The Gap Between Them and Us
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 14 Feb 1974, p. 224-233
Leger, His Eminence, Paul-Emile, Cardinal, Speaker
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A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto.
Cardinal Leger's own experiences and background working in Africa. The immense disparity between in the standard of living in developed and undeveloped countries. The energy crisis for the developed world vs. the food crisis for the undeveloped world. The importance of the Third World. A plea for continued support.
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14 Feb 1974
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FEBRUARY 14, 1974
The Gap between Them and Us
JOINT MEETING The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto
CHAIRMAN Robert L. Armstrong, President, The Empire Club of Canada


Monsieur Charge d'Affaires, Your Graces, Your Excellencies, Reverend Sirs, distinguished guests all, ladies and gentlemen. As is apparent from the composition of this head table, the Empire and Canadian Clubs are putting into practice a joint ecumenical philosophy and if I may be pardoned this comment, it occurs to me that should the millenium arrive at this moment, we could hardly find ourselves in more select company.

We are highly honoured to have as our distinguished speaker a Prince of the Roman Catholic Church whose love for his fellow man has taken him far from the comfort of our affluent society to the privations of the life of a simple priest, where he performs his kindly ministrations to the poor and underprivileged, the sick and the suffering.

His Eminence, Paul-Emile, Cardinal Leger was born in Valleyfield, Quebec and it is more than coincidence that he and his brother, His Excellency, the Right Honourable Jules Leger, our Governor General, have risen to such prominence in this great nation. It speaks eloquently of a fine family background in the best traditions and culture of our good neighbours in la Belle Province.

Having taken classical studies at Seminaire de Sainte-Therese and Theological studies at le Grand Seminaire de Montreal, Cardinal Leger went on to study Canon Law at l'Institut Catholique de Paris, receiving the degrees of Licentiate in Theology and Licentiate in Canon Law.

He was ordained Priest in 1929 and, after teaching in Paris became Founder Superior of the Seminary of Fukuoka in Japan. In 1939 he returned to Canada and from 1940 to 1947 he served as Vicar General of the Diocese of Valleyfield. From 1947 to 1950 he was Rector, Canadian College in Rome. In 1950 he took possession of the See in Montreal and was officially enthroned as Archbishop. He was elevated to the Sacred College of Cardinals in 1953.

In 1967 our speaker responded to a call to even greater humanitarian service and with the approbation and blessing of the Pope resigned his Archdiocesan charge to leave for the mission fields of Africa as a priest. He served first among the lepers, then organized schools for the handicapped, established hospitals and helped initiate small local industries and assisted in training programs for workers.

I shall not attempt to recite the twenty-five or more honourary degrees and decorations awarded His Eminence except to mention two granted in 1969--the Royal Bank of Canada Award for service to Humanity and the Order of Canada Medal.

It is coincident that this meeting takes place on the festival of St. Valentine and therefore quite appropriate that the cards produced on behalf of the Cardinal and his Endeavours, which have been distributed here, announce that the first Canadian Director of the Rehabilitation Center for the Handicapped at Yaounde in the Cameroon Republic is Mr. Philippe SaintAmour and it is in the spirit of love that we welcome our guest of honour who has come to address us for the second time. On May 4, 1972, speaking on the subject "The Third World" he said that he has endeavoured to represent Canada to Africa and Africa to Canada. As Canadians we could not have finer representation.

Et maintenant, Mesdames et Messieurs, au nom des Clubs Empire et Canadian il me fait plaisir de vous presenter votre conferencier, un Canadien renomme partout et un Canadien tres distingue, Son Eminence le Cardinal Leger.


I would like to begin by saying how glad I am to be back in Toronto once again. Over the years, and especially since leaving Montreal, I have come to know Toronto better, and the welcome and support you have given me are things for which I am very grateful.

