Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga was born in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in December 1942. He was educated in pedagogy and philosophy, and was ordained in Guatemala in 1970. In 1978 he was appointed Bishop of Pudenziana and Auxiliary Bishop of Tegucigalpa and in 1993 was named archbishop of Tegucigalpa. In February 2001, he was made cardinal. One of the many positions that he has held is that of secretary general and president of the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM).
Cardinal Rodríguez spoke with IDB press officer, Christina Mac Culloch, during an international meeting on Ethics and Development: The New Challenges held in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, from September 1–3.
IDBAmérica: During these times of economic crisis, why should we care about ethics?
Rodríguez: Because on the one hand we have development and on the other, poverty. What can be done to use development to relieve poverty? Looking at it from a purely economic perspective, we could improve economic indicators even though poverty rates grow. But from an ethical standpoint, then we would see that development means more than just economic development, it means human development as well. And human development comprises the ethical dimension, the dimension of values. It means recognizing that all individuals have value, regardless of their economic opportunities. It means seeking a society that is no longer based on the individual but on solidarity.
IDBAmérica: How do you get that kind of society?
Rodríguez: Solidarity means that if the efforts of the poor and the affluent are combined, the situation will begin to improve. But the efforts cannot be one-sided. Many people think, “Yes, let the rich do the giving.” But what about the poor? The poor are also major players in their escape from poverty to a culture of solidarity. The poor may also be affected by individualism, the “every-man-for-himself” mentality, not being considerate of others. That is why we need the perspective of a single human race, with which we can perceive hope through the ethical values of development.
IDBAmérica: Do young people have a particular role to play in this issue?
Rodríguez: In my opinion, that is a very important question because Latin America is a continent where the majority of the population is young. And today, the only hope that young people have is to obtain a visa for the United States or to enter the country illegally, and that is not the solution either. I believe that it is important to understand that in our society young people need to be given values to fight for. And I don’t mean values they only see expressed in words, but values that mesh with their lives, society, and political and economic communities. We must not think that this can be done by the church alone, or the family alone, or civil society alone.
Young people feel alienated in their own land. There are no prospects for education because there is no funding for it. You only have to go to the slums to see that there isn’t even a field for them to play sports in. However, without education, without opportunities for wholesome recreation, the only thing produced is crime. To address the issue of ethics, we therefore need to find another solution to social problems.IDBAmérica: What types of values are most needed to save Latin America and the Caribbean?
Rodríguez: I believe that one of the main values we are talking about here is human dignity. The vast majority of our people have very low self-esteem because they are forever being told that we are no good, we are worthless and our country is backwards. So we need to build up our self-esteem, not through flattery but through the human dignity of each individual.
Second, we need integrity. A culture of corruption has been created here, particularly in politics, rooted in the belief that whoever has the money is the one who is right. It does not matter how the person got the money or whether it was stolen, just so long as he has money. So we need a culture of integrity, of truth. These essential values are the wellsprings that feed the river of democracy, and they lead to related values such as respect for the family, for the individual, and for social integration. We now have a society in disarray that is highly polarized. Children are born waving a party flag. We have therefore launched a political campaign for education through the church that has ruffled a few feathers but in the long run should be very effective.
IDBAmérica: Do you think that society is prepared to let the church play a leading role in these issues?
Rodríguez: I think so, especially because during the decades of military repression the church always had a voice even when many others were silent. Today we are asking society to reflect on the question of ethics, social integration, and globalization with equity, because I do not believe that proclaiming a doctrine is sufficient. Individuals needs to be educated.
IDBAmérica: And what is the church doing to promote this type of reflection?
Rodríguez: I believe that the media, particularly television, are too commercial and too focused on bad news. So we fought for a television station of our own, Channel 48, called “Channel Solidarity”. We broadcast creative programs that are educational and politically topical. For instance, we have one program where we invite political candidates to speak about values. And we have been very successful: after only a year and half, we are ranked fourth amongst 14 national channels.
We also run a university based on values. In just eight years enrollment has soared from 35 to 6,000 students, because from the outset we indicated that our focus would be on learning. Anyone who comes to push politics or to waste time is asked to leave so that someone who wants to learn can take the slot. And what a success! We have classes of young people who are recruited for jobs before they even graduate. This gives young people hope.
IDBAmérica: Do you think that institutions like the IDB can have a positive impact on something as abstract as ethics?
Rodríguez: Certainly. It has been very important for us that the IDB, through its president and the Inter-American Initiative for Social Capital, Ethics, and Development, has opened its doors to dialogue that includes the church as well. Such events create a special forum for discussion of these important issues. I can see that these efforts respond to a pressing need at this time and are helping to fill a gap.