Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (The Concern of the Church for the Social Order)

Pope John Paul II, 1987

In Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, Pope John Paul II celebrates the twentieth anniversary of Populorum Progressio by updating the Church’s teaching on the “development of peoples” and changes that took place in the preceding two decades.

Populorum Progressio was inspired by the Church’s desire to help the millions of people who lived in a state of poverty and underdevelopment.  The document concluded by noting that “development is the new name for peace,” (Paragraph 10) another mission of the Church.

The Pope points out that despite some progress in the two decades since Populorum Progressio’s publication, the gap between developed and developing countries continued to widened in a variety of areas, including: the production and distribution of goods, hygiene, health and housing, availability of drinking water, and working conditions (especially for women).

Lack of adequate housing, unemployment and international debt all threaten humanity.  These three phenomenons were characteristic of the 1960s and 1970s when despite praiseworthy efforts, the conditions for many became notably worse.

Although the present danger has lessened, the cold war hampered the development of many nations in the southern hemisphere.  Instead of becoming autonomous nations concerned with their own progress, developing nations were pawns in the battle between the West and the East.  Instead, Pope John Paul II wrote, developing nations should receive aid from all of the richer and more developed countries.

One area that seems to transcend ideological differences between the East and the West was the arms trade.  Instead of using resources to help alleviate the misery of people around the globe, funds and energy are used to stockpile arms to try and gain the upper hand in the Cold War.  The new phenomenon of terrorism, which is explicitly forbidden in Christianity, also threatens the safety and security of society.

The dignity and life of all individuals must be respected.  Pope John Paul II cited the United Nation’s promulgation of the Declaration of Human Rights is an example of progress in this area - individuals, nations, and peoples, along with there specific cultural identity, are all sensitive to the preservation of their heritage.

Development is not a straightforward, automatic process – while some nations have achieved superdevelopment, others remained in a state of underdevelopment.  A society reaches a state of full development, explained the Pope, when it is able to sustain itself at the level of true vocation of men and women without denying economic requirements.

John Paul II notes that one of the guidelines in forming the Church’s social doctrine is the option or (preference) for the poor.  Christian charity has long recognized the importance and primacy of this option which inspires us to help the hungry, the needy, the homeless, those without medical care and, above all, those without hope of a better future.

The Pope also recognized social sins as the collective behavior of certain social groups, big or small, or even of whole nations and blocs of nations which the Church proclaims to be cases of social sin that result from the accumulation and concentration of many personal sins.

Humanity’s journey toward development is always in danger of not following God’s will and falling to the temptation of idolatry.  While men and women seek further development on earth, the death of Jesus Christ infinitely surpasses any progress we could achieve.  Even as humanity struggles to grapple with underdevelopment and superdevelopment, we must remember that one day all the works and actions that are worthy of man will be redeemed.

Development must respect one’s religion and way of life, while also promoting human rights.  The Church is obligated, by her vocation, to relieve the misery of the suffering and work within a hierarchy of values to provide the basic needs of humanity.

The reasons behind the lack of development since Populorum Progressio could not simply be attributed to economics, said the Pope.  Politics has also played a role.  The interdependence of mankind must be emphasized in order to move forward.  The development of the world depends on the level of solidarity among peoples and nations.

The Church doesn’t propose political or economic solutions, but instead promotes human dignity and solidarity in the process of development.  She proclaims the truth about Christ and applies this truth to the world situation.

Link to: Sollicitudo Rei Socialis

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