we are part of free trade agreements with the United States, Mexico & Chile and are preparing to join the Free Trade area of the Americas by 2005. These moves have been the subject of great debate in our country as well as among the bishops, as you will learn during our time together over these next few days.

One of our very positive experiences in recent years has been an ecumenical campaign that called for 100% cancellation of the multilateral debts of the most highly indebted poor countries. This campaign was staunchly supported by our episcopal conference and gathered the most signatures of any petition in the history of our country.

From this experience we learned a number of things.

  1. Canadians are willing to get involved in seemingly complex issues when they are presented in programs that employ a language lay people can grasp.

  2. We were gratified to see how effective the network of concerned Catholics involved in Development & Peace (our Canadian Catholic Development Assistance Agency) was in organizing this campaign in the Catholic community.

  3. Working ecumenically and even on an inter-faith basis gave us the competent research base we needed as well as additional political influence.

  4. We also learned that many government officials (including the Canadian Finance Minister) were interested in hearing what people from the churches had to say on complex international issues.

  5. Finally, I should mention that we learnt of the importance of having the analysis and leadership of people of the South when discussing international debt questions so as to broaden our Northern perspective.

    To this end we:

    • helped fund Jubilee campaigns in the South and engaged speakers to come to Canada.

    • the meeting of the Bishops of America in 2000 in Vancouver also had the international debt question as one of its major themes.

Overall, we are encouraged by our government's announcement, in December 2000, to cancel the bilateral debts of 11 (HIPC) countries. Unfortunately, we cannot say the same about the international community's progress on the cancellation of multilateral debts and we join the Holy Father in his lament that more has not been accomplished to date.

Another area of our involvement in the international community is immigration. Approximately 200,000 immigrants are received each year from all over the world as well as over 100,000 foreign students whom we host for studies. Over our history this has been a great blessing for our country, although many think we could and should increase these figures.

As leaders in the Church in Canada we want to approach this question of globalization from a positive perspective, reflecting on how the "common good" can be pursued in a world where borders may not be as relevant as they once were. This has been the theme of some of our pastoral letters such as the statements released by the Permanent Council of our Conference in April of last year just before the Quebec Summit of the Americas.

The discussions of the next few days are of particular interest to us given the fact that the next meeting of the G-8 will be held in Kananaskis, Alberta this June. On this important occasion which will especially focus on the situation in Africa we will once again be concerned about the plight of the poorest countries and in promoting the three guiding principles of Catholic Social Thought. Primarily human dignity, solidarity and subsidiarity.

In conclusion may I say that we, the Canadians taking part in this meeting, look forward to these days ahead trusting that the tradition of Catholic social teaching will help us to come to new insights about this our globalized world.

As the Holy Father mentions in Ecclesia in America.

"It is a question not only of alleviating the most serious & urgent needs through industrial actions, but of uncovering the roots of evil and proposing initiatives to make social, political and economic structures more just and fraternal". #18

If our meeting can make progress in this regard, it will truly be a success. I look forward to our time together and pray that God will guide and bless our work.

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