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).