Concept of biblical jubilee comes to life

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi (CNS/Paul Haring)

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi (CNS/Paul Haring)

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi preferred that the focus wasn’t on him.

The real attention should be on the difficult work needed to protect poor people in developing nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America from predatory lending practices that deprive them of life’s necessities, he told a Capitol Hill dinner hosted by the Jubilee USA Network the evening of Nov. 10.

The archbishop accepted being named a Jubilee Champion by the Jubilee USA Network by saying people of faith must unite in solidarity with the world’s most vulnerable people by seeing their suffering.

He recalled how he learned what it means to help with development of a country when he served as apostolic nuncio to Ethiopia and Eritrea and later Djibouti.

“You can study it in school. There are courses on development. There are long debates (about development) in parliaments or the Congress of the U.S., but you need to go and see what a village is like,” he said, describing his work in bringing clean water to poor communities.

“Unless you participate in the actual life of the people you have a hard time to understand the needs and the aspirations of these communities,” said the archbishop, who retired in February as the Vatican observer to the U.N. agencies in Geneva and is credited for securing a key agreement on debt relief, tax policy changes and trade reform for developing countries.

Such experiential learning will bring greater understanding among people, he said.

“So all the efforts that people in Congress are making to build bridges instead of building walls becomes the real main road in which it is possible to build peace,” he continued. “Instead of enforcing with force concepts of public life, I think this kind of dialogue of reality is going to really transform society.”

Archbishop Tomasi was one of four Jubilee Champions honored for their work on debt relief efforts at the dinner. Others were Spencer Bachus, a former Republican member of Congress from Alabama who ushered legislation through Congress that led to more than $130 billion in debt relief; Kent Spriggs, a Florida attorney who was the lead author of “amicus curiae” brief spearheaded by Jubilee USA, signed by 80 faith-based organizations and filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in a 2014 case that helped Argentina block the predatory debt collection practices of a so-called “vulture fund”; and Ruth Messinger, former president of American Jewish World Service and co-founder of Jubilee USA 20 years ago.

Eric LeCompte, Jubilee USA Network executive director, said the four honorees were crucial to the organization’s success, but more importantly showed that their commitment can serve as a strong example of solidarity with the world’s poorest communities.

Jubilee USA is a network of more than 75 U.S. organizations, more than 650 faith communities and more than 50 worldwide partners. The organization embraces the biblical concept of jubilee, which calls for a year of liberation, wiping clean old debts and beginning a new period of equality and understanding.

The Vatican explains that the jubilee derives from the Hebrew word “jobel,” or ram’s horn. It was the ram’s horn that was used as a trumpet to announce the beginning of the jubilee year as described in the Book of Leviticus. Such years occurred every 50 years.

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