Issues

Thinking Globally - Our Continued Call to Global Solidarity

Fall 2022

BRUCE COMPTON

Some time ago, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a statement, "Called to Global Solidarity: International Challenges for U.S.Parishes," to ground their approach as a call to action for all pastors, parish leaders and other involved Catholics. The opening paragraph reads: 

"At a time of dramatic global changes and challenges, Catholics in the United States face special responsibilities and opportunities. We are members of a universal Church that transcends national boundaries and calls us to live in solidarity and justice with the peoples of the world. We are also citizens of a powerful democracy with enormous influence beyond our borders. As Catholics and Americans, we are uniquely called to global solidarity."1

While it has been 25 years since its initial publication, this statement is one that I often return to. Many of its concerns still remain timely, and while it is heartening to think of how much has changed, it is also startling to think of how much has not. 

Within this statement, a list of global issues calling American Catholics to solidarity is marked with the subhead, "Signs of the Times." These "signs of suffering and need" were reflective of 1997's global landscape, one defined by a rapid spread of information through the internet, which raised awareness and corresponding global concern. They feel just as urgent — and in some cases more so — in 2022. Our call to address the health care needs of our global partners continues to propel us forward to develop collaborations that foster equity and sustainable improvements for our international communities.

EXPANDING GLOBAL REACH
Today, genocide and ethnic violence are still prevalent globally, notably for the Uyghurs and Rohingya people in China and Myanmar. Foreign debt continues to cripple countries around the world, and low-income country debt rose to a new record in 2020.2 Multiple wars and ongoing ethnic conflicts have created refugee crises around the world. The United States-Mexico border has been effectively turned into a political volleyball with little direct movement toward humane migration policies, while an ongoing humanitarian crisis caused by poverty and violence rages in Latin America and beyond. The climate crisis continues to exacerbate these issues, yet we continue to lose ground as some of the world's most powerful institutions hamper our ability to build consensus and enact needed change.

Still, there is always room for hope. As the U.S. and international dioceses came together with parishes and universities to form new partnerships, relationships with health care institutions in low- and-middle-income countries began to develop. While Catholic health care was not specifically highlighted in the 1997 statement, CHA and its members have stepped up, and many have invested in the USCCB's call to global solidarity.   

Drawing inspiration from CHA's "We Are Called" action plan statement to address ongoing health and racial disparities in our communities, I'm encouraged by the ways our organization has sought to put "our own house in order."3 In recent decades, CHA and its members have thoughtfully approached how we do global health work, with greater emphasis on broadening who is at the table when decisions are made, and, as we partner on sustainable solutions, actively listening to foreign communities as they identify their own needs.

CHA has now developed global health into a focus area, dedicating time, money and creative resources into addressing international health partnerships. We have worked with our members to develop "Guiding Principles for Conducting International Health Activities"4 that help to appropriately position partnerships from the outset. Using these principles, we encourage systems to simultaneously invest in localization and decolonization of global health infrastructure. This is the true spirit of solidarity.

CONTINUING OUR GLOBAL COMMITMENT
Yet, there always remains room to do more. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted inequities, complexities and challenges in global health. A lack of infrastructure, logistics and financial resources continues to hamper vaccine access in many low-income countries. Ongoing wars and conflicts created a global migrant population of millions of people, including many who have no access to health care and are rarely represented in global health data.5

The bishops' statement reminds us that, "the Church's teaching on international justice and peace is not simply a mandate for a few large agencies, but a challenge for every believer and every Catholic community of faith." Living out the call to global solidarity can feel overwhelming when we consider the multitude of challenges that we face in the Catholic health care ministry. The easy response would be to step aside and let someone else handle it. But that was not the reaction of our predecessors in Catholic health care, and if we remain true to our Gospel calling, it won't be ours, either. 

Twenty-five years of distance between the bishops' call in this statement and our current moment have revealed that these global challenges aren't going away. Considering this hard truth, let us reflect on the true nature of the Church, one that transcends national boundaries. A church focused on collaboration creates the possibility of involving more skills, talents and resources into much-needed global work; it can also serve as an example of solidarity in our fractured world. Let us continue to strategize and think creatively about investing in global health partnerships. Let us work toward equity and decolonization. And just as importantly, let us be a church that answers our Gospel call to peace, justice and solidarity.

BRUCE COMPTON is senior director, global health, for the Catholic Health Association, St. Louis.

NOTES

  1. "Called to Global Solidarity International Challenges for U.S. Parishes," United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, November 12, 1997, https://www.usccb.org/resources/called-global-solidarity-international-
    challenges-us-parishes
    .
  2. "Low-Income Country Debt Rises to Record $860 Billion in 2020," The World Bank, October 11, 2021, https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2021/10/11/low-income-country-debt-rises-to-record-860-billion-in-2020.
  3. "We Are Called," Catholic Health Association, https://www.chausa.org/cha-we-are-called.
  4. "Guiding Principles for Conducting International Health Activities," Catholic Health Association, https://www.chausa.org/store/products/product?id=4423.
  5. "Refugee and Migrant Health," World Health Organization, https://www.who.int/health-topics/refugee-and-migrant-health#tab=tab_1.

 

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