Controversy: Faith of a Woman with head and heart in the right place

Dr Lesley Anne Knight

ROME –  Two weeks after Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, the Caritas Internationalis (CI) president, informed Caritas member charities that Dr Lesley-Anne Knight had been blocked by the Vatican from running for a second term as CI secretary general, Dr Knight delivered an impassioned defence of the Catholic identity of Caritas to a gathering in Edmonton, Canada. Those present included Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton. The speech is a long one – 3,000 words. Here is a summary. Pl click on the link below to read the full text.
But whatever local expressions of devotion form part of the celebration, I know that the heart of the Mass remains the same. Wherever I may be in the world, through the Eucharist, I know that I share in a communion with my brothers and sisters in Christ.
As Benedict XVI puts it: “I cannot possess Christ just for myself; I can belong to him only in union with all those who have become, or who will become, his own. Communion draws me out of myself towards him, and thus also towards unity with all Christians.”
The Eucharist also makes me think of the wider symbolism of breaking bread, of sharing food and drink with others. Even when we encounter language difficulties and unfamiliar customs, there is something about sitting down to share a meal or a drink with people that makes us realise we are indeed part of one human family.
I have experienced this many times. And when that food and drink is offered by people living in the favelas of Sao Paulo; in a refugee camp in Darfur; or a flooded village in India; it is always a humbling experience.
Pope Benedict says: “Eucharistic communion, includes the reality both of being loved and of loving others in turn.” But he adds: “A Eucharist which does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented.”
If we see the world as one human family, how can we bear to see our brothers and sisters suffering? How can we tolerate the fact that one billion of them live in extreme poverty? That 30,000 people die every day from malnutrition and preventable diseases.
I am sometimes asked why, as a Catholic organisation, we deliver aid to people of other faiths, such as Muslims and Buddhists. My answer is that we help people not because they are Catholics, but because we are Catholics. The Church that I believe in is catholic. Our ‘concrete practice of love’, which we also know as caritas or charity, must therefore be ‘all-embracing’.
This was what the Good Samaritan experienced when he saw the injured man lying at the side of the road.
When you have been to places like Darfur and spoken to Muslim women who have seen their husbands killed and then been raped by militiamen; when you have met the survivors of a devastating earthquake in Pakistan; when you have talked to Buddhists in Sri Lanka who lost loved ones in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami or the country’s bitter civil war; then there can be no question of ignoring the suffering of these people. In the words of Pope Benedict the “heart sees where love is needed and acts accordingly.”
I grew up amidst the evil that is racism. I was born in Zimbabwe, then known as Rhodesia, and as a little girl I used to wonder why there were no black children at my school. We used to pass them in the car as they walked to their schools and I used to wonder why their schools were so run down and scruffy, why they didn’t have school uniforms, and why they had no shoes on.
Later, when I went to university in Cape Town, I encountered racism in the extreme form of South African apartheid. Everything labelled – entrances, even park benches – for either Blacks or Whites. From the impeccably kept grounds of Cape Town University I could look across the bay to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated. I was lucky enough to escape from the oppressive atmosphere of apartheid South Africa, but when I left, Nelson Mandela still had another 15 years to serve in prison.
Experiences like these left a profound impression on me and convinced me that there can be no place for prejudice and discrimination in the Catholic Church that I believe in.
When I went to Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake, I was working as International Director of CAFOD, our Caritas member organisation for England and Wales. I was accompanied on the visit by the chairman of our board Bishop John Rawsthorne. After a terrifying journey in the back of a jeep, following a tortuous road up into the mountains, we arrived at the small village where CAFOD was working with Caritas Pakistan, distributing tents and blankets and setting up a clinic. During the visit, Bishop John met the local imam, who found it difficult to comprehend why a Christian bishop should come all the way from England to visit this isolated village. He was nevertheless pleased to see him. And here, amidst the devastation, I witnessed a brief, precious moment of compassion, empathy and solidarity between these two men.
These sort of encounters are repeated over and over again during the course of our work, and I am convinced that each one sows a small seed of peace and understanding in a world that often appears to be under threat from religious fundamentalism and extremism.
Our work in countries like Pakistan, Iraq, Occupied Palestinian Territories, Somalia, Sudan, Burma and Sri Lanka has to be conducted with great discretion and sensitivity. We can only work in these countries by maintaining the strictest standards of integrity. Pope Benedict explicitly states that charity should never be used as means of proselytism.” (DCE, 31a) “Those who practise charity in the Church’s name will never seek to impose the Church’s faith upon others,” he says. But that does not mean that through our actions we do not witness to God’s love for humanity.
One of my favourite stories on the theme of sharing food originates from the Far East and describes visions of heaven and hell. The vision of hell is of a beautiful marble banqueting hall in which there is a long table laden with delicious food. The inhabitants of hell are seated on both sides of the table and are given chopsticks with which to eat the food. But the chopsticks are a metre long and they are unable to get the food to their mouths.
In the vision of heaven we see exactly the same scene – except that in heaven each person is using their long chopsticks to feed the person on the other side of the table.
Posted by Ms Lesley-Anne Knight, head of Caritas Internationalis, 3 March 2011, 9:00



Filed under Caritas Internationalis, Catholic Church, Lesley-Anne Knight, Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga

2 responses to “Controversy: Faith of a Woman with head and heart in the right place

  1. JI

    There’s probably more than meets the eye. I don’t think the Vatican would have taken a step like this so lightly. There must have been good reasons to send her packing. From what she says of Caritas, it sounds as though she wants it to be no different from any other secular charity. But this is supposed to be a Catholic organization and it has to have a Catholic ethos including evangelisation.

