Criticising “market fundamentalism”, the Bishops’ Conference calls on “individuals, enterprises and nations” to transcend their own narrow interests, and instead guarantee everyone the right to life. If we want to guarantee peace in the world, “there is no time to lose,” the bishops said.
To emphasise its importance and policy nature, this document must be seen in conjunction with an equally solemn message titled ‘Resolution for peace’ which the bishops issued in 1995 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the end of World War Two.
In it they engaged in a courageous purification of the memory, acknowledging that the Catholic Church in Japan “had failed in the prophetic role it was supposed to play to protect human life and accomplish God’s will,” hence asked for “God’s forgiveness and that of the people who had to endure immense suffering during the war.”
If the 1995 message was a reflection on the responsibilities of the past, this year’s concerns the future.
The image of war, a demonic event that crushes human rights, links the two.
The introduction to the new message says that the General Assembly of the United Nations “adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after reflecting upon the great number of human lives destroyed in the two world wars.”
Certainly war can shake minds but cannot renew them. For the bishops “human rights are violated at home and abroad even now, 60 years after the adoption of this declaration.”
The message relies on knowing this in order to show Catholics, and at least indirectly, Japanese society, the path to follow for the future.
Citing Article 1 of the Declaration which says that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” the bishops clearly indicate its theological principle.
“Based on the Bible, we believe that God creates each human person in His image and that God-given human dignity—not created by human society—is universal and that no one can violate it.”
New human rights crisis
It would be self-defeating to say that the UN Declaration was a failure. In the past 60 years many people have worked to protect and promote human rights, in Japan as much as in other Western countries. As much as economic misery is one of the main causes for the violation of the dignity of millions of human beings, no one can deny that this country has been in the forefront of the struggle against such violation in Asia and Africa.
But it is a fact that “unequal distribution of the means of subsistence and thus the unequal distribution of benefits deriving from them (John Paul II, Encyclical Sollicitudo rei socialis) have widened the gap” between rich nations and poor peoples.
Japan’s bishops acknowledge this fact and identify the cause of such a situation in the ideology that pervades the modern world and which they call merciless “market fundamentalism.”
“Market fundamentalism,” they say, “has caused great harm like environmental degradation and climate change. It has wrecked the lives of the world’s countless poor and threatened their fundamental right to life.”
Peace under threat
Inspired by Pope Benedict XVI”s address to the United Nations, the bishops said that “if individuals, enterprises and nations continue to pursue their own self-interest, human dignity will be trampled upon and the world will become an even more violent and twisted place where victims of deprivation and desperation, whose human dignity is violated with impunity, will become easy prey for the muse of violence and will thus become themselves violators of peace.”
“There is not time to lose” is the key expression with which the bishops conclude their analysis, as they stress the crisis’ urgency.
“If we do not take up the case of the marginalised,” they warn, “we are bound, even unintentionally, to be on the side of those who say that some human rights violations are inevitable.”
For them the crisis is above all moral, not structural. “Every offence against human rights is an offence against humanity,” they said, citing John Paul II. Everyone is responsible for everyone else.
Will this Church document have any influence in a country where Catholics represent 0.5 per cent of 130 million people?
It must be remembered that the letter is meant for Catholic laymen and women, like most of the 188 Japanese martyrs beatified two weeks ago.
That beatification was a starting point for a new journey of inner and outer evangelisation, especially by the laity.
With the message on ‘Respecting everyone’s human rights’, the bishops show the first steps.