Weekly reflection for February 28, second Sunday of Lent: Long-term community development

Gospel: Mark 9:2-9

The transfiguration of Christ reminds us just how remarkable it is that God chose to enter the world the way He did. Reading Mark’s description of Jesus’s dazzling white clothes and the speechless apostles makes the image of Him standing before them moments later that much more profound. If Jesus was capable of such things, why would he choose the life of a poor carpenter? Why would he allow himself to experience pain, hunger, judgement and persecution?

One reason is Jesus’s love of and compassion for the poor and oppressed. Much of Christ’s teaching—often in the form of parables—spoke directly to and about the most marginalized people in society. His own life reflected that of those he spoke to. It represented the ideal in modesty, humility, faithfulness and love. A second reason is that the true fulfilment of God’s plan for salvation required patience. While Jesus could have changed the world with the snap of a finger, He instead chose the harder path. The Good News needed to take root in those who freely accepted it, and he knew that this would take time.

In 1967, after convening for Vatican II and recognizing the disparity between wealthier countries and those struggling in the Global South, Canada’s bishops founded Development and Peace. What made Development and Peace unique was their decision to follow Christ’s example and take the harder path. Instead of simply funding the most newsworthy or fashionable causes, Development and Peace worked on supporting grassroots movements and organizations that addressed the root causes of poverty, often with a long-term focus.

In doing so, Development and Peace exercises subsidiarity, an important principle of Catholic Social Teaching. Subsidiarity means that issues affecting particular groups of people should be addressed not in a top-down manner from afar but at the lowest level possible, i.e., in close consultation with the people and on their own terms. Subsidiarity can also, in part, explain why Jesus started his ministry with a small group of passionate locals rather than focusing his efforts on kings or politicians. It is also a key reason why Development and Peace works exclusively with partners who operate in their own communities, since they best understand the causes of and solutions to regional problems.

For 54 years, Development and Peace has supported the work of over 15,000 initiatives in more than 70 countries. That work has focused on several key areas, including ecological justice, citizen participation, justice for women, and peace and reconciliation efforts. Whether supporting Amazonian Indigenous communities being displaced by mining companies or Afghan rural women standing up to domestic violence, our mission is centered around supporting communities to take control of their own destinies.

Global issues like COVID-19 are difficult reminders that strong community foundations can help people weather the storm of unexpected challenges. Thanks to our deep roots in many communities around the world, our diverse international partners have been able to help many vulnerable communities cope with the adverse economic, health and social impacts of the pandemic.

The reality is that social change takes time—often a long time. Today’s Gospel reading can serve as a reminder that even Jesus himself, whose transfiguration left Peter, James and John stunned, chose a long-term approach to his mission. Christ knew that if he planted the seed of the Good News it would take root and eventually transform the world. Development and Peace is a small branch of that tree, and one that will continue to provide shade and fruit to our most vulnerable brothers and sisters around the globe. This Lenten season, let us ask God to grant us the patience and peace of heart needed to see the world as it can be, no matter how long it may take.