    It is important that a charity under Rome upholds Catholic teaching. Perhaps some Caritas workers are providing condoms in sub-Saharan Africa a bit too liberally without proper consideration of Catholic moral theology. Also it is clear Ms Knight has openly criticised the Vatican a number of times. This gives the impression she knows best and the Vatican is wrong. Ms Knight seems to have a streak of militant and disobedient feminism which is so common nowadays.

  2. The Struggle of Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians for
    scheduled caste status
    There is no reason to not include Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians in the
    category of Scheduled Castes because these Dalits share the same socioeconomic
    status, and stigma also, as their counterparts in the Hindu
    community, concludes the report prepared by National Commission of
    Minorities (NCM).
    The report titled “Dalits in the Muslim and Christian Communities: A Status
    Report on Current Social Scientific Knowledge” reveals that economically and
    educationally, the condition of Dalit Muslims is generally poorer than other
    Dalits, and Dalit Christians too lag behind upper caste Christians on that
    front. The NCM thinks that the report is an important development in that the
    courts have been repeatedly asking for objective data for providing
    constitutional facilities to Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians also. And it
    rightly thinks so.
    Discussing the social conditions of Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians, the
    report says, “There can be no doubt whatsoever that Dalit Muslims and Dalit
    Christians are socially known and treated as distinct groups within their own
    religious communities. Nor is there any room for disputing the fact that they
    are invariably regarded as ‘socially inferior’ communities by their coreligionists.
    In short, in most social contexts, Dalit Muslims and Dalit
    Christians are Dalits first and Muslims and Christians only second.”
    Some may argue the NCM conclusions, but there is no denying the fact that
    Dalits in Muslim and Christian communities are not taken socially at par with
    other castes in them.
    The report further says, “While the overall status imposed on Dalit Muslims
    and Dalit Christians is always that of an inferior group, the manner in which
    social distance or superiority is asserted by non-Dalits (and specially the
    ‘upper’ castes) varies both across Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians and also
    across regions and contexts. Such variation is present in all Dalit
    communities of all religions.” The report, however, admits that practices of
    discrimination and exclusion against Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians cannot
    be described as intensified.
    The report also talks about social, cultural and religious segregation faced by
    Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians. “Social segregation extends to the sphere
    of worship and religious rituals, with separate churches and priests being
    almost the norm among Dalit Christians and not uncommon among Dalit
    Muslims,” the report concludes. The report has found that occupational
    segregation, economic exploitation and untouchability, though not intense,
    are also prevalent in the communities.
    Equipped with the much-sought after study, the NCM would like to present
    the case of reservation for Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians before the
    government. But there are some legal hurdles in the way. Not only NCM but
    social and political pressure groups from the concerned communities will
    have to work extra time to remove these hurdles first.
    Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians cannot be included among Scheduled
    Castes, and thus they cannot be granted reservation, thanks to the
    Presidential Order of 1950. That order denies inclusion of Dalits of any
    community other than Hindu in the Scheduled Castes category. The third
    paragraph of the order says, “notwithstanding anything contained in para 2,
    no person who professes a religion different from Hinduism shall be deemed
    to be a member of the Scheduled Castes.”
    For announcing the Constitution Scheduled Castes Order 1950, paragraph 3
    as ultra virus and ultra motive against the secularism of our esteemed Indian
    constitution, Centre for Public Interest Litigation (Represented by former Law
    Minister of India and eminent Advocate Mr. Shanthi Bhushan and Advocate
    Mr. Prashant Bhushan) and Franklin Caesar Thomas had collectively filed the
    civil writ petition in the supreme court of India on 22.03.2004. This petition
    was filed by CPIL for getting the Scheduled Castes status to convert
    Christian, Muslim members of the enumerated castes people of India.
    Concerned with the above said civil write petition: 180, year 2004, Union of
    India had referred this matter to National Commission for Religious and
    Linguistic Minorities. NCRLM had positively recommended to Union of India
    for granting Scheduled Castes status to the above said people by deleting the
    paragraph 3 (as per the media report). After agreeing in the Supreme Court,
    based up on the NCRLM Report, Ministry of Social Justice had asked the
    National Commission for Scheduled Castes to give comment regarding the
    extension of Scheduled Castes privileges to these people by giving one set of
    the NCRLM report to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes.
    By accepting the Social, educational, economical and cultural backwardness
    of the Christians and Muslims of the Scheduled Castes origin people,
    Scheduled Castes Commission had asked the Union of India for granting
    them the Scheduled Castes status. As per the constitutional power of the
    Indian Constitution Article 338, sub division 9, National Commission for
    Scheduled Castes had accepted and recommended to grant Scheduled Castes
