Current Comment

Roofless church in remote part of Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan (CNS photo/Edgar Su, Reuters)

Global Warning

Poverty helped propel the death and suffering in the Philippines just as surely as the surging waters of San Pedro Bay. Around the world in places like Tacloban City, people who live in poverty are often crowded into the most inhospitable and ill-conceived locations, whether backed up against the ocean in the Philippines or against an eroded hillside in Guatemala. The shoddy construction of the homes of the poor offer little to no protection against life-threatening weather events. Having a second floor or a house constructed out of something sturdier than wood and tin meant the difference between life and death for many during Typhoon Haiyan. The suffering in Tacloban has been compounded by the region’s poor infrastructure. A choked road system has prevented people from escaping the disaster zone and relief supplies from getting to them.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, municipal leaders on the U.S. East Coast began plans for billion dollar mitigation projects to stand against future storms and the historic challenge of rising global sea levels. They have the wherewithal and the luxury to do this. Sprawling urban communities throughout the 7,000 islands of the Philippines sit at or near sea level in the middle of the world’s most storm-prone region. How realistic will it be for Tacloban City officials to contemplate similar defenses against the ravages of the next super-typhoon? 

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While the West is the largest contributor to global warming, it will be the poor nations of the world that endure its worst effects. There has been much talk but little action toward more justly sharing that burden. The nations of the West and other primary contributors to global warming could begin by helping to pay for shelter that meets minimum standards of survivability, road systems adequate to emergency evacuation and the resettlement of those who live in sites that can no longer be protected against the world’s surging storms.

Desert Experience

While the world has been preoccupied with the sprouting of illegal Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian territory on the West Bank, within Israel proper the long cherished dream of making the Negev desert bloom is running up against some facts on the ground that are difficult to dislodge—the Bedouin, who have lived on the Negev since at least the seventh century. Many now live in poor, “unrecognized” townships that predate the establishment of the State of Israel or were built under Israeli pressure during the 1950s. These Arab Israeli citizens have long struggled under the burden of unofficial status, denied a clear title to their homes or land and denied access to basic state infrastructure.

Now, however, even these poor communities have become the targets of settler expansion. Renewed efforts to construct gated Jewish farming communities on Bedouin sites, the so-called Prawer Plan, threaten to dislocate 40,000 Arab Israeli citizens on behalf of Jewish Israeli citizens. The plan, in effect since 2011 and now entering a terminal phase, has already led to the destruction of hundreds of Bedouin homes and now seeks the demolition of about 40 complete villages and the confiscation of 70,000 hectares of land in the Negev. The region’s informal land claims and dizzying array of sometimes contradictory deeds from the Ottoman era or issued under the British mandate make it easy for Israeli authorities to ignore Arab ownership claims.

Activists with the Jewish Voice for Peace and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel describe the plan as a human rights and diplomatic disaster, but the Obama administration has been completely silent on the matter. More prominent U.S. voices of condemnation would be welcome, particularly from within the State Department, before the Middle East peace process sinks completely into geopolitical farce.

An Invitation to Speak Up

The decision to consult the faithful as part of the preparation for next year’s meeting of the Synod of Bishops by means of a questionnaire on “the pastoral challenges to the family” represents a challenge and an opportunity for a church ready to listen. As Cardinal John Henry Newman wrote in his classic essay “On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine” (1859), seeking the sensus fidelium is essential because the “body of the faithful is one of the witnesses to the fact of the tradition of revealed doctrine.”

The preparatory document for the synod lists several challenges facing various cultures: cohabitation that does not lead to marriage, same-sex unions, dowries that resemble a purchase price for the woman, the caste system, “hostile” forms of feminism, surrogate motherhood and the abandonment of the sacrament of penance.

The directive urges the bishops to share the questionnaire “as widely as possible. The bishops of England and Wales have posted the questionnaire online and invited responses. Bishop John Hine of Britain told Vatican Radio the document is “extremely significant” and added: “It really responds to the desire of the people...to be consulted on matters which concern them so deeply.” This effort, which is to be commended, is in tune with the desire of Pope Francis to have “shepherds with the smell of the sheep.”

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Leonard Villa
4 years 11 months ago
Global warming is hardly an established fact. At best it's a controversial assertion in the scientific community although it has become ideological in nature to justify seeking money from the West in the name of an ideological view of social justice. This is hardly a Catholic position and hence that part of your editorial is truly built on sand.
Stanley Kopacz
4 years 10 months ago
Your assertion is as without basis as it is assertive. The so-called greenhouse effect is the mechanism that keeps the earth from freezing pole-to-pole. Increasing the level of this gas in the atmosphere increases this effect and raises the point to which surface temperature must rise to achieve radiative thermal equilibrium. There has been enough rise in global temperature over the last 100 years to establish that this is occurring. Whatever controversy there is in the climate science community in this matter is slightly larger than that in the geological community over whether the earth is flat. The only ideological distortion is yours. For a link to the American Institute of Physics website on this, http://www.aip.org/history/climate/co2.htm
Rosemary McHugh
4 years 10 months ago
"Poverty helped propel the death and suffering in the Philippines just as surely as the surging waters of San Pedro Bay." As I read this first sentence of your fine article, on the need for the nations of the West to help the people of the Philippines, to develop better road systems and more stable shelter sites for living, I was sad that no mention of the role of the Roman Catholic Church in increasing the poverty of the people of the Philippines was mentioned. Of course, this is a Jesuit magazine, and it was probably a celibate male who wrote this article. As a Catholic woman and as a physician, I am sad that the hierarchy in the Philippines have blocked the voted on will of the people to have free access to contraception. The people voted for it. The church was angry it passed. And the church has been able to block the government from allowing the law to go into effect. This leaves more poor women and couples at the mercy of an intolerant church, and increases the pregnancy rate and poverty of those women and couples. I do not believe that Jesus would act the way the hierarchy is acting. It is sad to have to say that the church can be a major cause of poverty among the poor. Sincerely, Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh, M.D., M.Sp.
Rosemary McHugh
4 years 10 months ago
"Poverty helped propel the death and suffering in the Philippines just as surely as the surging waters of San Pedro Bay." As I read this first sentence of your fine article, on the need for the nations of the West to help the people of the Philippines, to develop better road systems and more stable shelter sites for living, I was sad that no mention of the role of the Roman Catholic Church in increasing the poverty of the people of the Philippines was mentioned. Of course, this is a Jesuit magazine, and it was probably a celibate male who wrote this article. As a Catholic woman and as a physician, I am sad that the hierarchy in the Philippines have blocked the voted on will of the people to have free access to contraception. The people voted for it. The church was angry it passed. And the church has been able to block the government from allowing the law to go into effect. This leaves more poor women and couples at the mercy of an intolerant church, and increases the pregnancy rate and poverty of those women and couples. I do not believe that Jesus would act the way the hierarchy is acting. It is sad to have to say that the church can be a major cause of poverty among the poor. Sincerely, Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh, M.D., M.Sp.

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