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JOHN PAUL II'S ENCYCLICAL LETTER "SOLLICITUDO REI SOCIALIS"
JOHN PAUL II'S ENCYCLICAL LETTER "SOLLICITUDO REI SOCIALIS"
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."
II. ORIGINALITY OF THE ENCYCLICAL "POPULORUM PROGRESSIO." In this
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
"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
"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,
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
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."
ENC/SOLLICITUDO REI SOCIALIS/... VIS 980730 (2210)
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