And so my first words must be words of thanks; words of gratitude-gratitude for having asked me to speak to you today, gratitude for the kind memories so many of you have for me, gratitude for all those who have worked to support my work in Africa-for all those hours spent so unselfishly, for the gifts both large and small which have come from so many generous hearts, and for all the moral and spiritual support that so many of you have extended to me-for all this, and for so much more I thank you. And I thank you not only in my own name, but in the name of all those I have tried to serve, in the name of the poor and the lame, the blind and the paralysed, of the lepers and of the sick children. On behalf of all these people, I would like to thank those thousands and thousands of my fellow-Canadians who have helped to relieve the appalling scourges of hunger, disease, waste and premature death which afflict so many of our fellow human beings.

Sometimes, you know, we all get discouraged about our work, or our country-or just life in general. But sometimes when I am in one of these moods I think about our Canadian experience-with all its hesitations and even mistakes, yet, also, with its genuine idealism and spirit of respect for different points of view; I think about this experience, and I am proud to belong to a country which is still trying to create something new, a country which is looking forward to the future, a country, moreover, which being aware of its own tensions and difficulties is prepared to sympathize with the problems of less happy lands. We should take pride in this Canada of ours, and draw strength from what we have already accomplished in the past so that we may face the future confident and unafraid.

And part, of course, of the future which we are all going to have to face is the fact that most human beings in the rest of the world are not nearly so well off as we are. And, it is about these human beings, and my work with them that I have come to talk to you. But, first of all, you must realize that I can only talk to you on the basis of my own experience and background. I am not a diplomat, and I cannot really tell you anything about the political role of Canada and the African states. Nor again, am I an economist or a sociologist-I know nothing, in a first hand way, about the balance of trade or the interaction of social classes. After all, if you wanted to hear about any of these very important realities, there are lots of politicians, economists, and social scientists who could give you a much more authoritative talk than I could. But my life has been devoted to the preaching of the Gospel, of trying to bear witness, however imperfectly, to a spiritual and moral view of the world which led me finally to leave Montreal and to work in Africa. And what I want to do today is draw my work in Africa to your attention, and to try to show you why I think it is important to go on. Like St. Paul, a long time ago, I do not come to you "in lofty words of wisdom", but simply to give you an account of what 1 have tried to do, and how I see this work in relation to our responsibilities in the Western world, and our own vocation as Canadians.

Pope John the Twenty-Third used to warn us against what he called "the prophets of doom", and certainly the person who is always crying fire ends up a kind of joke-no one listens to him, and people say "Oh, old so and so is at it again". (Il chante toujours la meme chanson.) I have no desire to be pictured as a prophet of doom, nor do I want to be taped as someone who is always looking on the gloomy side of things. On the other hand, I am sure you will agree that there are a lot of things about the world situation today which ought to give us pause for thought. One of these is what the press calls the "energy crisis", and I want to say a few words about this, while at the same time drawing your attention to another crisis which we don't hear so much about in Canada and which we could call the "grain crisis".

Let us begin with the energy crisis. It existed a long time before Western Europe and this continent began to feel the pinch. Last June the United Nations published its Statistical Year Book for the year 1971. The general tenor of this book was the familiar theme that the gap between the have and the have not nations is steadily widening. In countries where shortages of food, housing and industrial out-put make life most difficult, the rate of production is keeping just a bit ahead of the sharp rise in population. In contrast, in the developed countries, where the growth of population is significantly less, much higher industrial and agricultural production is providing an increasingly better standard of living.

The Report goes on to say that this disparity in the standards of living can best be illustrated in terms of the consumption of the world's energy. In 1970, the developing countries, with a population more than twice as large as that of the developed countries, used only a little more than one seventh of the total energy consumed. All sources of energy-liquid, solid and natural gas-were then compared in terms of the energy that would be produced by metric tons of coal. In those terms each individual in the United States used the equivalent of 11.1 metric tons of coal in 1970, compared with the world per-capita average of 1.9 metric tons. Canada was second with an average of 9.1 tons per person. At the other end of the scale we find India with 0.19 ton, and Ghana with 0.16. It is clear from these figures that the elements of a crisis existed long before a certain set of political events triggered off the present situation.

