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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Holding on to each other in a time of confusion – Bishop de Korte’s Christmas message

On Monday, following the annual Van Lanschot Christmas concert at the cathedral, Bishop Gerard de Korte presented his Christmas message. The bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch reflects on the state of our society and political world, saying that there is much to be grateful for, but also acknowledging feelings of insecurity which exist and which deserve a better answer than the ones provided by populist movements. In God’s coming down to humanity at Christmas, the bishop says, we find an example of what a just and loving society can look like.

bisschop-de-korte“Several weeks ago our queen opened the Jheronimus Academy of Data Science. With this, the city of ‘s-Hertogenbosch advances in the academic march of civilisation.

The data institute researches the possibilities of ‘big data’, but also the moral implications of the enormous increase of information. During the presentations preceding the opening of the institute, the guests were presented with interesting examples of practical applications.

In recent decades the digital revolution has led to an enormous increase of avalaible data. One thing and another means, in theory, that decisions by doctors, bankers, companies and managers can be made with much greater precision.

Reflecting on these matter I encounter a paradox. In the media we continuously hear about fact-free discussion among our politicians. While more information becomes available, many a politician prefers not to speak on the basis of facts, but primarily on the basis of feelings and emotions. It is not about what is true, but about what feels true.

I recall that, during the American elections, most of the statements by the current president-elect about economical topics were revealed by economists to be partly or completely untrue. Once again, it became clear that data must always be interpreted, and that interests also always play a part.

Much to be grateful for

One of our daily newspapers recently published an interesting conversation with Swedish researcher Johan Norberg about his latest book, Progress. In that book, Norberg shows, with a multitude of data, how life has improved from one generation to the next. It goes well with the world when it comes to fighting poverty, life expectation and education.

Worldwide fewer people fall in the category of ‘extremely poor’, research by the World Bank shows. In 1970, 29 percent of the world’s population was malnourished. Today that is 11 percent. People born in 1960 died on average at the age of 52. Today the average person reaches his 70th birthday.

In our country life expectation rose from 73 to 81 in half a century. The Netherlands has one of the best healthcare systems, as we read recently, and when it comes to education our dear fatherland is high on many lists. Seen from history, we can say that the Netherlands is a good country to live in.

We have a high level of prosperity. We do not need to fear the sudden appearance of a police van in front of our house, taking us away without reason. We have an impressive constitution with many freedoms, a free press and an independent judiciary. In short, there are much data for which we can be grateful.

Despite all these material and immaterial achievements, the experience of the state of our country is a different one for many Dutchmen. Sociologists refers to our country as ‘extremely rich and deathly afraid’. There is a strong feeling of unease among a significant part of the population. More than a few people have feelings of fear and insecurity.

Time of unease

In part that is a result of western news services. Good news is boring news. But in general one could say that good whispers and evil shouts. In that regard I like to quote Pope Francis: one falling tree makes more noise that an entire forest growing. Our media enlarges problems and everything that is going well remains in the background. Watching the news, one could get the impression that our world is one great mess, but that is not true of course. There is much more going well than wrong in the world.

But I do not want to claim that these current feelings of unease in our society are fact-free. There is an accumulation of problems which rightly worry many people.

Accelerated globalisation of the last decades has made many uneasy. There are increasingly clear winners and losers of that globalisations. People hear about the excesses of worldwide capitalism, such as high bonusses and tax evasion. But at the same they fear for their own jobs or those of their children and grandchildren. The security of existence of an increasing number of countrymen is under pressure.

Our political landscape is rapidly splintering. Many people are worried about that. While there are great challenges this splintering threatens to limit the effectiveness of the government after next March’s elections.

Many of us are also worried about the pollution of the environment and climate change. In his impressive social encyclical Laudato Si’, Pope Francis urges us to protect Mother Earth. Especially now we are facing the challenge to truly realise our stewardship.

A vague sense of insecurity also invokes much unease, especially because of attacks by Muslim terrorists. With their pointless violence against our citizens they try to destabilise our society and so play into the hands of unsavory forces in our own society.