    status to these people.
    As per the above said recommendation, the above said Dalit Muslim and Dalit
    Chirtian people are facing and affected by the traditional practice of
    untouchability in the major civil society and in their religious society.
    As per the revised modalities of the Union of India for getting Scheduled
    Castes status to a particular community, state Governments should
    recommend to Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. Then Census
    Commissioner and the Registrar General of India should give
    recommendations for these communities to be treated as Scheduled Castes.
    Then finally, National Scheduled Castes Commission for Scheduled Castes
    should give positive recommendation regarding the proposal. Then the Group
    of Ministers or the Cabinet should pass resolution to bring bill in Parliament.
    In our issue, up to this time twelve state Governments and Union Territories
    had recommended to Union of India for granting the SC status to these
    people : in the year 2000, Bihar State Assembly had passed resolution for
    granting SC status to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims; in the year 2006
    Uttar Pradesh State Assembly had passed resolution in the state assembly
    for granting the SC status to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims, in the year
    2009, Andra Pradesh state Government had passed resolution in its assembly
    for granting the SC status to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims . Without
    referring the matter to the Registrar General of India, directly Union of India
    had asked the National Commission for Scheduled Castes to give comments,
    as per the Government’s desire, NCSC had asked the Union of India to grant
    SC status to these people. Scheduled Castes Commission’s entire
    recommendation was submitted in the Apex Court of India by the Additional
    Solicitor of India concerned with the above said Civil Writ petition No: 180,
    year 2004. On 23.01.2008, the Additional Solicitor General of India had
    asked the Apex Court to grant eight weeks time to take a decision in the
    Cabinet, Group of Ministers meeting for bringing reply to the Apex Court of
    India. But still Union of India did not file any reply in the Supreme Court of
    India as per their Commitment.
    With out proper evidences, materials, Union of India had granted Scheduled
    Castes status to Dalit Sikhs and Dalit Buddhist. If question is raised for
    granting the Scheduled Castes status to Dalit Buddhist and Dalit Sikhs, it is
    told that Sikhism and the Buddhism are the off shoot of Hinduism. If it was
    so, in the year 1950 itself these people would have been treated as
    Scheduled Castes, why did the Union of India separately added Sikhism in
    the year 1956 and the Buddhism in the year 1990, particularly in the
    Presidential Order 1950, paragraph 3.
    As per the National Commission of Minorities Act 1993, Buddhism and
    Sikhism are the separate religions from Hinduism. When the Sikhism and
    Buddhism do not recognize the untouchability and casteism, they had been
    given the Scheduled Castes status.
    For proving the social, educational, economical and cultural backwardness of
    Dalit Christians with Dalit Hindus, Union of India is having the Mandal
    Commission’s Recommendation, NCRLM Recommendation, National
    Commission for Minorities Recommendation, National Commission for
    Scheduled Castes recommendation, Detailed study done by Delhi University’s
    Professor Dr. Satish Despande (Financed by Union of India’s National
    Commission for Minorities), Sachar Committee (High Power Committee of the
    Prime Minister of India) Recommendations regarding the extension of
    Scheduled Castes privileges to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims, Cabinet
    Note of the Year 1996 for granting the Scheduled Castes status to Christians
    of Scheduled Castes Origin and various state Governments’ state commission
    recommendations. The above said Commission Reports prove the traditional
    practice of untouchability which is faced by Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims
    in the civil society and in their religious society par with Hindu Scheduled
    Castes. Untouchability is a professional oriented discrimination in the society.
    We do not want reservation to the elite people among Christians and
    Muslims. But we want the Scheduled Castes reservation to the people whose
    castes names are there in the Schedule of the Union of India who are
    socially, educationally, economically and culturally backward par with Dalit
    Hindus. The only stumbling block, paragraph three of the Constitution
    Scheduled Castes Order 1950 should be deleted or amended to take the
    religious ban (by bringing bill in Parliament) Or it should be striked by the
    Apex Court of India as unconstitutional one.
    United Nations Human Rights Council’s Committee on the Elimination of
    Racial Discrimination had strongly recommended to Union of India in the year
    2007, March for granting the Scheduled Castes status to these people. United
    Nations Socio Economic Council and the Special Rapporteur on Religious
    Tolerance of U N Human Rights Council had stressed the Union of India for
    granting the Scheduled Castes status to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims
    based up on violation of Human Rights basis.
    Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims are not living in their worshipping places,
    but they dwell in the society where casteism prevails. Upper strata of the
    Christian, Muslim and Hindu high castes people are treating these people as
    untouchables, so Scheduled Castes reservation should be extended to these
    people forthwith.
    We are pleased to request Union of India to file reply in the Apex Court of
    India as soon as possible based up on the above said Union of India’s own
    Shanmohamed inamdar

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