SASKATOON — Past, present, and future were highlighted during a program held April 30 in Saskatoon to mark the 50th anniversary of Development and Peace.
Speakers at an anniversary banquet held at St. Mary’s Parish in Saskatoon related the history of the Canadian Catholic organization, and highlighted local heroes who have supported, nurtured and furthered efforts by Development and Peace to “put the Gospel into action” both globally and locally over the past 50 years.
MCed by Michelle Dinter-Lipinski, the evening began with a prayer led by Christine Zyla, “lifting up our hearts in gratitude and joy” to thank God for “50 years of camaraderie, of solidarity, of partnership and learning.”
Gertrude Rompré spoke about Development and Peace as a movement coming out of the Second Vatican Council, and encounters among bishops from all over the world.
Vatican II also opened the doors and “imagined the laity in a whole new way,” Rompré pointed out. “The laity were called to become leaven in the world, and the empowerment of the laity shaped Development and Peace in a profound way.”
Finally, the focus in Development and Peace has always been on partners in the Global South, and relating to them in a way that is “truly empowering and respectful.”
A lively “reader’s theatre” panel presentation written by Sister Teresita Kambeitz, OSU, gave an overview of the history of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP), created by the Catholic bishops of Canada in response to Pope Paul VI’s ground-breaking encyclical On the Development of Peoples and his observation that “the new name for peace is development.”
The panel of Brendan Bitz, Kim Paisley, Judy Corkery, Larry Yakimoski, Celeste Woloschuk and Richard Medernach, recalled the visit of Romeo Maione, the first executive director of CCODP (1967 - 1973), who spoke at Holy Cross High School in Saskatoon in the 1970s.
They also discussed which departed Development and Peace supporters they would like to meet in heaven, including Susan Eaton, who in 1976 became the first full-time Development and Peace animator in Saskatchewan; Nettie Macala, a social activist and supporter in the Archdiocese of Regina; Therese LeClair, named president of social justice for the Diocese of Gravelbourg in 1983; Joe Meehan, “a fierce defender” of Development and Peace from North Battleford; and Sister Margaret Bernard, a Bruno Ursuline in St. Peter’s Abbacy “who fearlessly chaired” the Development and Peace committee there for many years.
The work of Development and Peace was also highlighted by the panel, including Share Lent, which began in 1968 and has raised some $650 million for projects in 120 countries; and the Fall Action Campaign, which was initiated in 1982 with a three-year education and action campaign on militarization as an obstacle to development.
“In 1996, when there was a national ecumenical campaign on the forgiveness of debt, Saskatchewan collected almost 28,000 signatures, the highest percentage of all regions of Canada,” said Corkery.
As the program continued, Danny Gillis presented information on a book and other merchandise created for the anniversary year, while youth delegate Desiree Nelson spoke about the importance of official membership, and the impact of supporting CCODP with a monthly donation year round.
Margaret Schwab of the Catholic Women’s League spoke about the league’s longtime program of support for Development and Peace, while Lawrence Townley-Smith spoke on behalf of the Knights of Columbus.
Former provincial animator Michael Murphy explained the origin of the name of the Development and Peace newsletter, The Caragana, sharing a song about how the hardy prairie hedge with its strong roots “keeps the topsoil from blowing away and holds down a way of life.”
Sister Miriam Spenrath, OSU, and Rev. Lawrence DeMong, OSB, discussed how religious communities have intersected with Development and Peace over the past 50 years.
Development and Peace strengthens “our relationship with our creator God and with every nano-piece of creation,” Spenrath said. “It pulls us forward to more actively embrace the cry of the impoverished and the cry of the earth.”
DeMong spoke about the relationship that The Prairie Messenger, published by the Benedictines, has had with Development and Peace over the past 50 years. “One thing I always noticed as a member of the community was how D&P was an instrument of education that became a dialogue with the PM. Those editors not only promoted D&P, they were educated by D&P.”
At the end of the evening, Archbishop Emeritus James Weisgerber, former bishop of Saskatoon and retired archbishop of Winnipeg, reflected on moving forward into the future.
He noted that Development and Peace has always had two arms: the financial arm, which has been “a success extraordinaire” thanks to people’s generosity, and the educational arm, which has not had quite the same success. “This is not for want of good programs, but because people think this is optional,” said Weisgerber.
The economic system that we live under “is a disaster for most of the world,” said Weisgerber, summarizing the papal encyclical Laudato Si’. “It (the economic system) benefits such a small number of people and in order to benefit from it, we have to sell our souls to it.”
This economic system “consumes us and we end up consuming much more than we have a right to, and much more than we need, and we think this is OK,” he said. “The economic system benefits us by depriving a lot of the world, more than half of the world, of any possibility of getting ahead. They are poor because we are rich. It is very clear. And secondly, this unbelievable consumption really is destroying our planet.”
Disciples of Jesus must let their lives go, Weisgerber asserted. “We have to be counter-cultural people. We can’t continue living the way we live. And our young people I think are telling us that: they want a vision, they want a purpose — and the Gospel is that purpose.”
Over the past 50 years, Development and Peace has shown us a way of understanding and living the Gospel, he said. “But our challenge is to move that into the centre of the church.
“This is at the centre of our faith as Catholics, as Christians, as disciples. This is not optional for people who like it; this is what it means to be a disciple. And when we look to the future, unless we do that, I don’t think there (will be) any Development and Peace, and there will be no church in Canada.”
Weisgerber continued: “We need to allow the Gospel to challenge us, because that’s the only way to know the love that God has for us. That’s the only way. There is no other. Jesus said very clearly: if you hang onto your life for yourself, you will lose it all. If you give it away, you discover who you truly are.
“God passionately wants us to discover that we are his beloved children. He wants us to be filled with joy. I think Development and Peace truly is the way forward. It is a way in which we can and will build hope.”