More than two decades ago, several theologians wrote a book titled Catholic Social Teaching: Our Best Kept Secret.
At the time, it was true. Hopefully, with the publication of Pope Benedict’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), more people will become aware of the treasure that is Catholic social teaching.
Caritas in Veritate builds on Pope Benedict’s first two encyclicals: Deus Caritas Est (God is Love) and Spe Salvi (Saved by Hope). As an agency, we at Catholic Relief Services have grown in a deeper understanding of our own mission through our study and reflection on these encyclicals.
In particular, Deus Caritas Est spoke to us in its emphasis on the centrality of charity in the life of the Church, alongside celebration of the sacraments and proclamation of the word of God. It affirmed our work as a Catholic charitable agency to serve the poor with heartfelt concern, and reminded us that humanitarian action must be rooted in selfless love (agape) and should always be done in a spirit of humility.
Caritas in Veritate, with its emphasis on the themes of Catholic social teaching and integral human development, will have even more to say to us. Integral human development, an approach that encompasses the whole person and includes the physical, political, economic, psychological and spiritual dimensions, is central to the mission of Catholic Relief Services. It is integral human development that sets CRS apart from other humanitarian agencies.
In Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict says he wants to pay tribute to and honor the memory of Pope Paul VI and his encyclical Populorum Progressio (On the Development of Peoples), “revisiting his teachings on integral human development and taking my place within the path that they marked out, so as to apply them to the present moment.” This “present moment” is one marked by the phenomenon of globalization as well as the reality of the global financial crisis.
Like many popes before him, Pope Benedict states that markets cannot go unregulated and that “every economic decision has a moral consequence.” Economic activity, Pope Benedict says, must be directed toward the pursuit of the common good. It should foster the development and work to the benefit of the whole person and of all people. In that spirit, he suggests, there must be a space in our economy between the traditional profit-based companies and nonprofit institutions, for a business venture that “does not exclude profit, but instead considers it a means for achieving human and social ends.”
Pope Benedict invokes the continuum of Catholic social teaching, clearly proclaiming the sacredness and dignity of the human person and the obligation to protect life in all its forms. He writes: “The Church forcefully maintains this link between life ethics and social ethics, fully aware that ‘a society lacks solid foundations when, on the one hand, it asserts values such as the dignity of the person, justice and peace, but then, on the other hand, radically acts to the contrary by allowing or tolerating a variety of ways in which human life is devalued and violated, especially where it is weak or marginalized.’ ”
The themes of solidarity and our connectedness as one human family also pervade the encyclical. Pope Benedict notes that this phenomenon known as globalization may have erased borders and brought diverse cultures into closer contact, but that’s not enough.
“Today humanity appears much more interactive than in the past: this shared sense of being close to one another must be transformed into true communion,” he writes. “The development of peoples depends, above all, on a recognition that the human race is a single family working together in true communion, not simply a group of subjects who happen to live side by side.”
The Holy Father also sounds a clarion call for greater engagement in the fight against global hunger. “The right to food, like the right to water, has an important place within the pursuit of other rights, beginning with the fundamental right to life. It is therefore necessary to cultivate a public conscience that considers food and access to water as universal rights of all human beings, without distinction or discrimination,” he says.
This profound and inspiring document will give us much to think about, and to act on, in the coming months and years.
Thank you for your continued support and your prayers.