Pope Paul VI spent the first years of his pontificate shepherding the Second Vatican Council to its conclusion, visiting the United States and the Holy Land and, in doing so, brought the Catholic Church into the modern world, began healing ancient divisions among Christians and challenged the entire world to peace. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that his 1967 contribution to the Church’s social tradition, the encyclical Populorum Progressio (On the Development of Peoples) has been called the “Magna Carta on development.”
Paul VI, who will be beatified October 19, builds on the already rich social teaching of Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) and his successors and focuses on inequality and underdevelopment. Pope Paul offers a global vision for economic justice, development and solidarity. This vision is as challenging in 2014 as it was almost 50 years ago.
Here are a few major themes of enduring relevance:
Ending poverty: a mandate for all.
Paul VI writes: “The hungry nations of the world cry out to the peoples blessed with abundance. And the Church, cut to the quick by this cry, asks each and every man to hear his brother's plea and answer it lovingly.” Ending poverty is the responsibility of all of us.
We must work towards a world where all people can be “artisans of their destiny” and where “the needy Lazarus can sit down with the rich man at the same banquet table.” The economy must be made to serve the human person (instead of the other way around). We must address inequality and restore dignity to workers. And we must remember that the needs and rights of those in poverty take precedence over the rights of individuals to amass great wealth. The Church has a preferential option for the poor.
'Development is the new name for peace'
Pope Paul’s challenge on poverty leads directly into his appeal for peace. Development is “the new name for peace,” he writes. Development leads to peace, since “peace is not simply the absence of warfare.” And war, which destroys societies and the individuals who inhabit them, and which the pope railed against in his 1965 address to the United Nations, is, to borrow a phrase, human development in reverse. Authentic development responds to the needs of the whole person, including both material and spiritual needs. It results instead from fighting poverty and establishing justice. Pope Paul would distill this in his theme for World Day of Peace 1972: “If you want peace, work for justice.”
True development requires a true commitment to solidarity—the idea that we are one human family, each responsible for all. Without solidarity, “there can be no progress toward complete development.” Those who are wealthy can also be poor—morally poor—as they live blinded by selfishness. We have to overcome our isolation from others, so that “the glow of brotherly love and the helping hand of God” is reflected in all our relationships and decisions.
Think global, act local
Inequality is a global issue, and wealthy countries should act to help nations in need through “aid,” relief for poor countries “overwhelmed by debt,” “equitable trade relations,” “hospitable reception” for immigrants, and, for businesses operating in foreign countries, a focus on “social progress” instead of “self-interest.” Sadly, these are all issues still in need of our attention.
So enduring was Paul VI’s vision, John Paul II revisited it in Sollicitudo rei Socialis (1987), as did Benedict XVI in Caritas in Veritate (2009). Its themes are also strongly apparent in the teaching of Pope Francis, who witnessed the “globalization of indifference” and lives destroyed by war and poverty in Latin America. Pope Paul and Pope Francis both challenge our current response to poverty and violence. They challenge us with the alternative of a vision that is cohesive and global, Catholic in the truest sense.
Jill Rauh is assistant director of education and outreach of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.