AYA/ATF: Conference Begins with Focus on Neoliberalism

By Don Pribor, 23 Aug 2016, at Call to Action  

The Asian Youth Academy and Asian Theological Forum (AYA/ATF) opened in Surat Thani, Thailand with Dr. Paul Hwang and Mr. Nicholas Chinnappan of India.

Mr. Chinnappan’s lecture, “Ending Poverty and Hunger and Sustainable Development?: Grass Roots Responses” was absolutely what I hoped to hear about in Asia.  Mr. Chinnappan is a Dalit man from India, who works in land rights and community development.  His insights into the effects on Dalit (“untouchable”) communities who have been displaced by damming projects, by multinational corporations who have taken over vast expanses of land and destroyed natural resources and by the responses of progressive Dalit communities were beautiful and straightforward.

The best part of this conference is being away from America and Euro-centric ideologies.  However thoughts linger in my mind of those who deny the fact that so many suffer under policies promoted by our government and the corporations that control it.  It is unbelievably painful to sit with the knowledge that so many people in America do not question propaganda that says climate change is not a dire problem, caused by the plundering of the environment by the worldwide neoliberal economic system that makes a few rich and most of us poor.

People in this part of the world do not have such luxury—environmental degradation is before their eyes. 

There were so many great quotes from Mr. Chinnappan and the other speakers, so I’ll focus this blog on their wise words:

“60% of global capital is for armaments, defense companies.  Therefore there has to be scapegoats and tensions, to keep people divided on the lines of religion, class—to keep this economic system working.  To keep wars happening.  We need to have a separate conversation on disarmament.  There is a need to take up a very strong campaign against armaments.”

“The strength of the Dalits was living together.”

We are trying to put back together the link between the organic world and people.”

The man belongs to the earth.  The earth does not belong to the man.”

Human beings depend on nature, and nature depends on human beings

A question was posed, “What do you think about going ahead for the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development?”  Mr Chinnappan answered, to the point, “No. I think the UN Agenda always has the IMF and the World Bank’s agenda behind it, which is influenced by corporate powers and is not good for poor countries.”

“The best teachers were from my village, not from my Jesuit schools.  If you give the power to the people in the communities you will get the best solutions.”

Dr. Paul Hwang’s presentation focused on the realities of global economic inequality.  This is a topic that seems fairly new to many of the participants, though it is the backdrop to the migration and refugee issues the conference focuses.  I’ve been impressed so far by Dr. Hwang’s commentary on both the need to reform the church and the root causes of poverty and climate change.  Dr. Hwang, too did not hold back on his analysis of the church and global inequality.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from Dr. Hwang:

What is human development?  It is the poor people sitting with rich people and enjoying a meal together.”

We have many papal documents on human development, but not very much practice.  But the spirit is working, Pope Francis is saying we need to change the type of the economy, in ‘Joy of the Gospel’.  He is saying we have to change the neoliberal economy that makes everything a commodity.  It makes limitless competition, where everyone hates everyone.  What we need is new movements, to get rid of this inhumane system.

Catholics like us need a new spirituality.”

“The hierarchy may collapse, in Europe and in the West, but through some new dynamics, the people of the church working together—it will continue.”

Tuesday’s talk begins with Fr. Paul Steffen of Germany, and the “New Model of Evangelizing Mission in Light of Sustainable Ecology and Development”.  He posed the question: “What is our Mission”?  Fr. Steffen opened up the doors and windows of the lecture hall to physically show his point.  It is more beautiful this way, and I can hear little birds chirping listening and smelling the rain (it is the rainy season in Thailand) during these thoughtful presentations.

Here are some quotes from Fr. Steffen:

It’s love that saves us.  That is this mission of Jesus.  Jesus speaks in a way that speaks of the parables that the fisherman know.  Speaks to the working people.”

Quoting Jurgen Moltmann, Mr. Steffen writes “Human ecosystems has fallen out of balance and is on its way to the destruction of the earth and to self-destruction.”

The poor as well as the rich are breathing the same air, and while the rich destroy nature and environment for their materialistic projects, they force the poor at the same time to take refuge at ever new margins of nature and society where the poor also start to destroy their environment.”

“Today it is crucial to recognize the relationship between the living memory of Jesus and the catastrophic issues confronting the global community.  Ecological action can express a radical commitment to Christ and the practice of faithful discipleship.  A deeper formation in the Gospel is ultimately the fruit of commitment to eco-justice, sustainability of the earth, and engagement with the poor.  This deeper formation in the Gospel is realized through contemplation of the mystery of God-Trinity in relation with the Creation.”

Fr. Allwyn D’Silva of India also spoke Tuesday, and his presentation “Unstoppable Urbanization Today and Tomorrow in Asia: Can we make Cities Sustainable?” was another gem.

Urbanization is associated with a host of problems: What is sustainable development, he asks?  It is preserving our resources for the  next generation.

Why are people so poor in India, why are there so many slums?  Because huge corporations have taken over their land, pushed them into cities.  The causes of poverty are not illusive.

Fr. D’Silva’s talks today focused on community development and the power of grassroots movements.

“One of the main best practices for sustainable development is decentralizing power. Putting the power back into the hands of the people.”-Fr. D’Silva

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