Article by Fr. Paul Hansen, C.Ss.R.
They were exciting times and, for me personally, inspirational.
The newly elected Pope John XXIII had asked that Western Europe and North America send missionaries to the Global South, especially Latin America. Religious Orders and Communities responded positively to the degree they could.
Pope John called for a new Vatican Council. It began in 1962 and ended in 1965. The hope, dreams and struggles of men and women of this age were to be taken seriously and a new breeze and breed flowed through the aging institution. In 1967 Pope Paul VI promulgated an Encyclical – Popolorum Progressio (On The Development of Peoples). This writing will probably go down in history as his greatest moment. If you want peace, then work for justice was its main thrust. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops responded in forming Development and Peace.
Pope Paul VI also asked the Religious Orders to renew their Constitutions and Statutes so that they might be in line and reflect the teachings of the Vatican Council and the signs of the times. And so they did.
In 1968 the Latin American Church responded to the Vatican Council with a meeting in Medellin that birthed, reflecting the gospel mandate, a preferential option for the poor. Liberation Theology was born. The tools of social analysis were employed and the conviction arose that all budgets and financial statements were theological documents with a moral imperative. As the encyclical On The Development of Peoples pointed out, the call was to move from less to more human conditions. Poverty was seen to be a scourge. Housing, health, education, participation in governance among others were the call.
In the 70’s things began to heat up in Latin America. In 1973 (9/11) Salvador Allende, the democratically elected President of Chile was executed in a coup. Central America was headed toward major upheavals. Missionaries returned to Canada and the U.S. These returning missionaries and others were able to influence the mainline Churches in Canada to develop inter-Church coalitions for justice as it was becoming very clear that many problems in the global south originated in the north.
During this time in Canada, the Canadian Bishops and the Religious Orders were caught up with other Churches in this Gospel imperative to be concerned about the poor, the marginalized and the abandoned. The Bishops wrote excellent social documents. Their Labour Day Statements were prophetic. The Religious Orders took on a prophetic posture in both Church and state.
In Ontario the Canadian Religious Conference founded a Social Action Committee (CRC-O, SAC). Religious communities sent their more progressive members, filled with this prophetic spirit and the vision of the Vatican Council to be members of this effort. So religious like Frances Ryan, Noel O’Neill and Frank Maloney, to name but only three of the many, began to reflect on how as institutions living here in Canada we might respond to the so-called Third World in our midst. Treasurers of the various communities were called in. The Canadian Alternative Investment Cooperative was born. CAIC became an investment vehicle for these founding religious communities to split interest and create a pool of monies so that socially committed projects finding it difficult in securing financing for their action could have resources. In this way, not only individual religious but also religious institutions could use their resources to further a commitment to the poor, the marginal and the most abandoned. One might say – an Institutional Pastoral Gesture. Twenty-eight years later, and although the times have changed, this commitment is still being realized.