Development is a Process of Dialogue

By Fr. Niphot Thianvihan

Based on the social teachings of the Church and dialogue of life with indigenous peoples, we have discovered that“people are not empty.” True religion is already present in the villagers and not merely in us. From our reflection process, we discovered that we took ourselves as the principal actor in judging whether the indigenous peoples had or did not have religion. We believed that we were religious and we had an obligation to present theology and communicate religion to others. The development and change of our concepts and approach can be divided into three main periods.

In the beginning of our work, there were two groups of understanding. The first group of people had a concept of adjusting and applying religion in daily life. The problem of this understanding is that even if we started from the religious dimension but we had not seriously and deeply reflected on “what actual life of the grassroots people really is.” Their life in our eyes was what we imagined. The second group had an understanding that we should start implement concrete activities with indigenous people. Our entry point was through concrete activities concerning their life reality, which were inevitably economic ones. When we started to implement economic activities, they were not related to religion at all. Later, we analysed our experience and came to a conclusion it was our frame of thought that made us try to “apply” religion into life. When there were problems in real life, we thought it was necessary to implement activities to address those problems.

In the second period, we began to recognise that “the life of the villagers itself is the theology.” It took us several years to come to conclusion that it is not necessary to “apply” religion into human life. This initiated a new point of departure. It began a period in which we ourselves started to change fundamentally. These changes involved all aspects of our involvement, i.e. our conceptual understanding of development work, and even our concrete approach and methodology in supporting the activities of the indigenous peoples.

We gained this understanding when we directly worked with indigenous leaders. When we implemented activities with the villagers, we entered into a mutual learning process. First, we analysed problems together with indigenous leaders and we found that they had their own concerns viewed from their own Karen ethnic perspectives. In this analysis we found that their concern was their children, their identity and their language and cultures, such as tribal dresses and education. Their major concern was not just their economic convictions.

Informed by this view we came to ask ourselves and we raised the 16 questions in searching for “What is the authentic cultural values of the tribal people?” We began to see what is at the heart of the religio-cultural values of the villagers. We searched and found that they have their own worldview based essentially on religio-cultural values. All their expressions are based on this worldview. Their worldview encompasses their own lives, the lives of others, the present world, the world to come and God. In this very learning process with the villagers we come to ask ourselves how much more there may be to discover in this rich worldview. We even ask ourselves how much has already been lost to posterity because of our changing times. It took us 4-5 years (since 1975) to be aware of this process and its fragility. And, it becomes our paradigm shift in working with the indigenous peoples.

In the third period, we had seen a close relationship and interdependence between religion and culture in the life of the people. However, when we implemented our activities we still separated the religious-cultural dimensions from the project themselves. This was a period of searching and attempting to integrate all the aspects of life, values and meaning in our shared activities and projects.

HUMAN DEVELOPMENT with special reference to Charity in Truth (Benedict XVI, 2009)

By Fr. Desmond De’Sousa CSsR

At a distance of over forty years Populorum Progressio deserves to be considered “the Rerum Novarum of the present age”, observes Pope Benedict XVI shedding light upon humanity’s journey towards unity. Only within the perspective of eternal life, can human progress in this world have breathing-space. “It is the primordial truth of God’s love that makes it possible to hope for a “development of the whole man and of all men,” to hope for progress “from less human conditions to those which are more human”, obtained by overcoming the difficulties that are inevitably encountered along the way.

Paul VI’s vision of development had the goal of rescuing peoples, first and foremost, from hunger, deprivation, endemic diseases and illiteracy. “From the economic point of view, this meant their active participation, on equal terms, in the international economic process; from the social point of view, it meant their evolution into educated societies marked by solidarity; from the political point of view, it meant the consolidation of democratic regimes capable of ensuring freedom and peace.” To what extent have Paul VI’s expectations been fulfilled by the model of development adopted in recent decades? Pope John Paul II had already observed, the demarcation line between rich and poor countries is no longer as clear as it was at the time of Populorum Progressio.

