I couldn’t tell you when I first met the Edmund Rice Centre for Justice and Community Education, sometime around the turn of the century I suspect. I feel like I’ve known Phil Glendenning and his comrades there since forever, the reason being that you instantly recognise the people who you could easily be fighting alongside in the trenches of our beautiful, collective struggle for a just society.
Samuel Ruiz Garcia, who served as bishop of San Cristobal de las Casas in the Chiapas of Mexico from 1959 until 1999, famously observed:
“The only question we will have to answer at the end of time is how we treated the poor.”
It is this revolutionary calling of the gospel that I have had the privilege of witnessing, and learning from, through my time working with the Edmund Rice Centre. The praxis the Centre is anchored, like hope itself, in the concrete struggles of the oppressed in Australia and across the globe. There are no boundaries when you are engaged in these struggles, only edges that the People of God, the crushed and the cursed, the excluded and exploited, the demonised and degraded, are pushed towards and over.
Our duty, our privilege, our joy, is stand together in solidarity, defined by the Sandinistas as “the tenderness of the People”, and to build a new society whilst the old one gradually implodes.
ERC, quietly, humbly, deliberately, makes a deeply human festival of sadness and hope out of analysing the injustices that the dominant global socio-economic order is built on; building awareness of the cracks in the walls built to divide us, cracks that the flowers of hope spring from defiantly; whilst creating the spaces for collective advocacy and action by the People rather than reinforcing the paternalistic myth of the People’s inability to speak and act. As Arundhati Roy puts it so poignantly, and as the ERC knows only too well from its beautiful vocation:
“There’s no such thing as the voiceless,
Only the deliberately silenced and the preferably unheard.”
Happy 21st, comrades! Thank you.
Dr John Falzon is Chief Executive Officer of the St Vincent Paul Society National Council of Australia.