Joining here and there
Miguel Tombilla Martínez cmf
Secretary Solidarity and Mission. Prov. of Santiago
The arrival of the SDGs has changed (or has picked up a previous change) the way we understand reality. One of these fundamental changes is that we all have duties towards our planet and future generations. It is no longer a question of some richer countries helping others with fewer opportunities, but we all have to pull in the same direction, and we all have to do or not do something.
When we were first shown our planet from space, we became aware of its beauty, fragility, and limits. What was once a mere stage, the location on which we human protagonists acted, has gradually become a subject. It is not only a place that contains life, but it is life searching for balance and with wounds opened by human beings.
All of the above has led us to discover one of the basic premises of life (which was already clearly perceived from biology): that everything is connected, for better and for worse. Therefore, any omission, individual or collective action is also a moral act because it has repercussions, positive or negative, on other human beings and ecosystems.
Another great revolution is the great flow of information that we constantly have. No one can say anymore that they have no way of knowing what is happening in the world, at least from the West. Although it is also true that there is a great digital divide and that totalitarian political or unethical business interests spread disinformation and propaganda. Another paradox is that freedom of the press in many countries is never more at risk than in the past.
Laudato sí and Fratelli Tutti have also helped us in this concrete universality and the social issues that derive from it all. We have rediscovered that the problems belong to everyone, and so does the search for solutions. We have rediscovered social change and commitment to justice as central to our faith and not as mere trappings of ideologies that used to pit us against each other. We are no longer red or green; we are believers seeking solutions to problems that we help create by what we live, as individuals and as institutions. And we do it with others, men and women of goodwill whom we accompany as citizens of this great Earth for all and future generations.
From the perspective of faith, too, a rereading of the concept of catholicity is emerging from a somewhat novel perspective. Catholicity is the capacity we have as a Church (understood as the people of God, not just the hierarchy) to weave national and international networks and influence political decision-making as local communities that are part of a larger connected whole.
We still have a long way to go, but we have already been creating structures and awareness shaping different realities. An example of this is the “European Caravan of the Latin American network Church and Mining”. People from Latin American ecclesial communities are passing through different countries (Belgium, Germany, Spain, Austria…), making us realize that many of the extractive companies that operate in their countries, with almost total impunity in the face of human and environmental rights violations, are financed by the investments we make as ecclesial communities and as citizens. They have met with interlocutors from civil and ecclesial societies because they are two necessary points of reference.
Today what we are looking for is not only to solve a specific problem (which is also the case), but to continue going more and more to the root of the problem. We understand that the issues of other countries must be fought from the root causes that cause them, and these are often located in Western policies or companies (hence the importance of Political Advocacy or a Due Diligence Act).
We also believe that the West must continue to support vulnerable people and groups living in our territory, hence the importance of social action and migration, refugees, energy shortages, access to fundamental rights, etc… Societies that guarantee rights, such as ours, are not free from the great temptation of exclusionary nationalism and, more specifically, of the extreme right. Europe suffers from “populisms” in this excellent breeding ground of the successive crises we are experiencing. Almost no country in the West is free from groups that handle the language of fear and disinformation very well. It is very easy to create enemies, especially when they are the most vulnerable in society.
As institutions of faith, we also stand in defense of the most disadvantaged here and there. And even more so now that, due to the migratory movements of people, many “here” are also becoming “there” to give birth to something socially new, not without challenges. An example of this struggle is the Popular Legislative Initiative for regularizing 500,000 migrants in Spain: Essentials. Many institutions and social actors are involved, many (from the beginning) of an ecclesial nature. In this case, Redes (with more than 52 NGOs, most of them religious congregations) is part of this great conglomerate. Most of these NGOs are development NGOs; some are social action NGOs, and others, the fewest, are hybrids, as is the case of Fundación Proclade. The great treasure of Redes is to be experts in International Cooperation and all that this implies in fields such as education for global citizenship, bringing to this side of the world the realities that today are not so far away from international volunteering… But we can and know how to apply this rich experience to the European context in which we live and the cases of social intervention made from this key.
To conclude, I would like to remind us of something important that we sometimes forget. Religious congregations know a lot (we are experts, as they say nowadays) about the mission and different contexts. We are at street level and, in most cases, with a clear commitment to the most vulnerable. We are intercultural and intergenerational societies, capable of dialogue and discernment. We believe in, and practice (hopefully more and more by choice and not only by obligation) shared life and mission. We unite North and South in a natural way because we are, and we like this mixture, even if it costs us. Many of us have left and lived outside our country of origin and have experienced the difficulty and the joy of rebuilding ourselves somehow. That is why we are also a bridge between here and there. That is why our structures have been growing in this understanding of bringing the distant closer, healing wounds, seeking peace, dreaming reconciliations, caring for Creation, all from the plurality of a congregation and of a universal church steeped in the local that empowers and recreates what cannot but be connected.
Miguel Tombilla Martínez cmf
Secretary Solidarity and Mission. Santiago Province