We the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in the United States, who belong to an international religious congregation of more than 2000 Roman Catholic Sisters, join with the voices around the world who are calling for the cancellation of the crushing international debt of impoverished countries by the new millennium. We agree that the year 2000 is a very appropriate time; in our bible tradition there is a call for Jubilee every 50 years, until social inequalities are rectified, slaves are freed and debts are cancelled. (See Leviticus 25:8-10; 23-28).
Cancelling debt is a matter not only of compassion but also of justice. People who are already living in dire poverty should not have to become poorer in order to pay for a debt about which they were never consulted and from which they never benefited. There is, in fact no indebtedness on the part of these people.
Our Notre Dame goals resonate with the world-wide movement of Jubilee 2000. From our beginning we have been called by our Constitutions to reach out to “the poor in the most abandoned places.” More recently, we have been called to focus on women and children. The debt itself, and especially the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs), the economic conditions imposed on debtor countries by creditor nations and institutions, are particularly hard on women and children. SAPs cause governments to reduce their spending on health, education, social services, in order to pay the debt. The suffering of women and children is increased.
Reports from our Sisters living in highly indebted countries–Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Nicaragua, Peru, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Brazil–have sensitized us to the effects of debt on women and children. In Kenya, for example, child mortality has increased because clinics, once subsidized by the government, do not give the same services. Kenya has reduced the budgets of the civil defense workers, police, fire brigade, clinics to comply with SAP regulations. In South Africa the people carry the burden of the odious debt. The people who suffered under apartheid should not pay the debt accrued by the apartheid government to further its cause. They should no pay for the instruments that tortured them.
The principles of the social teaching of the Catholic Church also resonate with Jubilee 2000. Take, for example, the principle of solidarity–a “firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good, that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual, because we are really responsible for all (John Paul II).” Solidarity is, in the case of debt, what motivates people around the world to work toward alleviating the debt burden in order to give new hope and new life for the poorest of the poor. We are all in this together.