Fear and the unease of the people is fed, not in the last place, by a spiritual crisis. Because of the last decades’ secularisation and dechristianisation many of our contemporaries lack a solid foundation. In a time of rapid transition they no longer have the ability of falling back on a solid faith in God.

All the concerns and problems lead to a coarsening of relationships in our society and sadly also to the rise of a poisonous populism. Poisonous because it divides people, undermines the trust in our fragile rule of law and especially because it shouts loudly, coarsely and without any nuance, without offering concrete solutions.

How to respond?

What response to this development is desirable? As bishop I want to mention a few things, based on the Catholic thought about the good and just society.

Let responsible administrators take the questions of populists seriously, for they are the questions of many citizens of our country. But these questions deserve a better answer than is being provided in populist circles. The threat to security of existence that is being felt requires a response. Our wealthy Netherlands must be able to safeguard the existence of every citizen, also materially.

Let us, as citizens of this good country, no longer push one another away, but keep looking for connections. No thinking in us and them, but inclusive thinking. Catholic thoughts aims to unite and is directed at sense of community and solidarity. Of course there are differences in vision and conflicts of interest. Many debates get stuck in rough language and shouting matches. Instead of providing arguments, personal attacks. The result is that the dignity of the neighbour is trampled underfoot. Let us then conduct social discourse on point, but also with respect and courtesy.

Our diocese’s recent policy note is titled Building together in trust. But that is not just a mission for our own diocese, but also for our society. An important aspect of this is that we acknowledge our responsibility for the whole. If we only serve our own (partial) interests, we will get a hard society in which the law of the jungle will be victorious. A just society, on the other hand, has an eye of the vulnerable and for the many people wo are threatened to be left behind.

Christmas: celebration of God’s solidarity

In a few days we will be celebrating Christmas. For Christians, Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ. Even before the celebration of St. Nicholas, many shop windows in our city were decorated for Christmas. Santa Claus, green and lights everywhere. Retail knows well how to use Christmas to make the December revenu a success. Priests and preachers have traditionally questioned this development. Christmas is more than gold and glitter, more than good food and presents.

I will not be repeating this Church protest against commerce’s grip on Christmas tonight. Not only because I do not like waving my finger like an angry school teacher, but also because that protests is not very effective.

It makes little sense for a sour-faced bishop to speak about the degeneration of the Christmas thought. People, including believers, have a need for comfort and security, especially in the dark and cold month of December. A good meal and a thoughtful present can only serve to improve mutual solidarity.

But perhaps you will allow me to invite you not to stop at the exterior, but also search out the interior of Christmas.

At Christmas we celebrate the coming of the Emmanuel: God with us. In Christ, God bows down to the world. At Christmas, God says to you and me: man, I love you. In Christ, God’s love of humanity has become unequivocally visible. In Jesus, God wants to share all with us, including our fear of dying and death. Christmas is the feast of God’s solidarity and loyalty. With Him, we are safe.

In this period, we dispel the darkness of winter with lights and candles. Our God dispels our darkness with the light that is Christ. I sincerely wish that you will allow that divine Light into your lives.

It will allow the tempering of much unease and anger. Secure in God’s love, we are called to hold onto each other in this confusing time and life in solidarity with each other; to build together in trust and take our responsibility for the building up of our faith communities and society.

Out of that conviction I wish you a blessed feast of Christmas.

Msgr. Dr. Gerard de Korte
Bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch”

Photo credit: Ramon Mangold

 

Pope Video 6 – Solidarity

Solidarity: it’s a word easily said, but the concept itself is far harder to put into practice. In this month’s video, Pope Francis asks us to pray for more solidarity with the sick and elderly in the cities, where isolation and neglect are so easy to come by. As Christians we are called to do the opposite, not to walk on and ignore, but to stop and encounter.

Waypoints – A selection of Lenten messages

Various bishops have written messages to their faithful on the occasion of Lent. In this post I want to go over six of them, written by bishops in and around the Netherlands. I have been scanning the various diocesan websites for them, and an interesting conclusion from that is that there aren’t  a lot. I have found one in the Netherlands, and a few in Belgium and the Nordic countries. Oh, and one from Luxembourg. None from Germany, oddly enough.

