Return to August 4 Justpeace Front Page ... Continue to Home Index


VATICAN CITY, JUL 30, 1998 (VIS) - The encyclical letter "Sollicitudo Rei

Socialis" (the social concern), promulgated by John Paul II in the tenth

year of his pontificate, was signed in Rome on December 30, 1987. In it,

the Pontiff confirms that "the process of 'development' and 'liberation'

takes concrete shape in the exercise of 'solidarity', that is to say in the

love and service of neighbor, especially of the poorest."

With this document, the Holy Father wished to pay homage to the Paul VI's

encyclical "Populorum Progessio" (1967), and "reaffirm the 'continuity' of

the social doctrine as well as its constant 'renewal'."

I. INTRODUCTION. "The aim of the present reflection is to emphasize,

through a theological investigation of the present world, the need for a

fuller and more nuanced concept of development, ... (and) to indicate some

ways of putting it into effect."


encyclical, Paul VI applies the teachings of the Second Vatican Council to

the specific social problem of development. "The originality of this

encyclical can be stated in three points."

"The first is constituted by the very fact of a document, issued by the

highest authority of the Catholic Church ... on a matter which at first

sight is solely economic and social." Paul VI emphasized "the ethical and

cultural character of the problems connected with development, and likewise

the legitimacy and necessity of the Church's intervention in this field."

"The second point ... is the breadth of outlook open to what is commonly

called the 'social question'... (which) has acquired a worldwide

dimension." This affirmation and the accompanying analysis had not yet been

made into a "directive for action," as Paul VI did in his encyclical.

"As a third point, the Encyclical provides a very original contribution

to the social doctrine of the Church in its totality and to the very

concept of development, ... which can be considered as its summary ...

'Development is the new name for peace'." Paul VI invites us to re-examine

the concept of development so that not only material aspects are considered

but also the spiritual and human dimensions, which include everyone.

III. SURVEY OF THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD. "The present situation of the world,

from the point of view of development, offers a rather negative

impression." John Paul II lists some "general indicators" such as "the

persistence and often the widening of the gap between the areas of the

so-called developed North and the developing South," the spread of poverty

in developed societies, "illiteracy, the difficulty or impossibility of

obtaining higher education, the inability to share in the building of one's

own nation, the various forms of exploitation and of economic, social,

political and even religious oppression of the individual."

"Modern underdevelopment is not only economic but also cultural,

political and simply human. ... We have to ask ourselves if the sad reality

of today might not be, at least in part, the result of a too narrow idea of

development, that is, a mainly economic one."

The political causes of this serious difference in development is rooted

in the division of the world after World War II, into "two opposing blocs.

... In the West there exists a system which is historically inspired by the

principles of ... liberal capitalism. ... In the East there exists a system

inspired by the Marxist collectivism." With regards to development "both

concepts ... (are) imperfect and in need of radical correction."

The division of the world has caused "countries which have recently

achieved independence ... (to) find themselves involved in ... ideological

conflicts, which inevitably creates internal divisions, to the extent in

some cases of provoking full civil war. This is also because investments

and aid for development are often diverted from their proper purpose and

used to sustain conflicts. ... The consequences of this state of affairs

are to be seen in the festering of a wound which typifies and reveals the

imbalances and conflicts of the modern world: the millions of refugees."

However, in this overview of the contemporary world, there are also

positive aspects. Firstly, there is "the full awareness among large numbers

of men and women of their own dignity and of that of every human being.

This awareness is expressed, for example, in the more lively concern that

human rights should be respected." Secondly, "the conviction is growing of

a radical interdependence and consequently of the need for ... solidarity.

... Today perhaps more than in the past, people are realizing that they are

linked together by a common destiny which is to be constructed together."

In relation to this last point, there is a "concomitant concern for peace,

together with the awareness that peace is indivisible. It is either for all

or for none." Thirdly, there is a greater realization of the limits of

available resources, and a respect for nature. Lastly, "it is also right to

acknowledge the generous commitment of statesmen, politicians, economists,

trade unionists, people of science and international officials ... who ...

try to resolve the world's ills."

IV. AUTHENTIC HUMAN DEVELOPMENT. The contemporary world leads us to a

better understanding of how "the mere accumulation of goods and services,

even for the benefit of the majority, is not enough for the realization of

human happiness. ... Unless all the considerable body of resources and

potential at man's disposal is guided by a moral understanding and by an

orientation towards the true good of the human race, it easily turns

against man to oppress him."

"In trying to achieve true development we must never lose sight of that

dimension which is in the specific nature of man. ... It is a bodily and a

spiritual nature. ... Man must remain subject to the will of God, who

imposes limits upon his use and dominion over things, just as he promises

him immortality."

"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. ... If ... people try to achieve it in only one part,

or in only one world, they do so at the expense of others."

"Peoples or nations too have a right to their own full development,

which, while including ... the economic and social aspects should also

include individual cultural identity and openness to the transcendent." The

abundance of goods and resources will be unsatisfactory "when individuals

and communities do not see a rigorous respect for the moral, cultural and

spiritual requirements, based on the dignity of the person and on the

proper identity of each community."

