A Belgian encyclical – updating Populorum Progressio

In March of 1967, Blessed Pope Paul VI published his fifth encyclical, “on the development of peoples”. Populorum Progressio discussed the development of man, and especially the problems that were present then and still are today: social inequality, poverty, hunger, disease, people seeking a better life elsewhere. It is also discussed progress, freedom and solidarity. The encyclical coincided with the establishment of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, which has now merged into the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

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^Bishops Jean-Pierre Delville (left) and Luc Van Looy (far right) present Populorum Communio.

The bishops of Belgium released a pastoral letter to update the encyclical today. They have dubbed their text Populorum Communio. According to Bishop Luc Van Looy, the bishops have wanted to explore the social dimension of mercy. The Holy Year of Mercy, then, is a major inspiration for the document, which also served as the bishops’ letter for Lent, since “Lent liberates from what is superfluous, makes us man among men.”

As the document is rather lengthy, I present my translation of the official summary below.

“On 26 March (Easter) 1967, Pope Paul VI released his encyclical Populorum progressio (on the development of peoples) to the world. He broadened the Church’s social teaching by calling for economic development and social justice for all peoples. The document led to a worldwide solidarity movement in the Church, which was prepared by Paul VI on 6 January of that same year 1967 by the establisment of the Commission of Justice and Peace. In our country, Broederlijk Delen (solidarity campaign for Third World countries during Lent) and Welzijnszorg (an Advent campaign against lack of opportunities in the fourth world in our own country) had been active since the early 1960s, and these seamlessly joined this movement.

With the Holy Year of Mercy, which closed in November of last year, Pope Francis provided a key to live the Christian faith in a renewed and creative way. Just before the start of Lent (Ash Wednesday 1 March), it is the basis to think more deeply about the social impact of mercy.

As we know, the challenges are not negligible. There is an increasing lack of opportunities and social injustice, the question of migrants and refugees, pollution and the threat to the ecological balance … All this does not only require the development of the peoples, but also unity between the peoples to work together for the future of the planet. And mercy is key to achieve this unity. “It is important to have aheart for those in misery”, Pope Francis says. “It is a new sensitivity which allows itself to be challenged by the other and leads to a new attitude.”

John’s story of Jesus healing a blind man (9:1-41) is the guideline of the pastoral letter. The story of healing is a call to keep believing that mercy can drive back exclusion and that a unity which itself is merciful can develop in society. “Like the healing of the body results in the healing of the soul, we dare to hope that the promotion of development results in a spiritual discovery and gives new meaning to the mission of mercy,” the bishops write.

The pastoral letter addresses four great challenges for modern society, which cause both progress and exlcusion: technology and science, economy, politics and ethics. What is the role of Christians and what is their influence on the world’s development? The social teachings of the Church and the notion of mercy as developed by Pope Francis offer inspiration for possible answers.

  1. In his encyclical Populorum progressio, Paul VI makes clear that social justice also includes the economic development of underdeveloped countries and that development is not limited to merely economic growth, but must be directed towards the development of every man and the entire person. Pope Francis adds that social justice requires the social integration of the poor to be able to hear their voice.
  2. The means for achieving social justice, Populorum progressio teaches, is solidarity. Pope Francis emphasises that solidarity demands the creation of a new mentality which thinks in terms of community, of the priority of the life of all to the appriation of goods by a minority. Or, “solidarity must be lived as a decision to return to the poor what is theirs”.
  3. Regarding politics which today lead to war and violence among peoples and societies, the establishment of unity between peoples make a world peace possible if it is inspired by mercy. Everyone deserves confirmation and respect, especially those who are habitually excluded.
  4. True solidarity with the poorest in the world means that we question our way of life and choose a sustainable economy which takes the capacity of the world into account. “We must believe in the power which can realise change when go forward with many,” the bishops write. This faith in the power of “transition” is the area of common ethics, which includes our entire planet and transcends the exclusion of the weak. The “dynamics of transition” addresses everyone, no matter how weak, and urges the politically responsible to form one front to save the planet. In this way we will achieve a dimension of unity between peoples at the service of the entire earth.

