As I was driving to work Thursday morning, I heard a funny story on the radio.
It seems that the grandest Christian church in the world is not St. Paul’s Basilica in Rome. Instead, it’s the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro, the capital of Ivory Coast.
Over National Public Radio, the reporter, Jason Beaubien, described how this beautiful, $200 million behemoth of marble and aluminum towers above the slums of the African city. He also described how, 15 years ago, Pope John Paul II agreed to consecrate the basilica, but only if it would offer services to the desperately poor population of Yamoussoukro.
“Certainly,” said then-president Fe’lix Houphouet-Boigny, who commissioned the church. But while the stained-glass monument to Houphouet-Boigny still stands, there is no hospital, no shelter for the poor, no grand social services to match the grandeur of the basilica.
And when it comes time for mass, the church is mostly empty.
But who’s really surprised? Who would want to worship a God whose followers do something as despicable as spending $200 million on a near-vacant church in a poor West African nation, giving its poor nothing?
The Ivory Coast Basilica wasn’t built to be a church. It was built to be a monument and a status symbol. Similarly, a home in a gated community isn’t shelter, and a Hummer isn’t a means of transportation. They’re both status symbols. Damon Parker wasn’t saying that it’s sinful to be rich – he was saying that that rich people, and rich nations, generally spend their money in appalling ways.
While this kind of behavior might be understandable when coming from those outside the church, Christians ought to know better.
1 billion of the world’s 2.2 billion children live in poverty
500 million children have no access to sanitation
90 million children are severely food-deprived
$66 – the average per-citizen expenditure of industrial nations on international aid
$33 – US per-citizen expenditure on international aid
$1400 – US per-citizen expenditure on the US military