Populorum Progressio, the Document:

On the 19th October 2007, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, gave an address at the United Nations in New York to mark the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Pope Paul V1’s Encyclical “Populorum Progressio”. Archbishop Martin began his talk by recalling how “it was the challenge of addressing the needs of the poorest nations and their peoples which led the Pope to write this Encyclical”.

Populorum Progressio (1967) was the first social Encyclical to be written after Vatican Council 11. Among its aims was that of establishing a new way of looking at the relationship between the Church and the world.

It followed on Gaudium et Spes of 1965 which opened with: “The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the men of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well”.

Earlier social encyclicals had been weak on social analysis:
Rerum Novarum 1891 of Pope Leo XIII, Quadregesimo Anno 1931 of Pope Pius XII and Mater et Magristra 1961 of Pope John XXIII had all been written from a European perspective, with North America included as honorary Europeans. Their concern was that of the church and the rise of the modern industrialised society.
Populorum Progressio is addressed to all, “the social question ties all men together, in every part of the world” (no.3) and thus provides a ‘common human culture’. In it the Church becomes truly catholic, universal and planetary.

In the writing of Populorum Progressio Pope Paul VI sought the advise of social analysis experts, so much so, that the Wall Street Journal described the encyclical as “souped up Marxism”.

Seminal and Forward Looking Document:

An example of the document being futuristic is its definition of authentic development: “for each and all the transition from less human conditions to those which are more human”  (no.20). (Pre-dated the ‘human development index’ of the United Nations Development Programme. – This index of UNDP is today the standard measurement of what is really happening to people, in contrast to what is happening to the economy.)

No. 6 sums up the aspirations of women and men, especially those who live now in misery, as “to seek to do more, know more and have more in order to be more”.

No 43 says, ”There is no progress towards the complete development of women and men without the simultaneous development of all humanity in the spirit of solidarity”. Solidarity moves us beyond the empirical reality of economic interdependence to the ethical reality of human interconnectedness. The world would become an integrated tolerable place, only through cultivating a sense of interdependence and solidarity. (Pope John Paul 11’s encyclical of 1987 Sollicitudo Rei Socialis no. 76 speaks of solidarity as treating others “on par with ourselves in the banquet of life, to which we are all equally invited by God”. In the Compendium of the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church of 2004 solidarity is described as the moral virtue of being responsible for one another (no 192).)

There is a hint at Globalisation in No 3. “Today the principal fact that we must all recognise is that the social question has become world-wide”.

No. 58 speaks of how an unequal starting line makes a mockery of “free trade”. And again in no. 59 “Free trade can be called just only when it conforms to the demands of social justice”.

The encyclical concludes with: “Knowing, as we all do, that development means peace these days, what man would not want to work for it with every ounce of his strength? No one, of course. So We beseech all of you to respond wholeheartedly to Our urgent plea, in the name of the Lord” (no.87).

If written today, such an encyclical would have to address the issues of gender, HIV/AIDs, environment, global migration, information technology, the “new movements” – those rallying around the World Social Forum, the new global realties of terrorism.

A Radical Document:

No. 26 speaks about the “the international imperialism of money”.
No. 58 questions liberalism by challenging prices set in free trade markets that produce unfair results.

What most distressed European and North American critics was No.59 “We must repeat once more that the superfluous wealth of rich countries should be placed at the benefit of poor nations. The rule which up to now held good for the benefit of those nearest to us, must today be applied to all the needy of the world. Besides, the rich world will be the first to benefit as a result. Otherwise their continued greed will certainly call down on them the judgement of God and the wrath of the poor, with consequences no one can foretell”.

The above has echoes of Paul VI’s first encyclical of 1964 Ecclesiam Suam where he asks in no.104, “Could we not one day bring back Marxist ideas to their Christian origins”?

No. 24 points to the duty of government to support the common good vis á vis landed estates that “are extensive, unused or poorly used, or because they bring hardships to peoples or are detrimental to the interests of the country”.

An Optimistic Document:

No. 78 sees the role or the United Nations to “bring not some people but all peoples to treat each other as sisters and brothers”
In Octogesima Adveniens No 48 he speaks about a “hope that springs also from the fact that the Christian knows that other women and men are at work, to undertake actions of justice and peace working for the same ends”.

