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During the Jubilee Year of 2000, many Christians became involved in the Jubilee Debt Campaign. The largest petition in human history gathered over twenty four million signatures from 166 countries. Australia contributed nearly half a million of those signatures. Great progress has been made in the debt campaign. In countries which received debt relief, increased spending on poverty reduction has expanded education and health services and provided clean water. However, many people do not realise that the need for the Jubilee Campaign continues. Jubilee Sunday is an opportunity for Christians in Australia to remember their Jubilee Year commitment and to act and pray for the people of our world who are burdened by debt.

We live in a world where:

  • millions live in poverty and a child dies of hunger every few seconds
  • there is a great imbalance in the distribution of wealth and resources
  • extravagant life-styles are flaunted in the face of dire poverty
  • international debt has become the new form of colonialism and a modern form of slavery
  • developing countries are forced to reduce spending on health, education and other essential services so that they can meet their basic debt repayments.

While most of the country-to-country debts owed by the poorer nations have been dropped, a substantial amount is still owed to organisations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. African countries below the Sahara, where most of the poorest countries are situated, owe $90 billion to these organisations and the burden of debt stops them from solving their health and education problems and rebuilding their economies. Earlier this month, a significant event did occur with the announcement that 18 poor countries would have their debts to the World Bank, African Development Bank and International Monetary Fund cancelled by wealthy countries meeting their interest payments over the next ten years. But there are at least 40 other countries that need debt relief.

The Jubilee International Campaign has its roots in the biblical year of Jubilee: every fiftieth year was to be a jubilee year of freedom and restoration of land and dropping of debt. The Scriptures remind us that our concern for the poor is both a measure of the presence of the reign of God in our lives, and the means of increasing the opportunity for the reign of God in our world. In a recent Pastoral Letter, the Catholic Bishops of Kenya reflected on a well-known gospel passage to highlight the plight of African nations.

The efforts at debt cancellation that were made till now could be compared to the scraps that Lazarus hoped he could feed on at the rich man's table: they are illusory promises without real substances. Giving to others scraps rather than what they deserve means basically treating them in a sub-human way, not as human beings!

Catholic Bishops of Kenya, Pastoral Letter, May 17, 2005

At the United Nations Millennium Summit of September 2000, the majority of nations, including Australia, agreed to the Millennium Development Goals, specifically promising to use their resources to reduce hunger and to halve poverty by 2015. This July, the United Kingdom will host a meeting of the G8, the most powerful nations, to discuss international debt and programs to reduce poverty. In September, the United Nations will hold an assembly to discuss how to attain the Millennium Goals, especially the reduction of poverty. The words of John Paul II remind us of what the goal needs to be.

Faced with the tragic situation of persistent poverty which afflicts so many people in our world, how can we fail to see that the quest for profit at any cost and the lack of effective, responsible concern for the common good have concentrated immense resources in the hands of a few while the rest of humanity suffers in poverty and neglect? … Our goal should not be the benefit of a privileged few, but rather the improvement of the living conditions of all.

John Paul II, Lenten Message 2003, par.2

Debt cancellation is a matter of justice, not charity. Poor countries should only have to pay interest on their debts after they have spent what they need to address poverty. They should not have to reduce spending on health, education and other essential services so that they can meet debt repayments.

On Jubilee Sunday, Australians are called:

  • to act together for 100 per cent cancellation of the unpayable and unjust debt of countries trapped in the debt-poverty cycle
  • to ask politicians and leaders what they are going to do to overcome poverty
  • to demand that they act on it now.

Let us pray

We pray for the Church throughout the world, that we may be a sign of hope for the poor. God of hope: Hear our prayer

We pray for world leaders, that they may act together for the cancellation of the debt of countries trapped in the debt-poverty cycle. God of generosity: Hear our prayer

We pray for the people of countries affected by the heavy burden of international debt, that they may know a just and lasting solution to the problems they face. God of compassion: Hear our prayer

We pray for ourselves, that through our choices, actions and words we may contribute to the alleviation of poverty in our world. God of love: Hear our prayer.