It’s What Jesus Would Have Wanted

June 26, 2008

Dungu Bridge, one of the structures left behind by Belgian rule in the Congo

OK, I give in. The Church – and the Catholic Church in particular – has its uses. I’d prefer the poor of Africa to spend their money on themselves rather than giving it to their priests. But that’s an argument I’m not going to win. On the other hand, the Catholic Church has an organic, grassroots network of volunteers that offers far better coverage than the United Nations or international charities.
When I was in Dungu, in the north-eastern corner of the Democratic Republic of Congo, last week it was with the local diocese that we stayed. Sure my impeccably plumbed shower and toilet needed buckets of water to make them shower/flush. The power worked for only a couple of hours each day. And my hosts had to kick down my door after I lost my keys falling off a motorbike. But they did offer a bed in a town with nowhere else to stay.
It wasn’t the first time either. All over Kenya, in the dusty north-east or the lush west, I’ve stayed with nuns, monks and priests. All have had clean beds, showers (of a fashion) and a hearty dinner. Where the NGOs have pulled out for lack of security (as they have in Dungu) the Church goes on.
So while Tony Blair’s zealous, erm, zeal has sometimes been offputting, and surely hw could have come up with a better name than the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, I think he is right on the money when he says churches have a unique place in society that could allow them to work as forces for progress.

“If you got churches and mosques and those of the Jewish faith working together to provide the bed nets that are necessary to eliminate malaria,” says Blair, “what a fantastic thing that would be. That would show faith in action, it would show the importance of cooperation between faiths, and it would show what faith can do for progress.”

Religion has too often been a source of oppression in the developing world. But that doesn’t mean that it has to be a reactionary force. And if church hostels continue to give beds to smelly hacks in the middle of nowhere, then it can’t all be bad.
(Thanks to Kate Holt for the pic)



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