The world-wide Impact of Populorum Progressio 1967 –1975

Justice and Peace Commissions were set up to implement Populorum Progressio. Paul VI compared these commissions to a weather clock placed on the gable of a church “as a symbol of watchfulness”. Their brief would be to “keep the eye of the church alert, her heart open, and her hand outstretched for the work of love that she is called upon to do”.
The consequence “development is the new name for peace” was the establishing in 1968 of January 1st as the World Day of Peace.
In 1967 Africae Terrarum was published to apply the teachings of Populorum Progressio to Africa. With Populorum Progression behind him Paul VI could look the Latin Americans and Africans in the eye, and think of going there. He was on their side.
In August 1968 Pope Paul V1 journeyed to Bogata and Medellín in Columbia. He went to Bogata for the Eucharistic Congress and to Medellín for the meeting of CELAM (Latin American Episcopal Conference).
By his visit to Uganda in 1969 he became the first Pope to ever visit Africa. This saw the strengthening of AMECEA (Association of member Episcopal Conferences in East Africa) and the setting up SECAM  (the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar).
In May 1971 Octogesima Adveniens was published only four years after Populorum Progressio. Things were moving so quickly that already there had been calls to update Populorum Progression. The approach in this Apostolic Letter was less authoritative and indicated a different spirit. It was building more from the bottom up. It provided a pluralist, decentralised approach to economic problems.
No. 4: “In the face of such widely varying situations it is difficult for us to utter a unified message and to put forward a solution which has universal validity. Such is not our ambition, nor is it our mission. It is up to the Christian communities to analyse with objectivity the situation which is proper to their own country, to shed on it the light of the Gospel’s unalterable words and for action from the social teaching of the Church”. Here there is recognition of the complexity of situations. The task at hand is for the “Christian communities” scattered throughout the world to discern “the signs of the times” and to act.
The 1971 Synod’s final document Justice in the World insisted that “action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel” It was not therefore an optional extra or something you tacked on when you had put across the “spiritual” message of the Gospel: the social teaching was essential to it.
It was decided to reanimate the tradition of holding a Holy Year every 25 years and to give it a contemporary relevance. The Jewish tradition of “jubilee” was proposed – there were plenty of slaves that needed freeing. Land redistribution was a matter of justice in Brazil, for example. Cancelling debt of Third World countries – technically called “rescheduling”, – was implied by Populorum Progression.

The Impact of Populorum Progressio in Ireland  1967 –1982

The social teaching of pre Populorum Progressio encyclicals did not find a resonance in Ireland, which was then a predominantly agricultural country.
The Bishop’s pastoral of 1977, The Work of Justice, presented for the first time a social analysis of poverty and underdevelopment. Two institutional developments reflected a new growth emerging out of old traditions; the founding of Trócaire  (the Development Aid of the Irish Episcopal Conference) in 1973 and CORI (the Conference of Religious of Ireland) in 1982.
The IMU (the Irish Missionary Union) was founded in 1970, to promote cooperation between mission-sending and mission-aid organisations. The IMU acts as liaison between missionary and national or international organisations involved in evangelisation and development. The IMU works closely with the AEFJN (Africa-Europe Faith and Justice Network). AEFJN founded In Brussels in 1988 works to promote greater equality in the relationships between the European Union and Africa.
The Irish Antenna or Group has 27 members from 20 religious congregations and societies and one lay person, all of whom are deeply concerned about Africa and its people

Implications for AEFJN’s advocacy

To be faithful to the vision of Populorum Progressio the promotion of structural change for fuller life must remain central to the advocacy of AEFJN which is linked to  “building a world where all people, no matter what their race, religion or nationality, can live fully human lives, freed from servitude imposed on them by others or by natural forces over which they have not sufficient control; a world where freedom is not an empty word…” (no. 47).

Structural elements are evident in:

  • Calling for higher taxes in rich countries to support the development effort,
  • Higher prices for goods imported from poor countries,
  • More concerted, human centered planning,
  • Diversion of funds from arms spending
  • Caution against neo-colonialism,
  • Effective debt restructuring without harmful conditions.
  • Equity in trade relations.

AEFJN advocacy brings a value-added dimension to the debates and discussion of public policy. This value-added dimension comes from the grounding of its advocacy in the church’s social teaching. Catholic Social Teaching contains an anthropology of human fulfilment, which encourages the work of integral development as a necessary element in the work of advocacy for global justice and fairness.

In solidarity with Populorum Progressio, AEFJN builds a Gospel-based foundation for all its advocacy work.  In its life and work the AEFJN advocacy for global justice is enhanced by the challenge and guidance of Populorum Progressio.

Brian O’Toole       
Justice IMU / AEFJN Ireland           
October 2007    [email protected]

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