Our purchases and our prayers

Published November 2011

In December 1958, Pope John XXIII denounced China’s treatment of Roman Catholics. At a consistory for the elevation of cardinals, the Holy Father noted, "For a long time Catholics throughout China have been living under the most difficult circumstances.

Missionaries, archbishops, and bishops have been accused of false crimes, thrown into prison, and finally sent into exile. Even bishops who are Chinese by birth have been put into places of confinement, and not a few have been expelled."

Little has changed in five decades. Last year, Father Bernardo Cervellera, an observer of relations between Rome and China, pointed to a number of troubling activities. He noted that in many ways "we are back in the 1950s.”

Also troubling are China’s ecological and public health issues. Massive levels of pollution continue to be a deadly byproduct of the nation’s hyper-industrialization, which has grown out of the West’s love of paying low, low prices.

When we add everything up, we soon realize that something is wrong with China. And so we ask ourselves, should we be enabling these great ills?

No, we shouldn’t, which is why Catholics should stop buying religious goods from China. Low prices for crucifixes and statues are helpful to those here of little means, but the price being paid by the real people, families, and ecology of China is quite high. And remember, some of those real people are Chinese Catholics faithful to Rome, even if in doing so they find themselves persecuted.

In another troubled region there is a group of men and women who may provide us with a different sort of alternative to China’s factories—besides, of course, the important buy-American option.

The Bethlehem Fair Trade Artisans is a business community rooted in the Holy Land that abides by “fair trade” philosophies and business practices. In part, that means they’re environmentally friendly. “Fair trade” means they seek to do business in a sustainable manner in areas where economies have failed the poor.

Originally comprised of mostly Christian families, the BFTA now has many Muslims working for and alongside Christians to make Christian religious items and many other goods, like jewelry, fine embroidery, soaps, and more. There’s a website below to browse and order from these women and men who seek to provide unique merchandise at competitive prices—and in so doing help maintain a healthy standard of living for places like Bethlehem and other areas of the Holy Land.

Suzan Sahori, the executive director of the BFTA, explained to me some of the struggles that the group faces: “Restrictions from nearby governments and the importing of very cheap replicas from foreign governments have caused a huge financial burden for the local artisans. While they continue to produce high quality handmade treasures, they are being outsold and undersold by cheap labor.”

Sahori mentioned the Israeli separation wall and other realities that make production and sales difficult for the artisans. But she noted optimism in her certainty that the principals of fair trade policies, as well as international support, can help. In time, she hopes that many small successes will show a growing audience how the fair trade practices can continue to benefit places like Bethlehem.

You and I can help this work. Our purchases and (especially) our prayers will go far to help the Bethlehem Fair Trade Artisans help their homes and families. Indeed, we should pray fervently for the intercession of St. Joseph, not just for these artisans in Bethlehem but also for the factory workers in China; both groups struggle for dignity and a fair wage in an uncertain world.

Our boycott of Chinese religious goods and our purchases from the BFTA can discourage bad practices while encouraging good. And our prayers for both peoples will be in good hands with the patron of workers. Moreover, such prayers will remind us that we share a common humanity and the same Lord, who came among us to shepherd home the many peoples of the human race.

Visit the BFTA web site here.

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About the Blog

Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.