Recently Archbishop John Dew invited people to join him for a picnic in Parliament grounds, his invitation included Members of Parliament to come along during their dinner break. The purpose was to share food and fellowship but also to highlight the growing inequality and poverty throughout New Zealand which is a concern for all of us. it was also to highlight the fact that New Zealand has enough resources for all its people to enjoy a moderate standard of living, and yet so many struggle with the burden of poverty. Below is his address to the Members of Parliament and others who gathered for the picnic.
Picnic at Parliament: Wed 19th March 2014
Tena koutou, Tena koutou, Tena koutou katoa:
Thank you everyone for responding to the invitation to come to this picnic in order to highlight the plight of many New Zealanders.
Thank you for coming in such great numbers.
Thank you to those Members of Parliament who have responded to my invitation to come to this picnic.
All of us gather as people who are concerned about our neighbours, maybe our families, certainly people we know in our country who struggle to make ends meet, who struggle to put food on their table, to educate their children, and to overcome health difficulties because of a lack of resources.
Recently I discovered that New Zealand has just over two and a half million visitors every year. Tourists come to this country, they come from all over the world, they love our country, they love the beautiful scenery, and they go home and tell others. I wonder what they would say if they knew and saw first hand some of the situations some people in New Zealand live in.
Would they say ‘New Zealand is such a beautiful place’ if they knew that about 600,000 people live in poverty, and that about 200,000 of them are children?
What would they say about this beautiful country if they realised that there is great inequality, and that many people do struggle to survive?
What would those tourists say and think if they visited some suburbs where they saw street after street of poor sub-standard, cold, damp, dangerous housing, over-crowded housing, and if they knew that in those over-crowded houses it meant for the inhabitants poor health, lack of education because of illness, and that many of the occupants struggle to find jobs, to survive on a benefit and to put nourishing wholesome food on the table. Aotearoa New Zealand is not necessarily what New Zealanders see.
I realised before Christmas that, regardless of who the government is, we hear from all sections of society about the need to reduce the road toll. Everyone sees those figures as the lives of people who have very sadly lost their lives on the road, not as distant statistics but as people we know with families, loved ones and friends. When the road toll rises, there’s broad public consensus that more money needs to be spent on promoting safe driving, on interventions by police, on road improvements, our own responsibility when we share the roads with other motorists, that all of us can improve road safety together and bring the road toll down.
But it’s not the same for those who live in poverty, those who can’t manage to make ends meet; the children who don’t have the same opportunities that many of us might have; and of course our children are among our most valuable citizens, we have a responsibility to care for them and ensure that they have what they need to survive and to thrive. We don’t have a reliable, consistent, clear and apolitical measure. There isn’t broad consensus of our responsibility for the people we share the country with.
Just a year ago, on the night of his election, Pope Francis said: “Now let’s start working together, walking together.” In saying this he instantly included each and every one of us in his plan for the future.
Well, our plan for the future should be a New Zealand where people live in equality; where people truly have the same opportunities; where no one is burdened or held back because of the compounding hardships that come from a lack of resources, especially resources to good wholesome food, to education, and to healthcare.
The world knows that poverty is a key priority for Pope Francis, and that he has a particular concern about the hardships that are experienced by the most vulnerable members of society. We don’t always see those people who are vulnerable, who are struggling, for whom life is difficult. I guess those two and half million visitors to New Zealand don’t see them.
So tonight we are reminded that inequality lies at the heart of many of our social ills, and that one and all of us are responsible for people who are in need.
We will be presented tonight with some facts and figures. I ask you to listen to them carefully, they represent the lives of people, people around us, children, families, communities. And as we share food and look after each other, we remember that that’s based on a wonderful Gospel story where there was enough for everyone and, in fact, there was some left over. The Gospel story of the feeding of the 5000 starts when the disciples notice that the people are hungry and ask Christ what they are to do about it. His response is to tell them to share what they already have. This is a lesson for each of us personally, and also for us as a community. When we look at the New Zealand that we live in, we can say ‘there is enough for everyone’ or ‘there should be enough for everyone.’
As we all hear this message this evening, we think about what we can do to ensure that there is enough for everyone.