Anyway, let’s see what the bishops who did write a message found important to share.

staatsieportret20kardinaal20eijkFrom Utrecht, Cardinal Wim Eijk speaks about charity. He writes:

 “For many of us [Lent] is a time of abstinence, a period in which we deny ourselves “the pleasures of life” or at least limit ourselves. Lent is a journey through the darkness to the Light of Easter, a journey through the desert to the Source. And we take the time for that: this is not ‘merely’ a Four-Day March, but one of forty days. We do not fast with an eye on losing weight or adopting a healthier lifestyle – although these can certainly be positive side effects… […] During Lent we place not ourselves but God and also our neighbours at the centre. It is the we have in mind when we downsize our consumption pattern.”

But the cardinal warns, Lent is not just about saving money to give to some charity. He quotes Pope Francis, who said that if we do not have Christ and the Cross, we are a enthusiastic NGO, but not a Church. In other words, we can’t lose sight of our faith when doing good. In addition to fighting material poverty, we must also fight spiritual poverty.

“[Lent] is after all a time in which we make room to enrich our heart and our spirit, through prayer and reading Scripture, by directing these on what the should be the heart of our existence: our personal relationship with Our Lord Jesus Christ. We remove the frills and side issues from our life to experience that our wellbeing does not depend on them.”

In essence, Cardinal Eijk explains, our charitable actions can not be seen separate from the Eucharist.

“In the sacrament of the Eucharist we come closest to Our Lord Jesus Christ. In receiving the Eucharist we are conformed to Him. This creates obligations and holds an assignment: from now on, try to act in His Spirit.”

He concludes with pointing out several “desert experiences” that deserve our attention: the loneliness of people around us, and the loneliness that we as faithful can sometimes experience.

“We live in a time in which faith has long since ceased to be a matter of course, in which not belonging to a religion is increasingly becoming normative. Going to Church on Sunday has almost become “socially maladjusted behaviour” now that this day is beginning to look more and more like every other day of the week. And then there is the unavoidable fact that several churches will have to be closed in the coming period, churches in which parishioners have often had decades worth of precious experiences and memories. It is clear: a person of faith in the year 2014 must stand firm to continue following Jesus faithfully.

But the person of faith and his faith can also be shaken from within. Every faith life has fruitful and barren periods. Barren periods during which we are locked up in ourselves, imprisoned by doubt and sorrow. Sorrow for the loss of a loved one or the disappearance of what was once familiar. In those dark nights of abandonment it may seems as it of our prayer do not reach beyond that barrier of sorrow, as if they return to us like a boomerang.”

Countering that is the realisation that Christ is with us, even in times of sorrow and suffering, even of sin.

01-mgr%20leonardBrussels’ Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard sheds a light on the three constituent elements of Lent – fasting, almsgiving and prayer – and asks his audience some direct questions. About fasting, he writes:

“Properly understood, fasting is an act of love for God. Is it not right to happily deny ourselves something for the people we love the most? […] The way in which our Muslim brother and sisters practice Ramadan can inspire us in an exemplary manner to be at our most generous in this field.”

About almsgiving, the archbishop explains:

“This is an important aspect of Lent. Brotherly sharing starts at home. With that I mean the sharing of friendship, respect, patience and service.”

Lastly, there is prayer. Archbishop Léonard remind sus that the most important prayer is the Eucharist. About personal prayer, he asks us a question:

“We all know, at least in theory, the importance of prayer. But reality shows that a solid reminder sometimes does wonders! I ask you again: “How much time did we spend on prayer over the past month? Where were we?” Lent is an excellent opportunity to make a new start or, who knows, finally get started. Spending a few minutes a day with the Lord is not to much to ask, is it?”

