Monday, May 14, 2007

Pope Speaks Out Against Drug Trafficking in South America

Standing before a cheering crowd of 6,000 at the Fazenda de Esperanca (Farm of Hope), a drug treatment center in Guaratingeuta, Brazil, Pope Benedict XVI warned drug dealers: "God will call you to account for your deeds." The pontiff told the people that "human dignity cannot be trampled upon in this way." So noted Vivian Sequera of the Associated Press.

Brazil, Sequera reports, "is the world's second-largest consumer of cocaine, after the United States..." Big cities across this country are "plagued with drug violence." This drug related violence is a "huge problem, driven by gangs that control street-corner dealing and the transshipment of drugs to Europe and the United States from elsewhere in South America."

"In Rio de Janeiro's teeming slums, gangs recruit children and engage in near-daily shootouts with police that frequently kill bystanders." But it is not limited to Brazil. Sequera notes that "The violence is endemic in other Latin America countries, including Columbia and Caribbean nations. In Mexico, gangs battling over billion-dollar smuggling routes into the United States leave a daily body count from beheadings, grenade attacks and execution-style killings."

There is no doubt that Satan is exploiting the drug culture of our era as one of his primary destructive forces against humanity. The violence and suffering is horrifying. I commend the Pope for forcefully speaking out against this pervasive ill in our society. However, as we well know, the expansive drug culture is driven in part by the same forces that drive all economics: demand. The drug dealers at all levels simply exploit this demand by providing supply. Economics 101. The equally important question is how do we address the demand at the level of the user.

The fallout of drug abuse is experienced at every level of our society, and even here in the Northwoods we are not immune. The people in the smallest parishes are involved - sometimes in the abuse of prescription meds, sometimes in the small-time peddling of street drugs via high school traffickers, and, yes, even in the horrible abuse of alcohol, which is probably the greatest problem in rural areas such as mine.

The large scale traffickers are far from my world, but their ultimate customers are not. Yet how do we speak out at this level? Recently one of my daughter's classmates died in an auto accident. He was under the influence, and it was evident that he had an existing problem. They tried to help him, but he wouldn't listen. In the funeral last week I heard that his priest, knowing that he had a lot of high schoolers present, made a point of applying heavy 'law' as he warned them that they could end up just like this young man if they too persist in abusing drugs and alcohol. I can understand this pastor's frustration. How hard it had to be to bury a young man on the verge of graduation and on the verge of just beginning his life. And then all of it cut short by such utter stupidity. I was not at the funeral, so I don't know what else he said. It is my hope, though, that this law did not predominate. The family and friends needed comfort from the gospel too, and we must be careful to remember that funerals are places to minister to the fears and sorrows of the grieving by pointing them to the ever-living Christ.

But we cannot remain silent as a church while our young and old are being dragged into needless suffering and death by these deceptive chemicals. Yet how do we wake them up to the reality to which they choose to close their eyes? I am continually amazed at how we can allow ourselves to be so ignorant even when we are so well warned. My mother, who was a life-time smoker and died of complications of that habit in 2002, told me that she began to smoke in the 40's around age 16. This was before the "surgeon general's warnings" began to appear on packs of cigarettes. Now, a half century removed with countless people diagnosed with lung cancer and other maladies, you would think that we had learned. Yet time and again I see a younger person smoking out in the open as if it is the most natural thing they could do. I want to scream: Do you know what your lungs will look like in 10, 20 or 30 years?

Sin is so clouded in deception it often looks like a virtue to some. And therein is the challenge of preaching against it. Like the sins of living together or abortion people see what used to be sin now as acceptable and even necessary choices. People become angered when these things are "labeled" as sins against God. How dare we be so judgmental! Yet we know that sin which is allowed to live untouched eventually leads all the way to death - eternal death.

May God grant us courage to preach strongly against all sin. And may the Spirit convert hardened hearts thus condemned that they turn to the good news of Christ, and repent, and live.

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