The world’s wealth is growing in absolute terms, but inequalities are on the increase. In rich countries, new sectors of society are succumbing to poverty and new forms of poverty are emerging. In poorer areas some groups enjoy a sort of “super-development” of a wasteful and consumerist kind which forms 88an unacceptable contrast with the ongoing situations of dehumanizing deprivation.

After the collapse of the Communist countries of Eastern Europe, Pope John Paul II (Centesimus Annus, 1991) called for a complete re-examination of development. This has been achieved only in part, and it is still a real duty that needs to be discharged. Populorum Progressio assigned a central, but not exclusive, role to “public authorities”. In our own day, the State itself has to address the limitations to its sovereignty imposed by the new context of international trade and finance, which is characterized by increasing mobility both of financial capital and means of production, both material and immaterial.

This new context has altered the political power of States. The lessons of the economic crisis (2008), directly involves the State’s public authorities in correcting errors and malfunctions. It seems more realistic to re-evaluate their role and their powers, and remodeled so as to enable them to address the challenges of today’s world.

From the social point of view, systems of protection and welfare of the poor, already present in many countries in Paul VI’s day, are finding it hard and could find it even harder in the future, to pursue their goals of true social justice in today’s profoundly changed “neo-liberal” environment. The Church’s social doctrine, beginning with Rerum Novarum for the promotion of workers’ associations that can defend their rights must therefore be honored today even more than in the past. This signifies “a prompt and far-sighted response to the urgent need for new forms of cooperation at the international level, as well as the local level. The mobility of labour, associated with a climate of deregulation, is an important phenomenon with certain positive aspects, because it can stimulate wealth production and cultural exchange.”

On the cultural plane, in Pope Paul VI’s day, the cultures were relatively well defined and had greater opportunity to defend themselves against attempts to merge them into one. Today the possibilities of interaction between cultures have increased significantly, giving rise to new opportunities for intercultural dialogue. But there is a distinct danger of dominating cultures reducing weaker cultures and persons into enslavement and manipulation, e.g. with what is called the “Coco-colaization” of local culture, the McWorld (west) – various multinational corporations like McDonald, McKintosh – confronting the Jihad world (east) – battles in the name of God..

This anti-poor, neo-liberal mentality provoked Pope Benedict to affirm, “The poor are not to be considered a ‘burden’, but a resource, even from a purely economic point of view.” One of the most striking aspects of development in the present day is the important question of respect for life, which cannot in any way be detached from questions concerning the development of peoples. Openness to life is at the centre of true development. When a society moves towards the denial or suppression of life, it no longer finds the necessary motivation and energy to strive for the common good. Another aspect very closely connected to development: the denial of the right to religious freedom. God is the guarantor of true human development.

Having created the human person in God’s own image, God also establishes the transcendent dignity of men and women and feeds their innate yearning to “be more”. “In the context of cultural, commercial or political relations, it also sometimes happens that economically developed or emerging countries export [their] reductive vision of the person and [their] destiny to poor countries.

This is the damage that “super-development” causes to authentic development when it is accompanied by “moral underdevelopment”. The significant new elements in the picture of the development of peoples today in many cases demand new solutions. It requires deeper reflection on the meaning of the economy and its goals, as well as a profound and far-sighted revision of the current model of development, so as to correct its dysfunctions and deviations. “Profit is useful if it serves as a means towards an end that provides a sense both of how to produce it and how to make good use of it. Once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty.” This is demanded, in any case, by the earth’s state of ecological health. “Above all it is required by the cultural and moral crisis, the symptoms of which have been evident for some time all over the world.”

More than forty years after Populorum Progressio, its basic theme regarding the meaning of authentic human development remains an open question. It is made all the more acute and urgent by the principal new feature has been the commonly known as globalization – explosion of worldwide interdependence. “The ferocious pace at which it has evolved could not have been anticipated. Originating within economically developed countries, this process by its nature has spread to include all economies. It has been the principal driving force behind the emergence from underdevelopment of whole regions, and in itself it represents a great opportunity.

Nevertheless, without the guidance of charity in truth, this global force could cause unprecedented damage and create new divisions within the human family. Hence charity and truth confront us with an altogether new and creative challenge, one that is certainly vast and complex. It is about broadening the scope of reason and making it capable of knowing and directing these powerful new forces, animating them within the perspective of that “civilization of love” whose seed God has planted in every people, in every culture”(n.33).

