Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
January 18, 1999
Blow the dust off Paul VI's eye-opening social encyclical
This spring it will be 32 years since the publication of the encyclical Populorum Progressio. It is amazing and deeply disturbing at the same time that the insightful 1967 analysis of unjust structures and Pope Paul's recommendations to bring about the necessary transformation, are as current and to the point as they were then.
Perhaps nobody listened. Paul VI was written off as a busybody after the publication of Humanae Vitae.
It is not yet too late to take a second look at Paul's letter to the faithful. Parish groups and organizations who wish to do something to make Jubilee 2000 a reality are well advised to study what Paul wrote on the increasing chasm between North and South, or the galloping disparity between the excessively rich, thin upper layer of society and the vast majority of humanity written off as non-contributing to the global economy.
Paul warned of social unrest, such as we have witnessed in the last few years, and the mass migration of rural populations. He said economic growth will contribute to growing inequality if the economic system is not thoughtfully regulated to protect basic human rights.
Since Populorum Progressio appeared three decades ago, we have seen the victims of structural injustice daily on our television screens in an unending litany of misery. Famine and genocide in Africa, civil war in Central America, the brutalities of military dictatorships in Latin America, all out wars in South Asia, the list goes on.
Our reactions to these catastrophes have been compassionate at times, helpless at other times and sometimes no more than a sigh of relief that we live in blessed Canada where such awful things don't happen. Seldom did we take the time to consider to what extent we contribute to systemic injustice.
Paul's letter was the inspiration for the bishops' Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, which some Catholics with a greater faith in the White House and the Pentagon have denounced as socialistic.
The secular approach to development places profits ahead of people. Paul on the other hand emphasizes the need for integral development, not only dealing with economic growth, but embracing the development of the whole person, socially, culturally and spiritually as individuals and as members of a community.
Today western corporate culture bulldozes over Third World spirituality like a mega-tank out of control. Entire peoples have disappeared and their environments along with them. Proud people have become beggars dependent on the puny and dwindling handouts of Western foreign aid.
Even the Western wars for global dominance have been played out on the killing fields of Third World nations. We conveniently blamed the local people for their self-inflicted misery while we stepped up the export of weapons to oppressive dictators who did our bidding. We called this an investment in national security.
Our transnational financial institutions needed stability, cheap labour and no government restrictions to ensure a healthy return for northern shareholders. Pope Paul called the arms race an intolerable waste and scandal in view of the many people who live in abject poverty, without work, homes, schools or adequate health care.
Pope Paul had some biting remarks about the limits of private property, the injustice of free trade, the right of people to determine their own destinies, the neo-liberal economic order and the relationship between peace and justice.
It is indicative of prevailing attitudes in political and religious circles how quickly this radical encyclical started to collect dust in the archives. Maybe, just maybe, we are ready now to take a second look. It might be the required eye opener to launch the jubilee.
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