“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)