In Washington, DC, Catholic high school students learn practical skills to become nonviolent peacemakers. In Portland, the Archdiocese trains clergy to seek economic justice for workers. Near Miami, a Catholic university supports economic development in Haiti through a fair trade cooperative. And in San Antonio, youth learn about global solidarity and then take action.
Pope Paul VI, Giovanni Battista Montini, is pictured in an undated portrait from the Vatican. (CNS photo)
This month is the 50th anniversary of Blessed Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Populorum Progressio (On the Development of Peoples). The examples above are only a few of the ways that Catholic faith communities are responding to Paul VI’s call today. Paul VI spent the first years of his pontificate shepherding the Second Vatican Council to its conclusion, visiting the United States and the Holy Land and, in doing so, brought the Catholic Church into the modern world. He began healing ancient divisions among Christians and challenged the entire world to peace. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that his 1967 contribution to the Church’s social tradition, the encyclical Populorum Progressio (On the Development of Peoples) has been called the “Magna Carta on development.” In it, Paul VI builds on the already rich social teaching of Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903), Pope Pius XI (1922-39), and St. Pope John XXIII (1958-63) and focuses on inequality and underdevelopment. He offers a global vision for economic justice, development and solidarity. This vision is as challenging in 2017 as it was 50 years ago. Here are a few major themes of enduring relevance:
Paul VI writes: “The hungry nations of the world cry out to the peoples blessed with abundance. And the Church, cut to the quick by this cry, asks each and every man to hear his brother's plea and answer it lovingly.” Ending poverty is the responsibility of all of us.
We must work towards a world where all people can be “artisans of their destiny” and where “the needy Lazarus can sit down with the rich man at the same banquet table.” The economy must be made to serve the human person (instead of the other way around). We must address inequality and restore dignity to workers. And we must remember that the needs and rights of those in poverty take precedence over the rights of individuals to amass great wealth. The Church has a preferential option for the poor.
Paul VI’s challenge on poverty leads directly into his appeal for peace. Development is “the new name for peace,” he writes. Development leads to peace, since “peace is not simply the absence of warfare.” And war, which destroys societies and the individuals who inhabit them, and which the pope railed against in his 1965 address to the United Nations, is human development in reverse. Authentic development responds to the needs of the whole person, including both material and spiritual needs. It results instead from fighting poverty and establishing justice. Paul VI would distill this in his theme for World Day of Peace 1972: “If you want peace, work for justice.”
True development requires a true commitment to solidarity—the idea that we are one human family, each responsible for all. Without solidarity, there can be no progress toward complete development. Those who are wealthy can also be poor—morally poor—as they live blinded by selfishness. We have to overcome our isolation from others, so that “the glow of brotherly love and the helping hand of God” is reflected in all our relationships and decisions.
Inequality is a global issue, and wealthy countries should act to help nations in need through “aid,” relief for poor countries “overwhelmed by debt,” “equitable trade relations,” “hospitable reception” for immigrants, and, for businesses operating in foreign countries, a focus on “social progress” instead of “self-interest.” Sadly, these are all issues still in need of our attention. So enduring was Paul VI’s vision, John Paul II revisited it in Sollicitudo rei Socialis (1987), as did Benedict XVI in Caritas in Veritate (2009). Its themes are also strongly apparent in Pope Francis’ vision of peace rooted in integral human development in Evangelii Gaudium (2013) and Laudato Si’ (2015). Pope Paul and Pope Francis both challenge our current response to poverty and violence. They challenge us with the alternative of a vision that is cohesive and global, Catholic in the truest sense.
Jill Rauh is assistant director of education and outreach of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.