Towards A Spirituality Of Authentic Human Development

Towards A Spirituality Of Authentic Human Development

by Fr. Desmond De’Sousa CSsR

What we have today is a spiritual vision of authentic human development, to inspire us as a way of life. The spiritual vision of authentic human development today stresses two very important dimensions:

The vertical dimension (“the whole person”) stresses human person’s gradual opening to higher values and perspectives: from the purely economic to the social, political and spiritual; from the material to the spiritual, culminating in a burst of liberation of Christian freedom. “for we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth with birth pangs.. even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly awaiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.” (Rom.8:22-23)

The horizontal dimension (“all persons”) stresses the need for one to be open to others, to a more social and communitarian concept of human existence: from one’s own needs to those of the family, the neighborhood, one’s own country, other countries and cultures, and other social groups or classes of the world. “For it pleased the Genuine Human Development in Catholic Social Teachings Father.. by Christ to reconcile all things to Himself, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His Cross.” (Col.1:19-20)

These two dimensions closely interrelate. There is no true development along the vertical line without an equivalent development along the horizontal line. For christians, “to have more” and even “to be more” – as stressed by French Dominican Fr. Lebret who significantly influenced the encyclical Progress of the Peoples – is not an end in itself. It acquires its full meaning only when it is open to others and enables those who are less, to become more.

On the other hand there is no true opening to others, in a spirit of respect, love and solidarity, without getting closer to higher spiritual values and to God. Christ is always the ideal in the work for authentic human development. On the Cross, the human was reconciled with the Divine, with other human persons and with oneself. In Christ on the Cross, the horizontal and vertical dimensions of existence, the human and the Divine perfectly meet. Authentic human development is an on-going process. To be constantly purified and perfected by the power of Christ’s Cross, can only be achieved through suffering and sacrifice.

This message is surely needed today when the aim of development seems to be the maximization of production, income and material comfort, and when indiscriminate use of the world’s resources threatens our very life and freedom. The Christian concept of sacrifice, simplicity and moderation, is not only a purely religious value detached from the realities of human development, but are also an essential condition to achieve a more human and just world.

We need a spiritual vision of authentic human development that nurtures a dynamic, charismatic vision of the future for the Church. We need an inductive, “bottom-up” process of authentic human development as the Catholic Church’s unique contribution to the process of social transformation of human society into the Reign of God.

It was the charismatic vision of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr that erupted in the “Obama moment” of Jan. 2009. His words ring true for us today in 2011: “One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of the status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions…Nothing could be more tragic than for me to live in these revolutionary times and fail to achieve the new mental outlooks the situation demands … In the unfolding conundrum [riddle] of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late.”

Is our spiritual vision adequate to see the future of the Church like Pope John XXIII, “like daybreak, a forerunner of most splendid light?” Or are we identified with the, “protectors of the status quo … [who] fail to achieve the new mental outlooks the situation demands and are therefore TOO LATE?”

“The Church’s Social Concern”

“The Church’s Social Concern”

by Fr. Desmond De’Sousa CSsR – Former Executive Secretary of FABC-OHD

Twenty years after being thrown out from teaching, supposedly for teaching revolution when teaching Progressio Populorum, during my tenure as Executive secretary to the FABC Office of Human Development, my superiors called me
back to teach the new encyclical. I agreed, but modified the late Jesuit Bernard Lonergan’s snide remark about the Church, by commenting, “[Superiors] often arrive on the scene a little late and breathless!!” Based on these two social encyclicals, the Church envisions social transformation of society as the step-by-step process of development of “the whole person and all the people… from less human conditions to more human conditions”.

The implication of “the whole person” is that it is not just the economic dimension or ‘more- money’ aspect of the person that must be catered to; but also the social dimension or ‘participation’ aspect of the persons in society, their freedom for political involvement, as well as their cultural and spiritual growth that has to be fostered and encouraged. As the Popes have emphasized, it is not ‘having more’ things available and acquiring them, but ‘being more,’ [as better human persons], that is primary in genuine human development.

