Seeds of Change Chapter 20: Have a Prophetic Attitude

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From Vincentian Family News Blog's introduction to the Systemic Change: Seeds of Change series: Pope John Paul II encouraged people to analyze the situation of the poor carefully, to identify the structural roots of poverty, and to formulate concrete solutions.

This article concludes a twenty chapter series offered by the members of the Commission for Promoting Systemic Change about strategies that are useful, often even essential, for bringing about such change.

Adopting as its starting point a group of projects in which systemic change has actually taken place, the Commission analyzed stories of leaders of successful projects. From these stories, the Commission sought to identify the strategies that helped produce lasting change. It soon became clear that many of the strategies that led to structural changes and transformed the circumstances of individuals and communities flowed from the Gospels and from our Vincentian tradition.

Strategy 20: Have a prophetic attitude - announce, denounce, and, by networking with others, engage in actions that exert pressure for bringing about change.

Joseph P. Foley, C.M.

by Joseph P. Foley, C.M.

In the Prophet Isaiah, it is written:

They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain
or bear children for calamity,
for they shall be the offspring
of the blessed of the LORD,
and their descendants with them.
Before they call I will answer;
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall graze together;
the lion shall eat straw like the ox,
and dust shall be the serpent’s food.
They shall not hurt or destroy
in my entire holy mountain,
says the LORD. Isaiah 65:21-25

Embodying God’s Spirit, the prophet transmits to people the word that announces God’s dream for human life. In the same spirit, Jesus said

“Let the little children come to me and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter. And he took them in his arms, laid his hands on them and blessed them.” (Mark 10: 14-16)

For the majority of people in the world today, the dream is deferred and most children are far from blessed. It is not news that we live in a world where children are denied their very childhood while the societies in which they live choose to spend more money on arms than they do on education or health. We live in a world where nations can quickly find the money to fight a war yet fail to find to find the resources for simple schoolrooms.

While young children cry for milk in the middle of the night, military generals shop for air conditioned jeeps. So now, children shoot children; children go to war; children live in the streets and work in garbage dumps; children have no food, no clothes and often no one to care for them. All of this means that social systems which were designed to meet human needs are broken and it is prophetic task of Vincentian Christians to bring this fact into the light of day.

In the face of such a world, St. Vincent provides extraordinary inspiration. Describing Saint Vincent’s option for the poor, Fr. Bob Maloney succinctly states: “Saint Vincent holds out an alternative world to us and he asks us to enter into it.”

The language of human rights may not have been available to St. Vincent but he was keenly aware the reality of the violation of what we have come to call “human rights.” Grounded in a belief in the Providence of God, Vincent showed wisdom and determination and hope even in the face of doors closed tightly to the needs of children and the poor.

The stories already cited in this series of reflections on strategies for promoting systemic change provide equally inspiring examples of the prophetic character of the projects from which the strategies were drawn.

Examples abound: Fr. Norberto Carcellar’s story of the Lower Tipolo Homeowners’ Association, Inc. in which poor people, by their self-help initiatives at building community capacity, created the space to articulate, plan, implement and evaluate their own development.

In another reflection, Patricia Nava recounted the efforts of a local community in the Philippines to organize itself so that it could speak “with one loud, clear voice and transform its living conditions.” With the assistance of the Daughters of Charity, this community now has economic self-reliance, cooperatives, access to basic education, better farming, effective advocacy and a stronger community.

And so it is with all the examples offered in these reflections. Beneath the analysis, community ownership and solidarity that account for the success of such enterprises, is the guiding prophetic vision of Isaiah and Vincent.

Today, the prophetic challenge issued by Isaiah and Vincent is also captured in instruments like the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Millennium Development Goals. These instruments express the conviction that

  • all people have a human right to have their dignity acknowledged and protected;
  • that all people have a right to equitable and sustainable economic and social development;
  • that people everywhere have a right to live in peace;
  • and that the world’s people have the right to healthy, productive lives in harmony with nature.

These instruments give legitimacy and support to the effort to promote systemic change. They invite direct service and inspire the formulation and implementation of “pro-poor” laws and policies at every level of society. Given the current situation of most people in the world, these words, too, are prophetic challenge to this generation, a prayer of hope.

Civil society groups organized around their implementation are often our most natural allies in our efforts to promote sustainable systemic change in the cities, towns and countryside where we work. As disciples of Vincent, we can value these human rights frameworks and use them to network and to help bring about the systemic change we desire.

Index of Systemic Change: Seeds of Change series