Now, I am reminding you of this particular aspect of the imbalance between the Third World and our own, precisely because it is so topical-it is not only easy for us to grasp theoretically, but it is not so easy to forget if we are cold and the oil bills are going up. But we cannot expect much international sympathy for the oil shortage, because in the eyes of many people in the Third World we are at least partly responsible for another shortage of a much more serious nature than that of oil-and this is the shortage of food. Whether we enjoy the thought or not, Canada and the wheat growing countries of the world are accused of quite literally starving poorer nations to death in order to keep the price of grain at an all-time high. I do not suppose for a minute this represents the motives of those in the trade of grain, but the reality behind the continuing record grain prices is that these prices are now putting the lives of millions of people in serious jeopardy. Eighteen months ago wheat-the most widely traded of all grains-sold on the world market for little more than a U.S. $1.50 per bushel. Today for many trades the price is above $6. a bushel.

And yet, in the past few months, almost all the main growing and exporting countries-the United States, Canada, Australia, the Common Market countries and the Soviet Unionall ironically in the big industrialized league-have harvested record or near record grain crops. In fact the total wheat harvest is now put at a massive record of 338 million tons--six percent more than the previous highest set two years ago.

Why then are the prices still soaring?

It is partly because of last year's record grain trade precipitated by high Soviet purchases--which seriously reduced international stocks to their lowest level for more than twenty years. But the main reason for the reduced stocks is that the rest of the world, and mainly the poorer section, harvested very poor grain crops this season and they are having to buy: and by and large they are having to buy from the affluent. The International Wheat Council warns that this year the wheat trade could actually be reduced simply because needy importers cannot afford to pay the prices asked. The Council report goes on to say: "It may well be that import requirements may be somewhat higher than quantities which will eventually be imported"-or to put the matter a bit more bluntly, some of the needy importers may well go without because they cannot afford the prices being asked. Or to put it in even stronger terms, a lot of people are going to starve to death if the major exporters including Canada cannot get the prices they want.

I said at the beginning of my talk that I am not an economist, and I do not pretend that my analysis of the situation in energy and wheat is more sophisticated than what we can all get from reading the daily papers. But what I do say to you is that we cannot expect much sympathy in our difficulties over energy, because to most of the world we appear to be hogging a very disproportionate part of the world's resources-and hogging them in such a completely selfish way that people are going to starve as a result.

These questions of oil and wheat are only instances of a situation which gets worse and worse-and as a result starvation, disease and the certainty of an early death are a reality which afflict hundreds of millions of people in large areas of South America, Africa and India. Large numbers are hard to make very real to an audience. It is difficult for someone to understand who has not actually held in his arms a starving child crying for food, or seen a young woman dying of a disease which a few cents worth of medicine could have prevented. It is difficult, I say, to make the reality of poverty and the degradation of disease on the enormous scale on which they exist, very real to ourselves. It was my own personal meditation on this kind of question which led me to resign as Archbishop of Montreal. I certainly had no idea that this decision of mine would have anything more than a symbolic value-I am enough of a realist to know that individuals can do very little. But this does not mean they are incapable of doing anything. I felt it was my calling to try to show that there are elements in our Western tradition which are concerned for more than the fast buck, elements which are really and practically concerned with the fate of the unfortunate, the halt and the lame. We all feel sometimes that we are cogs in a big machine, but the best elements in our tradition remind us that man is more than a play-thing of economic forces, and that our conduct and our decisions are not necessarily determined by greed, by lust and by hate. We are creatures who can work for good as well as for evil, and it is because I believe that most Canadians believe this that I still think it worth reminding you of the problems of the Third World.

