“Woe to Assyria! My rod in anger, my staff in wrath… But this is not what he intends… He says By my own power I have done it, and by my wisdom“.
These words of Isaiah pop up in my mind, reading about Cyril Mooney: why not understand those words also in positive way, following Luke’s inspiration: “This is the work of our God who comes from on high as a rising sun”? I felt that in doing so an enhanced light was shed on Justice and Peace (J&P) work of advocacy.
But, first of all, who is Cyril Mooney? She is an Irish nun who spent 60 years in India educating some of the poorest children. In 1979, she became principal of one great education establishment in Kolkata. “When I took over in Loreto Sealdah, I found that the vast majority of children on the street weren’t going to school at all”-, she says in a recent interview-. “A large number of well-fed, well-dressed children were being sent to school; on the outskirts were poor kids who were not going.”
Cyril took action, mixing rich with poor and helping children who would otherwise not have got a decent education. The parents of rich children paid fees which subsidized the poorer children going to school. It was the beginning of a “rainbow” project that brought almost half a million street kids of India into a previously well-off Loreto college. She was awarded the Padma Shri which is the highest award a civilian can get in India for her work in education.
A history of “normal and usual” commitment of religious for poor children education, then? Yes, if it weren’t for the fact that Cyril Mooney is a member of the former community of Mother Theresa of Calcutta, the Loreto Sisters, a congregation engaged in a wide variety of new ministries: literacy programs, spiritual direction, counseling, managing shelters for homeless women as well as several other actions for greater justice and peace in the world.
This gives me a hint for an often unconsidered aspect of J&P work of advocacy. Is not J&P a mental change process in matters affecting attitudes, relationships and power relations? Is it not above all an on-going progress change of personal life style that brings about a change in our surrounding milieu? Is not J&P strengthening democratic spaces in our society, opening it up to promote social justice?
When a person takes over J&P labor even on advocacy as a personal choice, she becomes a protagonist and transformer that is a call for mission in a private job. J&P on advocacy, is a renewal of a spirituality rooted in the Holy Scripture: What Yahweh requires of you: to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8). Jesus would proclaimed it as his mission style: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and new sight to the blind; to free the oppressed and announce the Lord’s year of mercy (Lk 4:18-19).
Therefore, emphasizing the personal achievement of someone in the field of J&P work of advocacy, is undermining what the Spirit of God wanted to transfuse in the society, in the Church, in a group through that person as his “rod and staff” in order to bring about changes towards a better social equitability and justice. Not even a great person can accomplish alone J&P work of advocacy. As an African proverb says: One hand washes the other and together they wash the face. The best result to be achieved is, so far, involving in this change of mentality and style of life the people we live with when acting for J&P work of advocacy.
John Paul Pezzi, mccj
VIVAT International NGO
with consultative special status at UN