The bishops conclude their letter with a word of thanks to all who are already working for the integration of the poor in society andpol who are at the service of reconciliation in the world. At the start of the Lent they invite all people of good will to create the link between stimulating changes and true conversion, through prayer, fasting and sharing. They remind that Fasting is liberating, as it liberates from all that is superfluous. Fasting is becoming more human, more solidary, more concerned with our earth. It is living according to the ethics of simplicity which create space to live well.

And the letter concludes as follows: “We invite you as Christians, in spite of the injustice and violence affecting our world, to continue working for a more just and sustainable world without inequalities, and this together with all men and women working for the same.””

Photo credit: Kerknet on Facebook

 

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Merger number two, as the new Curia takes form

Another week, another dicastery. Today, Pope Francis announced the upcoming merger of four Pontifical Councils into one new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. Quite the impressive title, and in today’s world it’s mandate should be equally impressive. The Apostolic Letter Humanam progressionem, which announced the establishment of the dicastery today, summarised it as follows: “This Dicastery will be competent particularly in issues regarding migrants, those in need, the sick, the excluded and marginalized, the imprisoned and the unemployed, as well as victims of armed conflict, natural disasters, and all forms of slavery and torture.”

The new dicastery – once again neither a Congregation nor as Pontifical Council – will take over and combine the mandates of four separate Pontifical Councils from 1 January 2017. These are the Pontifical Councils for Justice and Peace, “Cor Unum“, for Pastoral Care for Migrants and Intinerant People and for Health Care Workers. Judging from this, the dicastery will not only have responsibility for people in need, but also for those who try to help them: aid workers, disaster relief personnel, hospital staff and the like.

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The new dicastery will be led by a Curia veteran, Cardinal Peter Turkson, today the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. A secretary and possibly an undersecretary are forthcoming. Cardinal Turkson has been working in Rome since 2009. Before that, he was archbishop of Cape Coast in Ghana.

The mergers have little effect on the presidents of the other Pontifical Councils set to be suppressed in the new year. “Cor Unum” has been without a president since Cardinal Robert Sarah was appointed as Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in 2014; Cardinal Antonio Vegliò of Migrants is 78 and will therefore enter retirement; and Health Care Workers has also been without a president since Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski died in July of this year.

With this new dicastery, as well as the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life established earlier this month, the Roman Curia is slowly changing its appearance. Previously largely made up of Congregations and Pontifical Councils, with the Secretariat of State at the top (and rounded out with several smaller offices as well as the three canon law tribunals), a new structure is now emerging. There are now three secretariats: of State, for the Economy and for Communications, but these do differ greatly in mandate and influence. The nine Congregations remain unchanged, while the Pontifical Councils decrease in number from twelve to five. New is the category of the dicastery, which is a general term denoting a department of the Curia. Exactly where these fit in the structure of the Curia remains to be seen. They are led by prefects, one of whom is a cardinal and the other a bishop, but are not called Congregations, which are what prefects normally head. Neither are they Pontifical Councils, which is what they were formed out of.

On the day of the announcement of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, its prospective prefect was in the Netherlands, speaking at the Christian Social Congress in Doorn, east of Utrecht. His talk is available online. In it, Cardinal Turkson describes via quotes from Gaudium et Spes how the involvement of Christians in the world is a necessary condition of the Christian life, which is, ultimately, why the new dicastery exists:

“The pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world, Gaudium et spes, opens with a resounding embrace of the lived realities of humankind: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men and women of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ” (GS §1). And to truly follow Christ, we must accept our “earthly responsibilities”. The followers of Christ understand that their faith is incarnated in the world: “by the faith itself they are more obliged than ever to measure up to these duties, each according to his proper vocation.” Conversely, it is entirely erroneous for people to “imagine they can plunge themselves into earthly affairs in such a way as to imply that these are altogether divorced from the religious life” (GS §43.1). The only true path is that which unites faith and action.”

Integral human development is not only something that we should strive for for ourselves, but for humanity as a whole, especially for those who need it most, “those in need, the sick, the excluded and marginalized, the imprisoned and the unemployed, as well as victims of armed conflict, natural disasters, and all forms of slavery and torture”.