It would have been wrong for me to have left Montreal if the Third World has no value; indeed I should have stayed in my Diocese if the problems to which I have tried to draw your attention are not real problems; truly, I made a mistake in leaving if I had thought that single-handed I would make a great difference to the African Continent. But what I have to say to you all today is, first of all, the Third World is important because it is made up of human beings like ourselves; secondly, that these human beings are up against real problems which through no fault of their own, they cannot solve by themselves; and thirdly, I have looked on my own contribution as having only a symbolic value, which I have always hoped might inspire at least some men of good will both in Canada and in Africa to work together in a rational way to help overcome unnecessary suffering and disease.

The Third World is important then, because it is made up of human beings, human beings who possess the same nature we do, people who are capable of suffering and of desiring, even as we suffer and desire, people who are condemned to a shabby, deprived and disease-ridden existence, and these are people for whom we have a moral and a religious obligation to care about. Because of the God we all believe in, because of the humanity common to us all, these people are our brothers; and part of my mission now is to try to keep that fact alive in your hearts. It is easy to forget them, so easy to say they do not matter, and if you find it uncomfortable to be reminded of them then I have done part of what I set out to do.

And these problems of the Third World are real problems. They are problems not because I say they are but because everybody who is willing to look beyond his own back yard knows they are. All the different organizations and committees of the United Nations trying to examine the situation as it really is tell us the same thing, that the gulf between the Third World and the small group of privileged nations to which Canada belongs is steadily widening. The problems are real, and I was, and I still am trying to keep this fact alive in your minds.

The people of the Third World, then, are valuable as human beings, and the problems they are up against are real problems, and it is within those given elements of the situation that you must try to see my own contribution. When I first went to Africa, I spent some time working with lepers and establishing centres for their treatment and care. With your help and support I was also able to set up a number of clinics for the treatment of other diseases. But I finally came to the conclusion that I would have to try to establish a work which could both serve an immediate need, and yet be capable of further development by the Africans themselves as they saw fit. And I have set up a Centre in Yaounde for the treatment of children with polio.

The need this Centre is meeting is real, and is being partially met. But it is doing something more than meeting an immediate need. It is also the cell, or the foundation, of an all African Faculty of Medicine. Even as things are now, this Centre is the only serious facility of its type in five surrounding countries. But its importance is surely that it is taking root as an African project, and after the devoted labours of the Canadian doctors and nurses-who have been so generous in their services-has been finished, there will be a new generation of Africans to continue and advance their work. In this way Canada is represented to a part of the Third World not as a colonizing power, not as an industrial power greedy for natural resources, not as a political power anxious to secure client states as it pursues its power politics-no, but what I believe to be the true face of Canada has been revealed as a country which, in spite of its own difficulties and pre-occupations, has had the generosity and the concern to support one of its fellow-citizens who has tried to serve his fellow human beings in a way which respected their dignity, which took account of their real needs, and helped them to build for a better future.

And so I would ask for your continued support and generosity, knowing that in some important sense I have tried to represent those values we all cherish as Canadians. That I have tried, furthermore, to represent the great spiritual heritage of the Jewish-Christian tradition which has always tried to reconcile the needs and legitimate demands of the community with the tenacious conviction that the individual human being is supremely important-that I have tried to represent this tradition in an environment which often seems suspicious of our efforts. But I ask for your support not because of anything I have managed to do, but because it is an opportunity to reaffirm your conviction that man can build as well as destroy. Let us ignore those prophets of doom, and let us help others to help themselves, let us make our contribution to easing the often intolerable burden of so many people in lands which seem so far away and strange; but which, in reality, are on our own doorsteps in this increasingly inter-dependent world.

I have tried to make a contribution to this task, and with your help I have been able to do at least something. May I ask for your sympathy and support for the days that lie ahead. Thank you, and God bless you all.

The appreciation of the Clubs was expressed by Mr. H. N. R. Jackman.

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The Gap Between Them and Us

A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto.
Cardinal Leger's own experiences and background working in Africa. The immense disparity between in the standard of living in developed and undeveloped countries. The energy crisis for the developed world vs. the food crisis for the undeveloped world. The importance of the Third World. A plea for continued support.