And prayer is not hard:

“We must at least realise that every one of us can pray, even a longer prayer. Prayer is not reserved to priests and religious. It does not require a diploma or any special talent. The desire for prayer and asking Jesus, like His Apostles did, “Lord, teach us to pray!” (Luke 11:1), is enough. Let su listen to the voice of the Lord, who asks us, “Look, I am standing at the door, knocking. If one of you hears me calling and opens the door, I will come in to share a meal at that person’s side” (Rev. 3:20).”

hollerichArchbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg uses his message to urge the his faithful to devote themselves even more to the practices of Lent and Easter. In order the hear the voice of God, we must be ready to do so, he writes.

“I […] propose we fast and do abstinence every Friday during this time of preparation for Easter. A simple meal can help us break down barriers in our daily routine and to open ourselves to Christ’s call. It is also a gesture of solidarity with the poor. And it would be good to not do it alone, but to do so in our various communities. Fasting and abstinence open our hearts and make us better able to pray. Would this not be an opportunity to pray more, to maintain dialogue and contact with the living God? Without personal prayer these things elude us!”

Archbishop Hollerich also speaks about almsgiving, about giving something up for the other. And this is also good for ourselves:

“Let’s shake ourselves up during this Lent! Let’s open our hearts to the distress of the world, which also exists in Luxembourg. Only someone who opens their hands to share can receive this gift: the freedom of the children of God.”

The archbishop urges us to celebrate all of Lent, not just Easter, but also Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, in order to encounter Christ fully in our hearts.

Despite the problems the Church faces, and we as individual faithful also, Lent is ultimately a season of hope, and that hope grows the closer we come to the Living Lord.

anders+arborelius+ruotsi+katolinen+kirkkoBishop Anders Arborelius of Stockholm takes a slightly different approach to his message for Lent, as he does not explicitly discuss what we can and should do during this season. Instead, he begins with the image of a forgotten God, opening his letter with these blunt lines:

“We forget God. We live in age where God has become the forgotten God. Even the one who says, “The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me” (Isaiah 49:14) has in fact himself forgotten God.”

But God does not forget us, he continues. We can’t imagine how close God is to is, and how much he loves us. It is up to us to remind others that, while they may forget Him, He never forgets them. And that is hard to communicate, but we must remain hopeful.

Forgetting God contains an enormous risk for us, the bishop explains:

“When we forget God, there is a great risk that we also forget man and fail to see him in his dignity of being created in the image of God. When God is forgotten, creation itself is diminished and so are all created beings. In a time and environment where consumerism is paramount, everything – and everybody – is easily reduced to things that can be consumed. When God is out of sight, so is humanity – indeed all of creation is brought down and diminished.”

But God is knowable in His creation, Bishop Arborelius states. “His presence permeates everything”. And when we get to know God, our respect for His creation grows. In Lent, that respect is shown by our refraining from making unnecessary use of created things.

“We eat less. We disengage ourselves from our covetousness. We try to help our neighbour. We meet God in the poor and naked. We forget ourselves so that we can set God in the centre. We serve those who need us. We praise Go for His goodness. We deepen our faith. Lent helps us to seek God with greater eagerness. We are more receptive to God’s will for us.” St. Birgitta likens God to a washerwoman, who constantly washes us clean of our sins and guilt. During Lent we are serious about our conversion. We prepare ourselves for the triumph and joy of Easter through contrition and penance, by receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation and by participating in the Eucharist more often. We unite ourselves to the suffering and crucified Christ so that we can meet Him as the Risen and glorified Lord. The cross always leads us to the joy and peace of Easter.”

During Lent we must make a choice, the bishop insists.

“We must choose sides. We cannot limp on both sides. Mediocrity and half-heartedness must give way to devotion and commitment. We must begin each day anew in the new life of grace. We must seek the face of God each day by praying to Him and serving Him in our neighbour.”

But we need not stand alone in this radical choice. We are part of the community of the Church, which strengthens us, and the saints in heaven support us by their prayer. This is an antidote against selfishness and forgetting God.

Bishop Arborelius concludes his letter by presenting the Blessed Virgin, to whom the bishops of the Nordic countries will consecrate their nations on 22 March in Lund, Sweden, as our great help in heaven. She helps us be more evangelising and a better witness of Christ.

johan-bonnyAntwerp’s Bishop Johan Bonny devotes a major part of his message to the Belgian bill which allows euthanasia on minors. He quotes part of the bishops’ response to that immoral piece of legislation, which was sadly signed into law by King Philippe only days ago.

