CANADA: 'The poor can wait no longer,' says primate at Walk of Witness

September 26, 2008

With a federal election to be held October 14, the leaders of Canadian Anglicans and Lutherans say ending poverty at home and abroad must be a priority for the newly formed government.

In a joint statement read at the end of an ecumenical "Walk of Witness" in Ottawa September 25, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, and Bishop Susan Johnson, national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, said Canadians care about the poor. "According to a recent Angus Reid poll, poverty ranks among the top four issues in the current federal election campaign," they stated.

The two church leaders said that on a global scale, 1.4 billion people live in conditions of extreme poverty and that every three seconds a child dies from poverty-related causes. "Every day, 50,000 people die," they said. "Every night 800 million people lie down in hunger."

In Canada, 770,000 people -- 40 percent of them children -- rely regularly on food banks, said the two leaders. "In 1989, Members of Parliament made a pledge to end child poverty by the year 2000. Eighteen years later the child poverty rate remains the same -- 12 percent. They added, "In First Nations communities, 25 percent live in poverty."

The church leaders read the two-page statement as a public "Act of Witness" outside the U.N. Association Office in Ottawa following the "Walk of Witness" in support of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The event coincided with the gathering of world leaders at the United Nations in New York held in an attempt to ramp up the world's commitment to the MDGs.

The five-hour program in Ottawa began with a worship service at Christ Church Cathedral where signs naming the eight MDGs were held up by participants, including Bishop John Chapman of the Diocese of Ottawa, Bishop George Bruce of the Diocese of Ontario and Bishop Philip Poole, suffragan bishop of Toronto. The MDGs are: eradicate extreme hunger and poverty; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and develop a global partnership for development.

"Today we call on world leaders, including our own prime minister, to keep their promises and to establish a timeline for achieving these goals," said Hiltz. "The poor can wait no longer."

The primate added, "Today we stand committed with millions of people throughout the world in making poverty history. We are heartened by the call of the general secretary of the United Nations, who has said that this year must be one of unprecedented progress for the poorest of the poor."

Johnson led the gathering in the prayer of confession and in the closing responses.

In a reflection, Deacon Maylanne Maybee, ecojustice coordinator for the Anglican Church of Canada, said that the federal election campaign is a good time to talk to the politicians. "Hold them to account," she said. "Ask them what they plan to do."

She said "Canada is doing very poorly" in the goal of dedicating 0.7 percent of its gross national income to foreign aid. "Out of 20 countries we rank number 16 and we are giving less than 0.28 [percent] of our gross national income for foreign aid."

"You can hold our politicians to account," she said. "You can ask them how they plan to meet this goal. And you can ask yourselves what it might cost you as a taxpayer and citizen from the country you are part of. You can pray and you can fast."

The Walk of Witness covered almost 25 blocks in the downtown area, winding its way to several points including the Human Rights Monument, the National War Memorial, and the Women are Persons Monument and the Centennial Flame, both on Parliament Hill.

The participants -- about 60 people -- were divided into three groups led by the primate, Johnson and Chapman. "What we are is a prayerful pilgrimage, praying about Millennium Development Goals as we move through the city of Ottawa," said Canon Bill Prentice of the Diocese of Ottawa. "Pilgrimage and prayer -- this is active witnessing of our desire to see the MDGs fulfilled, of our desire to be in solidarity with those whose lives are affected because the goals are not yet fulfilled."