"On the internal level of every nation, respect for all rights takes on

great importance, especially: the right to life at every stage of its

existence; the rights of the family; ... justice in employment

relationships; the rights inherent in the life of the political community

as such; the rights based on the transcendent vocation of the human being,"

beginning with religious freedom.

"On the international level ... there must be complete respect for the

identity of each people," and the "fundamental equality" among peoples must

be recognized.

"In order to be genuine, development must be achieved within the

framework of solidarity and freedom. ... True development must be based on

the love of God and neighbor, and must help to promote the relationships

between individuals and society." Likewise, there should be a respect for


V. A THEOLOGICAL READING OF MODERN PROBLEMS. "A world which is divided into

blocs, sustained by rigid ideologies, and in which instead of

interdependence and solidarity different forms of imperialism hold sway,

can only be a world subject to structures of sin." These "are rooted in

personal sin, and thus always linked to the concrete acts of individuals."

Sin not only offends God and hurts one's neighbor, but it also introduces

"influences and obstacles which go far beyond the actions and the brief

lifespan of an individual. This also involves interference in the process

of the development of peoples."

"Among the actions and attitudes opposed to the will of God, (and) the

good of neighbor ... (are) the all-consuming desire for profit and ... the

thirst for power (which) ... in today's world are indissolubly united. ...

We would see that hidden behind certain decisions, apparently inspired only

by economics or politics, are real forms of idolatry: of money, ideology,

class, technology."

To overcome this moral evil "the fruit of many sins which lead to

'structures of sin'," there is an "urgent need to change the spiritual

attitudes which define each individual's relationship with self, with

neighbor, and even the remotest human communities, and with nature itself;

and all of this in view of higher values such as the common good or ... the

full development of the whole individual and of all people."

"These attitudes and 'structures of sin' are only conquered -

presupposing the help of divine grace - by a diametrically opposed

attitude: a commitment to the good of one's neighbor. ... Those who are

more influential ... should feel responsible for the weaker. ... Those who

are weaker ... in the same spirit of solidarity, should not adopt a purely

passive attitude or one that is destructive of the social fabric, but ...

should do what they can for the good of all."

"The same criterion is applied by analogy in international relationships.

Interdependence must be transformed into solidarity, based upon the

principle that the goods of creation are meant for all."

"The solidarity which we propose is the path to peace and at the same

time to development. ... The goal of peace, so desired by everyone, will

certainly be achieved through the putting into effect of social and

international justice, but also through the practice of the virtues which

favor togetherness, and which teach us to live in unity, so as to build in

unity, by giving and receiving, a new society and a better world."

VI. SOME PARTICULAR GUIDELINES. "The Church does not have technical

solutions to offer for the problem of under-development. ... For the Church

does not propose economic and political systems or programmes, nor does she

show preference for one or the other, provided that human dignity is

properly respected and promoted."

"The Church ... offers her first contribution to the solution of the

urgent problem of development when she proclaims the truth about Christ,

about herself and about man, applying this truth to a concrete situation.

As her instrument for reaching this goal, the Church uses her social

doctrine (which) ... today more than in the past ... must be open to an

international outlook."

Among the guidelines given by the Magisterium in recent years, the

"option or love of preference for the poor" should be particularly

highlighted. "Today ... this love of preference for the poor, and the

decisions which it inspires in us, cannot but embrace the immense

multitudes of the hungry. ... Our daily life as well as our decisions in

the political and economic fields must be marked by these realities.

Likewise the leaders of nations and the heads of international bodies ...

should not forget to give precedence to the phenomenon of growing poverty."

"The motivating concern for the poor ... must be translated at all levels

into concrete actions, until it decisively attains a series of necessary

reforms." Among these reforms the Pope mentions specifically: "The reform

of the international trade system which is mortgaged to protectionism and

increasing bilateralism; the reform of the world monetary and financial

system, today recognized as inadequate; the question of technological

exchanges and their proper use; the need for a review of the structure of

the existing international organizations."

"Development demands above all a spirit of initiative on the part of the

countries which need it. Each of them must act in accordance with its own

responsibilities, not expecting everything from the more favored countries,

and acting in collaboration with others in the same situation. ... It is

important then that as far as possible the developing nations themselves

should favor ... literacy and ... basic education." In the same way food

production should be increased and political institutions reformed. On the

other hand, "it is desirable, of example, that nations of the 'same

geographical area' should establish forms of cooperation (as) an

alternative to excessive dependence on richer and more powerful nations."

VII. CONCLUSION. In spite of "the sad experiences of recent years and of

the mainly negative picture of the present moment, the Church must strongly

affirm the possibility of overcoming the obstacles ... which stand in the

way of development." This conviction stems from a trust in the Church of

God and man: "There exist in the human person sufficient qualities and

energies, a fundamental goodness, because he is the image of the creator,

placed under the redemptive influence of Christ."

"There is no justification then for despair or pessimism or inertia. ...

We are all called, indeed obliged, to face the tremendous challenge. ...

Each one's individual responsibility (is) ... to implement - by the way

they live as individuals and as families, by the use of their resources, by

their civic activity, by contributing to economic and political decisions

and by personal commitment to national and international undertakings - the

measures inspired by solidarity and the love of preference for the poor.

... In this commitment, the sons and daughters of the Church must serve as

examples and guides."



Return to August 4 Justpeace Front Page ... Continue to Home Index