On a recent evening I sat amid a packed house at St. Thomas Church in Toronto to hear Lt. General Romeo Dallaire deliver the inaugural lecture of the Gene Stewart Lecture with the theme “Repairing the World.”
General Dallaire commanded the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda in 1994, and later wrote of the experience in the book, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda.
In taking us back to Rwanda, he told the story of a four year old who had been orphaned by the massacre of his parents. “Taking the child in my arms”, he said, “I looked into his eyes …I saw the eyes of my own four year old.” He saw the trust, hope and resilience of every child. He saw the sadness, the suffering and the destiny of this child. He saw a human being of as much value as any other.
Then the General took us to other places like Sri Lanka, the Darfur region of Sudan, Kenya and Afghanistan, reminding us that 20 per cent of the world’s people live in opulence while 80 per cent live in inhuman conditions. The two-and-a-half million people who live in Darfur have nothing. “Nothing, nothing, nothing!” he repeated.
And then, looking into our eyes, he posed two questions, “Where is Canada?” and “Where are you?”
Everyone present was challenged to lobby politicians for strength of political will to repair the world, to support non-governmental organizations, to become activists. He particularly encouraged young people to seize opportunities for influencing decision makers beyond national self-interest to what is in the best interests of the world.
Engaged as we were by General Dallaire’s passion, another question came to my mind, “Where’s the church?”
I immediately thought of the work to which so many are so committed through the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund and Partnerships throughout the world. I thought of the Jubilee Initiatives for Reduction of Debt and Redistribution of Wealth and of ongoing works sponsored by Kairos: the Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives. And then I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of work yet to be done. I thought of the crying need for some dramatic shifts in our priorities as a church “in the service of God’s mission in the world.”
I also thought of the urgent need to raise awareness of the UN Millennium Development Goals, which include eradicating poverty and hunger, reducing child mortality, promoting gender equality and empowerment of women, ensuring environmental stability and combatting AIDS, malaria and other diseases.
To stand with people of other faith traditions in holding political leaders accountable in their commitment to achieve these goals by 2015 is to be faithful to The Holy One who looks into our eyes and says, “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being?” (The Baptismal Covenant, Book of Alternative Services).
Archbishop Fred Hiltz is primate of the Anglican Church of Canada. This is his first in what will be a regular column in the Anglican Journal.