A wide-ranging survey with many touching stories of the work the Catholic Church has achieved in the developing world: much good, some bad.
Former World Bank director Calderisi (The Trouble with Africa: Why Foreign Aid Isn't Working, 2006) gives a fairly evenhanded, critical appraisal of where the church has best used its vast resources for real change in the lives of the poor, in terms of education, basic services and as a liaison with local governments. Other than the Jesuits, who were trailblazers in spreading universities across the world, and early missionaries, who made education available to all social classes and to females, international action in rebuilding war-torn economies really took off at the end of World War II. Treading carefully, the author looks at the role of religion in world development, defined broadly as meeting “basic needs” so that “people will have the freedom and opportunity to lead lives they value.” The Catholic Church, Calderisi notes, is a bundle of sublime contradictions: an emphasis on materialism as well as spirituality; guarding a staggering wealth yet having the ability to bestow enormous benefits on the poor; the upholding of reason “as the most marvelous of God’s creations”; and one of the few religions that offers women leading roles in governance yet blocks their accession to priest or pope. While the church has a top-down structure, it also has an unparalleled commitment to the value of human dignity and to a sense of “collective well-being.” The Second Vatican Council in 1965 helped unleash a yearning for diversity-rich mission work. As the author moves from Africa to Asia to Latin America, he spotlights some tremendous examples of courageous and significant Catholics. He takes exception to the church’s role in the Rwandan genocide and in the failure to meet the need for birth control and effectively combat the AIDS crisis.
A levelheaded work by an author determined to hold the church to its humanitarian ideals.