Cardinal O'Brien's Address to "Make Poverty History" Rally

“Listen to the Voice of Your People!”

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EDINBURGH, Scotland, JULY 3, 2005 ( This is the address that Cardinal Keith O’Brien, archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh, gave to the “Make Poverty History” rally in Edinburgh on Saturday.

The rally was organized to demand trade justice, debt cancellation, and more and better aid for the world’s poorest countries from the heads of state that will meet in Gleneagles for the G-8 summit this week.

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In being here today, we recognize our solidarity with the poor of the world.

As the cry “Make Poverty History” rises from our lips, it finds its echo not only in other G8 countries but also in every corner of the world. As I speak, I have in my memory some of the people I have met on my own travels especially in Africa, a continent that is rich in so many ways: its mineral wealth, its faith and traditions and, above all, its people.

They are a people full of joy, of determination and hope despite the cloud of injustice that darkens their lives. Their dreams of a better life are sustained with a deep sense of hopefulness. And their hope is what feeds and nurtures our determination to join ourselves to their struggle to end the abject poverty that crucifies over one billion people across the world.

Today, I think of my visit to Ethiopia a few months ago traveling with SCIAF, our own Scottish aid agency, where I met a group of men and women living with HIV/AIDS. Moved by their courage and strength, I decided to place my white band on the wrist of their leader as a sign of solidarity and unity — to say that their struggle for justice is also ours.

I recall one of the most harrowing situations I have ever encountered when, in a series of hovels lining a riverbank, I saw a woman with leprosy caring for six people dying of Aids although she herself was obviously suffering greatly.

Surely, if people who have so little can give so much, then we, here in the richest countries in the world, can do so much more!

Message from Pope Benedict XVI

As a sign that the love for the poor is part of a constant Christian tradition, inspired by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the poor man of Nazareth, I wore my white band when the cardinals of the world came together recently to elect the new Pope.

Yesterday, I received from Pope Benedict XVI a message in which he asked me to give his greetings to you all today, “united by your concern for the welfare of millions of our brothers and sisters afflicted by extreme poverty.”

He continues: “People from the world’s richest countries should be prepared to accept the burden of debt reduction for heavily indebted poor countries, and should urge their leaders to fulfill the pledges made to reduce world poverty, especially in Africa, by the year 2015.”

Pope Benedict XVI ends by expressing his “ardent hope that the scourge of global poverty may one day be consigned to history.”

Why are we here today?

We are here today because we are scandalized by the needless suffering that poverty causes. To be passive or indifferent in the knowledge that one child dies needlessly every three seconds is to be an accomplice in barbarity!

We say to the leaders of the world’s richest nations: We have no intention of being accomplices in barbarity. There is a great realization today among the peoples of the world that we have a moral obligation to share of our goods wealth with those who have none.

Today, we are here for no other reason than because we want to stand peacefully and resolutely alongside our poorer sisters and brothers and to raise our voices on behalf of the voiceless. A society’s worth, said Mahatma Gandhi, is to be measured by the value it places on its weakest members. What we do today is a great thing!

Whatever else happens in our lives, we will not forget what is happening here today. For there can be no greater cause than to stand in solidarity with people we have never met, who live in places we have never visited, and in circumstances we will never know.

What are we saying today?

Our cry today is the legitimate voice of the people, to our elected leaders, on behalf of millions who have no voice. I summarize our cries to the G8 leaders:

(1) “Listen to the voice of your people!”

We ask you to listen to the voices of the millions of people in your countries and across the world who say now is the time to end poverty. For, if poverty does not end now, when will it end? If we do not play our part in ending poverty at this time, then who will accomplish that goal?

(2) “Be generous and just!”

We also say to our G8 leaders: “Be generous and just!” The cost of delay, of meanness, of the lack of political will, is being paid in the needless deaths of 30,000 children each day. The poor do not seek charity but justice. Canceling debt, increasing our aid, making the rules of trade fair are not acts of charity: they are long overdue acts of justice. We demand generosity and justice in our giving and in our politics.

(3) “Be aware of what your people are doing!”

We ask our leaders to be proud of their people today. As these white bands encircle our wrists, so we, through our gathering today, join together with people across the world.

Our presence here today, our demand for justice, echo those great historic campaigns to end slavery and, more recently, apartheid.

Our presence here today shows that we are:

Aware of the poverty suffered by others;
Aware of the immorality of allowing that suffering to take place;
Aware of our rights as citizens to be heard;
Aware of the men, women and children dying as we speak;
Aware that our solidarity gives us strength;
Aware that our leaders may turn a deaf ear but Almighty God hears our cry;
And aware that only together can we: Make Poverty History.


“Make Poverty History!” That is indeed our goal. That is the cry of the poor which is our cry today — and those are the words which will re-echo in the corridors of power in Gleneagles — Make Poverty History!

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