A Latvian archbishop has called on his country’s politicians to ensure the ideals of solidarity and the common good among citizens cease to be “abstractions” and become realities in daily life.
Driving the news
Archbishop of Riga Zbignevs Stankevics gave a powerful homily last August 15 at the Sanctuary of Aglona on the Feast of the Assumption, as Zenit reports.
“People are looking for answers to life’s important questions”, Stankevics acknowledged, before asking:
“What are the issues that affect Latvian society as a whole?”
Almost thirty years after the country regained its independence from the Soviet Union, Stankevics said “it is irrelevant whether, in the eyes of others, Latvia is a success story. It is important how people who live in Latvia feel!”
“The facts show that people are still leaving Latvia and the population is constantly decreasing”, the archbishop lamented, before warning:
“Demographic trends cannot be ignored, as a nation without people is unthinkable”.
The big picture
Stankevics said there are several reasons why Latvians “are frightened of the uncertainty of the future”.
He explained the “alienation” of state from society and frequent changes to business, tax and employment conditions have impacted negatively on the living conditions of the population.
Other problems, said the archbishop, include school and health care reforms carried out under the excuse of population decline.
The rationalisation of services is being implemented “ruthlessly, ignoring population protests and exacerbating future demographic challenges”, Stankevics denounced.
The archbishop of Riga also criticised the government for a recent tax raid and seizure of 36,000 euros from five Catholic congregations.
“I hope that the real cause of this event is the lack of information and understanding of the Church”, Stankevics warned.
“It is important to understand that we [Church and State] are in the same boat, and that the values of both are respect, the rule of law, honesty in finances and responsibility to society”, he added.
The archbishop also expressed a fear that a “desire for short-term gain” has prevailed in questionable government policies from the reconstruction of the country’s bridges and railway lines to the establishment of an institution for the education of the country’s police.
But still more serious is the “injustice, inequality and contradictions between words and deeds” that citizens face in Latvia, the archbishop warned.
Why it matters
“People are angry, offended and saddened by the injustice they face on a daily basis”, Stankevics denounced.
“In a state governed by the rule of law, power structures stand guard over the law and the rights of the citizen, defending the individual.
“When power structures, under the cover of the letter of the law, are used to advance particular – ideological, political or business – interests, people feel intimidated.
“Once the law is instrumentalized, it no longer serves to defend the individual and he begins to feel like he is in a police state”.
“The injustice is the shifting of the cost of eliminating the effects of economic hardship and crisis onto the shoulders of the most deprived people, mainly through social and infrastructure funding to overcome the crisis”, Stankevics continued.
“Not only has it hindered business, it has also driven speculative and high-risk finance, which exacerbates inequalities.
“However, tax reform, which was intended to close the gap between the rich and the poor, does not appear to have achieved its goal”, the archbishop denounced.
In his homily in Aglona, Stankevics warned that “we must not forget that economic activity and material progress must serve man and society”.
“Wealth exists to be shared. Material benefits are always for everyone… Evil is an excessive attachment to riches”, the archbishop affirmed.
“The economy cannot be separated from its ethical dimension. Economic growth achieved at the expense of individuals or social groups, pushing them into the poverty and exclusion is unacceptable. As wealth grows, it is also important to grow in the virtue of solidarity”, he explained.
Stankevics called on Latvians to convert to “God’s plan”, in which “the economy is merely a means of the general growth of the individual and of society, and of raising the quality of human life”, and not a means to personal enrichment.
“When the reign of God comes into our lives, we discover that our country, Latvia, is not an abstract entity, but real, alive and concrete people, and concepts such as solidarity, common good, benefit to all, subsidiarity and participation cease to be abstractions, but become understandable and filled with specific content”, the archbishop said.
“And in a society that respects these principles, the quality of life of each of its members can increase”, he concluded.