Further, the implication of “all the people” is that if any group of people is left out of the development process, no human development has occurred !! “ Collaboration in the development of the whole person and of every human being is in fact a duty of all towards all, and must be shared by the four parts of the world: East and West, North and South; or, as we say today, by the different “worlds.” If, on the contrary, people try to achieve it in only one part, precisely because the others are ignored, their own development becomes exaggerated and misdirected.” (Church’s Social Concern, Pope John Paul II, n.32)

The Church’s Social Concern (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis) provided the guidelines on how the Church should actually get involved in human development in order to make her specific contribution to the transformation of the world.

The encyclical’s framework on human development takes seriously Pope Paul Vl’s prosaic sentence in Populorum Progressio, “that the social question has become worldwide” (n.3). The core section of the encyclical on authentic human development (n.27-34) is placed between two valuable sections: survey of the contemporary world (n.11-26) and a theological or faith reflection on the contemporary world. (n.35-40).

The world offers a rather negative picture of development in 1987 as compared to 1967, as evident in the widening gap between the socalled developed North and the developing South. Wealth & Genuine Human Development in Catholic Social Teachings poverty intersect within societies themselves, whether developed or developing. Side by side with the “miseries of underdevelopment” is a form of “super-development” i.e. “an excessive availability of every kind of material goods”.

Both underdevelopment and super-development degrade the transcendent reality of the human being. The former are “deprived of hope” and tempted to violence; while the latter easily become slaves of possession and immediate gratifications, producing the “civilization of consumption or consumerism,” warns the Pope.

In the context of “having” (having possessions) and “being” (being happy), the Pope states: “There are some people — the few who posses much — who do not really succeed in ‘being’ because they are hindered by the cult of ‘having’; and there are others, the many, who have little or nothing — who do not succeed in realizing their basic human vocation because they “are deprived of essential goods” (n.28). The challenge to the Church according to her social teaching is, “to relieve the misery of the suffering not only out of her abundance, but also out of her necessities.”(n.31) Then comes a sentence from the Church Fathers, – both John Chrysostom and Ambrose – that would have gladdened the heart of Fredric Ozanam even though it will never be implemented! “Faced by cases of need [the poor], one cannot ignore them in favor of superfluous church ornaments and costly furnishings for divine worship; on the contrary it could be obligatory to sell these goods in order to provide food, drink, clothing and shelter for those who lack these things”(n.31)

Pope John Paul II then goes on to use a powerful image already used by Pope Paul VI. “On the international level, that is, the level of relations between States or, in present-day usage, between the different “worlds,” there must be complete respect for the identity of each people, with its own historical and cultural characteristics. It is likewise essential, as the Encyclical Populorum Progressio already asked, to recognize each people’s equal right “to be seated at the table of the common banquet”, instead of lying outside the door like Lazarus, while “the dogs come and lick his sores” (cf. Lk 16:21)(n.33).

Two different global analyses try to explain the growing gap between the developed North and the under-developed South, both at global and national levels. One analysis considers that the pace of progress differs and therefore widens the distance between nations and within nations. The other analysis, which appears more often, is that one group of countries develops ‘at the expense of the other’ (n.9, 32)

Whatever the analysis one uses, the end product of widespread poverty created by organized injustice, is unacceptable, according to the Pope. “One must denounce the existence of economic, f i n a n c i a l , a n d s o c i a l m e c h a n i s m w h i c h , accentuate the situation of wealth for some and poverty for the rest. These mechanisms, which are maneuvered directly or indirectly by the more developed countries, favor the interests of the people manipulating them, but in the end they suffocate or condition the economies of the less developed countries”.

The Pope identifies some of these mechanisms: “The international trade system which is mortgaged to protectionism and increasing bilateralism”; “the world monetary and financial system, today recognized as inadequate”; “technological exchanges and their proper use”; “the structure of existing Internal Organizational. Organization need Genuine Human Development in Catholic Social Teachings review in the framework of an international juridical order.” He says however, that to overcome and replace these mechanisms with new ones which will be more just and for the common good, “an effective political will is needed. Unfortunately after analyzing the situation we have to conclude that this political will has been insufficient”(n.43)