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Christmas refugees and fair trade


Christmas is much more than Santa Claus and consumerism. It is about compassion, love for the poor and seeking justice. Jesus was sent to help change the world. We must carry on this mission but we also have to understand what that challenge is.

The economic system is constantly depriving the poor of land and livelihood, fairness is excluded and corruption and exploitation take over. Unjust trade policies and practices are growing and have caused great damage to families.

Pope Francis condemned this runaway economic system, quoting a fourth century bishop as calling it the dung of the devil.

In The Philippines, it is said that 140 politically powerful families control the congress and, consequently, the lives of 100 million Filipinos. St. Joseph is a representative of the many poor Filipinos who suffer from deprivation because of this unjust power system.

There was a great moment during the visit of Pope Francis to Bolivia, when he supported the rights of farmers and peasants. He was in the city of Santa Cruz, where the second world meeting of popular movements gathered.

Millions of poor are living outside the normal economy. They are mostly people on the peripheries of society—landless and displaced people, poor and unemployed—they are the voiceless.

But Pope Francis gave them a voice around the world. He told the leaders that he stood with the voiceless in their demands for justice, social and economic inclusion. This is his mission of lifting up the downtrodden and sending the rich away empty-handed, as the gospel song, the Magnificat says.

“Let us not be afraid to say it: we want change, real change, structural change,” Pope Francis said in reference to the injustice of the globalisation of an economic system that has imposed the mentality of profit at any price, with no concern for social exclusion or the destruction of nature.

He added, “This system is by now intolerable: farm workers find it intolerable, labourers find it intolerable, communities find it intolerable, people find it intolerable. The Earth itself—our sister, Mother Earth, as St. Francis would say—also finds it intolerable.”

He called riding roughshod over the rights of the poor a new form of colonialism, which, like the Spanish empire, regrettably backed by the Church, damaged local people and their culture in the name of kings, emperors and big traders.

“The new colonialism takes on different faces. At times it appears as the anonymous influence of mammon: corporations, loan agencies, certain free trade treaties and the imposition of measures of austerity, which always tighten the belt of workers and the poor,” the pope said.

The gospel values of fairness, economic and social justice are extremely important today. We need to know how and why this is happening and what it means in the daily lives of the discarded people.

Fair trade is one way to do this. It is a movement that creates an alternative way of doing business with honesty, profit-sharing and positive empowerment of the poor so that they can be educated and break the cycle of poverty.

In developed countries, as well as in developing countries, more people are producing goods and food under fair trade conditions, becoming avenues for fair earnings and social development projects.

Fair trade brings together the producer and the consumer in a positive, respectful partnership; the buyer knows the producer and how the food or the products are produced.

The poor suffer depression of a kind that most citizens of developed countries and economies cannot understand. Welfare and unemployment benefits are unheard of in developing countries. In this ocean of unfair trading and economic activity, the rulers and the rich are the characters in the story of Jesus that contrasts with the life of Dives, the rich man in the palace at whose gates Lazarus begged for the crumbs that fell from the table. 

Jesus, Mary and Joseph suffered rejection and poverty, had assassins chasing them but escaped as refugees to Egypt. Today, we see many refugees welcomed and others made unwelcome and rejected.

It is an image of our world today.

• Father Shay Cullen