Let Popes Inspire Us in Social Justice
Fr Thabang Nkadimeng OMI – He missed the 40th anniversary by two years, but when Pope Benedict XVI published his social encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth) it followed Paul VI’s 1967 encyclical Populorum progressio on human development.
We have just observed the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul’s landmark encyclical—and the 30th of that of John Paul II’s Sollicitudo rei socialis, which was published in 1987 to mark 20 years since Populorum Progressio.
The immediate link between these three encyclicals is the Christology inherent within the theme of development. Paul VI affirms that “life in Christ is the first and principal factor of development”, a notion underlined by Benedict in Caritas in veritate.
Benedict has a thought-provoking way in which he addresses the social issues. Ecclesiology is never divorced from the social doctrine of the Church and he even states that Populorum Progressio would be a document without roots if it were seen apart from the “tradition of the apostolic faith”.
The Second Vatican Council (1962-65) is linked in a close way to Populorum Progressio, as Paul VI states in the opening pages of the encyclical and as John Paul II later affirms. Consequently, for Benedict these encyclicals are not only social awareness documents but also documents of faith, linked to the whole life of the Church.
The link that these encyclicals have with the whole life of the Church was well expressed by Paul VI in saying: “The whole Church, in all her being and acting — when she proclaims, when she celebrates, when she performs works of charity — is engaged in promoting integral human development.”
The need for a Christian humanism is therefore a point of departure, defining what man is and what kind of humanism he should strive to achieve.
Charity Transforms this Life
Charity is the greatest of all the theological virtues because it transforms the earthly city and prepares for the eternal city. Faith and hope are important in the earthly city, but only charity remains in the eternal city.
Therefore, to love is to be looking forward to the beatific vision in which love will gaze at Love par excellence. If in the earthly city man may be transformed by charity, then he is in an experience of the “already and not yet”, where he is transformed in the earthly city and given a taste of the Heavenly Jerusalem.
The issues of people living in great poverty and misery mentioned by Paul VI — particularly in countries still living under colonialism or those who were about to gain their independence in the wake of 1967 — has not changed.
Although colonialism was bad and nations needed to be independent, what followed after independence in some places was worse or pretty much the same kind of torment caused by fellow leaders to their countrymen.
The relationship, therefore, of Populorum Progressio and Caritas in veritate on integral human development should be seen within the framework of striving for a truly Christian humanism embedded in Christology, ecclesiology and social concern and guiding towards the heavenly Jerusalem, the Eternal City.
In 1988, Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote to then-State President PW Botha stating this need for social concern and the end of apartheid. His words can be our concluding remarks too:
“Apartheid…claims that what makes a person qualify for privilege and political power is that biological irrelevance, the colour of a person’s skin and his ethnic antecedents. Apartheid says those are what make a person matter.
“That is clearly at variance with the teaching of the Bible and the teaching of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Hence the Church’s criticism that your apartheid policies are not only unjust and oppressive. They are positively unbiblical, unchristian, immoral and evil.”