Experts on global poverty and development gathered at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus on Sept. 26 to begin talks that will inform Pope Francis’ response to the needs of the developing world.
General Roméo Dallaire, the UN force commander during the Rwandan Hutu-Tutsi genocide, speaks about nations’ obligation to intervene.

“Poverty and Development: A Catholic Perspective,” which was co-sponsored by Fordham’s International Political Economy and Development Program, featured a multinational delegation that included the Vatican Secretary of State, Pietro Cardinal Parolin, and other high-level church officials. The conference is one of three that are being cosponsored worldwide by Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice (CAPP), the Vatican foundation created by St. John Paul II to promote Catholic social teaching.

Representatives from each of the three conferences will present their findings to the pope this spring.

“Our world has undergone seismic social changes,” said Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi, C.S., Papal Nuncio to the United Nations. “Inequality has worsened, both within developed countries and between developing and developed countries, increasing the gap between persons at the extremes of income distribution.

“There is a growing danger that this state of affairs is becoming accepted as the new normal.”

Before countries can even begin to tackle poverty, they must first address rampant violence around the world, cautioned General Roméo Dallaire, the UN force commander during the Rwandan Hutu-Tutsi genocide in 1994.

Rwanda is a grim example of the developed world’s attitude toward intervening in conflicts, the general said. In 100 days, more people were “killed, injured, internally displaced, and raped” in Rwanda than in the six years of ex-Yugoslavian warfare, which was occurring around the same time, he said.

The world came to Yugoslavia’s aid. It did not come to Rwanda’s.

Troubled by this discrepancy, General Dallaire, who is a senior fellow at the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, conducted a study, “The Will to Intervene,” to investigate how leaders decide to intervene. The team found that the decision often comes down to a single principle: What’s in it for us?

Their findings corroborated what General Dallaire had experienced firsthand. One by one, nations’ reconnaissance teams arrived in Rwanda to assess the efficacy of intervening and left advising their home countries against involvement. They argued that the country lack “strategic resources” and was not in a strategic location.

“One nation’s representative told me, ‘The only thing that’s here are human beings, and there’s too many of them anyway,’” the general said. “Humanity was not even a factor. And so, the killing went on.”

General Dallaire urged the conference participants to promote a policy of intervention based in humanitarianism, not self-interest. This is especially important in cases where children are being used in warfare, which has characterized many conflicts, including those currently plaguing the Middle East.

According to the general, the use of children in war obliges countries to intervene.

“In the past, children were used in wars in spite of their age, because they were the only fighters left. Now, we use them because of their youth. And it’s not just boys—40 percent are girls who are used as cooks, spies, and ultimately sex slaves and bush wives. This is the weaponry of our era—our children.”

Failure to intervene—both during a crisis and before one erupts—will continue to prove catastrophic.

Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi, C.S., Papal Nuncio to the United Nations.
Photo by Bruce Gilbert “The slaughter in Rwanda 20 years ago was done not by adults, but by a youth militia—young people who were indoctrinated into a political party, nurtured by a radio station, and given opportunities and empowerment,” he said. “In a country that is 90 percent Catholic, militants were able to make the youth the primary instrument to slaughter 800,000 other Catholics.”

At a dinner event later that evening, Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin described the Vatican’s stance on issues such as poverty and security. He reiterated Pope Francis’ message to the United Nations earlier this year, saying that entrepreneurship must be balanced by virtuousness in the pursuit of human progress.

“Economic activity should contribute to integral human development for everyone so that ‘humanity is served by wealth and not ruled by it,’” Cardinal Parolin said. “There must be the firm commitment to ensure that private enterprise strives for the common good. Thus, in every business activity, the personal and social virtues of honest, integrity, fair-mindedness, generosity, and concern for others should prevail over the maximization of profits.”

Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of the University, said Fordham was honored to host such a crucial discussion.

“The world is unstable, violent, and unjust—but it’s a world that, because of Pope Francis, is being called with greater urgency and effectiveness than ever before,” he said. “The least-known treasure of the Church is Catholic is social teaching. The world needs it more than ever.”

Other speakers included Chibly Cardinal Langlois, bishop of Les Cayes, Haiti, and Metropolitan Jean Clément Jeanbart, archbishop of Aleppo, Syria.


Joanna Klimaski Mercuri is a staff writer in the News & Media Relations Bureau. She can be reached at (212) 636-7175 or [email protected]