“The bishops agree with all who have expressed themselves unambiguously against this law on the basis of their experience and expertise. They fully support the rights of the child, of which the rights to love and respect are the most fundamental. But the right of a child to request his or her own death is a step too far for them. It is a transgression of the prohibition to kill, which forms the basis of our humane society.”

Following this reminder of the Church’s opposition to the laws of death, Bishop Bonny writes about the two complementary topics of freedom and solidarity.

“From where does our freedom come, and what does it consist of? Where does our solidarity consist of and what does it consist of? In the Christian view of humanity and the world freedom and solidarity are inseparable. They are like twins who belong together and strengthen each other.”

Using the example of St. Damian, Bishop Bonny then asks what connection we still make between freedom and solidarity. Lent leads us to the answer to that question.

“What was Good Friday but the ultimate unity of those two: freedom and solidarity. Why did Jesus end up on a cross? On the one hand because He wanted to be free: free to witness to the truth free to say and do what the Spirit of God inspired Him to do, free to give His life for His friends. On the other hand because He wanted to remain solidary: solidary with poor and broken people, solidary with the martyrs of all times, solidary with a weak and sinful humanity. He did not make a success story out of His life. He lost His trial. He was carried off through the backdoor of society.”

And so we come full circle, as the bishop seems to want to imply a link between the victims of draconian laws and Jesus Christ.

bürcherReykjavík’s Bishop Pétur Bürcher writes about the Year for Consecrated Life that Pope Francis has announced for 2015, and uses the opportunity the address the religious communities in Iceland which, he says, “are a sign of hope for  our Church!” The bishop goes on to relate the contributions that the religious communities have made to Catholic Iceland and announces a plan for the future:

“I would like  to establish a male monastery, if possible with the Benedictines or  Augustinians who in the Middle Ages possessed several monasteries in  Iceland. We have already found a large piece of land with houses and  a heated church in Úlfljótsvatn. Now we have to find a monastic community!  I have undertaken a lot to find it and hope soon for a fulfillment of  my dream which has become one of many people in Iceland and abroad!”

hoogmartensLastly, Bishop Patrick Hoogmartens of Hasselt opens his message by acknowledging that our environment does not make it easy for us to have the right attitude to start Lent.

“There is very little around us which calls us to it. The chocolate Easter eggs are already in the supermarket and commercials and media have always spoken with more easy about carnival, dieting and the Ramadan than about Christian fasting. Lent is apparently considered to be a private matter which we had better not discuss too much.”

But Lent is a precious time of conversion, the bishop says, drawing parallels with Christ’s time in the desert and the forty years that the people of Israel spent in the desert. It is a time of conversion from worldly things, in preparation for the future. And that conversion begins with the person of Jesus. Quoting Pope Francis, Bishop Hoogmartens says we must understand Christ’s deepest ‘being’.

“Jesus reveals Himself, not with worldly power and wealth, both more so in weakness and poverty. He came to us with a love which does not hesitate to sacrifice itself. He became like us in every way, except in sin. He carried our suffering and died on the Cross. It is He who we must open our hearts and lives much more to during Lent. From out of the love of Jesus, out of His mercy as the Christ, we can, as it were, ‘practice’ our witnessing, in honest love for the other, during Lent.”

The bishop emphasises the two sorts of poverty we must address, material and moral. About the latter he says:

“The extreme emphasis on human autonomy, for example, which became to shockingly visible in the recent amendments in Belgium regarding euthanasia, must urge us Christians to even more support care and nearness to suffering people according to the Gospel.”

In the first place, the bishops concludes, we must first make a conversion ourselves, before we can address the various sorts of poverty we see around us, for it is in Jesus that we find the means to fight it.

—————-

As many styles as there are bishops. Some offer deep theology, others outline plans for the future, but all offer points that we can keep in mind during Lent.