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How pious Catholics finance African wars

By Marshall Connolly (Catholic Online)
October 8th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

National Geographic recently published an article about the illegal ivory trade, illustrating a troubling connection between the slaughter of endangered animals and the practice of faith. Across Africa, animals are being slaughtered for their ivory, which is then carved into religious icons. Such ivory is being dubbed, "blood ivory." 

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Ivory is being poached for money. Sometimes, it's organized criminals, who move quickly and efficiently, killing off entire herds of animals, particularly elephants, including the babies. At other times, it's rouge military detachments, led by corrupt officers who use military resources to do the work.

Even militant Islamic groups have been caught poaching ivory to fund their various acts of terrorism. 

In all cases, it's the same result. Dozens of dead animals with their tusks hacked away and their flesh left to rot. 

According to conservationists, tens of thousands of elephants are slaughtered each year, just for their tusks. And the money from the ivory often goes into various conflicts that seem to embroil some of Africa's most troubled nations. 

Of course, the poaching would not occur, unless there was a market for the ivory. And that market, as it turns out, is not what you'd expect. The people consuming the ivory are not millionaire dealers in exotic, ill-gotten artwork and contraband, but rather ordinary folk, some very pious at that.

Ivory has long been prized for its suitability for carving. It's unique color and light weight, and comparative rarity also make it desirable. Ivory has for centuries been used to carve religious icons, many of which populate churches and shrines today. 

Without realizing it, many Christians, particularly Catholics in Africa and Asia, are praying for peace, praying for the environment, praying for so many good things-all while reflecting on the beauty of an ivory icon, poached from an endangered animal. All the while, money spent to purchase the icon continues to fuel conflict in Africa. 

Catholics must understand that dealing in ivory, even for icons, is intrinsically evil. First, those who engage in the trade of ivory do not do so responsibly. Nobody is harvesting the trunks of naturally deceased elephants. Instead, elephants are being systematically slaughtered by the herd, just for their tusks. 

None of this represents a proper stewardship of the Earth. 

The money gained from this trafficking is then spent by criminals to finance further activity. Some of that activity involves violence. To understand that money spent by faithful Catholics is being funneled into civil wars, should be enough to dissuade any faithful Catholic from  so much as possessing ivory.

While the international community and most African governments do what they can to eliminate poaching, it is the penitent in the pews that actually has the most power of all. By refusing to deal in ivory, the faithful person eschews the violence associated with the trade and eliminates all incentive to poach for it. 

Only then, when the faithful realize that the true price of their ivory icon is far greater than what they were originally asked, will they understand that dealing in such relics isn't a holy thing - it's a perversion of all that we are called to be. 


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