Peter Hebblethwaite

July 2003

I’ve been reading “The Year of Three Popes” by Peter Hebblethwaite. Well worth a read. I was surprised to find that Peter Hebblethwaite was 5 years younger than me. He was a great admirer of Karl Rahner. When he introduced Fr Rahner at a meeting his admiration shone through. After that, I tried to read Fr Rahner’s books, but they were beyond me.

Just over 30 years ago I met him – Peter Hebblethwaite – a few times when he came to give talks at Sacred Heart, Wimbledon, and at Westminster Cathedral. He it was who, at the bar in the club in Wimbledon, having heard much of what you all have heard so many times from me, namely that the Church should take the plight of the extremely poor more seriously, gave me a long searching look (an occasional hazard for me in my search for “what went wrong at” at Vatican II) and started to write with a ballpoint pen on a serviette. The word he wrote was “deus”. “Turn that upside down and see what it says,” he said. To save you the trouble of swivelling the page, it says, “snap”.

I put this in because it has often come into my mind when I see that in Southern Africa AIDS has started to overtake rapid population increase as a major cause of poverty in southern Africa. It may – if life expectancy drops below 30 years – remove population increase from the list of the three main causes of poverty in southern Africa altogether, at least for a time. Relentless doubling of population remains the main underlying cause of poverty in the Third World, but in southern Africa it has fallen to second place or lower.

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