In whose name does the Church speak about the economy, politics and current social issues when evidently it does not have any claim or any particular competence in economic science, politics or any experience in economics?
We know that the answer to this lies in the ethical character of the numerous choices which men are expected to take in economic and political spheres. When involving itself in concrete ethical problems particularly in the social, economic and political world, does the Church still seek inspiration from the Gospel, the only source – as it maintains – of a truly Christian pronouncement?
In fact, for a long time the protestants have been asking whether the social teaching of the Church focuses more on declarations on human rights and on natural social philosophy than on reference to the Gospel. But can the Church present itself as having the right to teach on human rights? We should try to give a reply to this question as well.
It is in this light that I will try to speak about the political and socio-economic involvement as a new way of evangelization.
Our intervention will be based on the following points: the competence of the Church to deal with socio-political and economic problems; the challenges of Evangelization at global and local level today and then possible solutions.
I. The competence of the Church in socio-economic and political matters
We know very well that the proper mission which Christ has entrusted the Church with is not linked with economic, political or social matters: the assigned mission is purely religious. But from this religious mission light and strength emerge which help to build and reinforce the community of mankind in accordance with divine law.
According to Vatican II, the crucial point is that in Jesus Christ, in whom according to the Christian faith, humanity and divinity are united, man is looked upon in a new and clearer way. “Christ, the new Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.” The Council goes on to say that precisely: “ by His Incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some way with every man”1.
Pope John Paul II often speaks about this subject thus giving a special perception of the human dignity of every individual. Preaching Christ thus reveals to man the inalienable dignity which God has given him through his redemption by the Incarnation of His only begotten Son. Since man has this unique dignity he cannot be allowed to live in socio-political and economic inhuman conditions. The Church involves itself in economic, political and social problems precisely in the name of the Gospel and because of its belief and understanding of Christ’s key event. Economy and politics are not autonomous practices wherein questions cannot be raised about man’s ultimate aim and treatment by man and for man. It is exactly the opposite.
For this reason, the Church cannot refrain from involving itself. Socio-economic and political problems cannot be treated only from the technical aspects. Social, political and economic issues are a human problem which also has an ethical dimension. Even in spheres which are essentially technical, faith forms men’s consciences and helps them assume a role in this field. Thus faith sustains the social order by strengthening the moral sense in man 2.
Besides, social problems owe their origin and have their roots in men’s sin, in the de-Christianization of society and in the absence of spiritual values. Our economic organization ignores and even contradicts moral exigencies. That is precisely why the Bishops at Medellin, John Paul II in his homily in Zapopán Sanctuary and the Bishops at Puebla 3 describe this as a sinful situation. It is therefore moral causes, especially the exclusive crave for gain and the thirst for power, which produce sinful structures.
At the same time, it is worth understanding that the consequences of social problems are of concern even to the Church, inhuman life situations hinder the realization of the human person and man’s vocation to development and to final salvation: they are definitely a great disrespect towards the human person and give a materialistic outlook and conception of life 4.
Lastly, the Church, through its teaching, has the duty to advocate a christian outlook of life; and this implies our duty to listen to its teachings. Evangelization presupposes a continuous study of social life in the light of the Gospel. There are therefore strong links between Evangelization and human pomotion, links of an anthropological nature. Man, the subject of evangelization, is not an abstract being, but is subjected to social and economic problems. There are also links of a theological nature since one cannot dissociate Creation from Redemption which concerns so many concrete situations of injustices which have to be fought, as well as the establishment of justice 5.
In view of this mandate, we will now look at the challenges which Evangelization faces today.
II. Some global and local challenges and prospective ways out for an indepth Evangelization
Among these challenges, the main ones are the problems of debt, market economy, good governance, distribution of wealth such as capital, technology, knowledge and others…These challenges do not enhance human dignity and lead to inequality at global and local level. They are thus obstacles for an indepth Evangelization.
II.1 – The problem of debt in relation to human dignity
International debt is not only a political dossier. It is a great moral challenge because it affects human dignity, human rights and the well-being of the most vulnerable men, women and children in the international community.
When analized with reference to the Social Teaching of the Church, the actual situation of the international debt presents a very great moral challenge. It corrodes the intrinsic dignity of the human person, a dignity which every human being has received from God, since the creation, independently from any action taken on the part of man.
Human dignity cannot be safeguarded and promoted without the minimal conditions for political, economic and social order which determine that which every individual and State should aspire for and that which it should defend and expect from others. In other words, it is the pursuance of the common good which should dictate the responsibility of individuals, States, international institutions and other private bodies concerned.
Reduction of debt should be consistent and should be projected towards the benefit of the poor. In fact the driving principle should be that of satisfying the primary human needs rather than that of paying off the debts. “Life before debt”. The amount of the reduction of debt should be enough to release the necessary funds for the basic primary needs of the population that is health, education and the basic infrastructure. This means “putting life before debt”. All the governments, in the North as well as in the South, should involve themselves to eliminate the shamefulness of poverty.
– Transparency and the participation of civil society, Church included, non- governmental organizations, the poor and emarginated are essential contributors in agreements about the cancellation of debts, the allocation of the released resources and the provision of new financies and donations. In this way, governments in debt, can be held as the ones actually responsible for their citizens. This can reduce the risk of future debt crisis.
– The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have already shown that without a real commitment on the part of the local population, the conditions and the terms coming from abroad remain ineffective.
– The actual policy of reducing debt should be faster, more consistent and should include a greater number of countries. Of the 41 countries considered admissible for the reduction of debt through the initiative of poor countries most indebted in 1997, only 7 have been accepted and only 4 have benefited from a reduction in debt. This shows that the way is rather long. Together with this challenge there are other challenges such as the market economy, good governance at local and global level…
II.2 – The challenge of market economy, of good governance and the prospects of a way out for an indepth Evangelization
The fundamental challenge which market economy presents to today’s evangelization lies in the postponement of the problem which is strickly speaking a moral problem. This is characteristic of the “complex” culture and concerns individual consciences and their ability to contribute also as regards behaviour in the economic field, correcting the confiscation which puts into practice the philosophy of “business is business”.
In fact the globalization age has transformed the whole world into one village, unified by telematic networks, by the mass media and by the economic and political interdependence very often expressed in unilateral forms of dependence of the weakest on the strongest. The value which stands out not only from the economic and political point of view but also from the ethical side is subsidiarity. That which can be done and promoted at the local level should not be transferred elsewhere, while the process of globalization should pay attention to use to advantage the participation of the grass roots and not base only on interventions from above.
The loss of the identity of local cultures is a danger to all, because the global village needs communities, countries and cities which build a network of their proper economic, political, social, cultural and spiritual riches and which benefit from the overall communication which bring them the services and resources which they lack.
It is in this sense that the Church, which knows that cultures are essential means of evangelization, can never accept the disappearance of cultures but on the contrary, it should promote them through a genuine inculturation.
This is the reason why the Church should work to defend man’s place in the global economy. The Church should lay the ethical foundations to defend man, above all the weak and the least, even at the economic level, because even economy should be ethical.
The international community (UNO) should put into effect a legal, social and political counterbalance in the implacable logics of firms and revenue immediately. World Organizations of Commerce and Work should be evolved. These should be truly world organisms which make it possible for poor countries to put their products on the world market – especially agricultural and textile products – without being penalized by protectionism measures by richer countries, and without the risk of certain countries’ poverty being exploited by unscrupulous companies. One should also suggest the setting up of a “Group of global governance”, whose members should not only be the 24 States represented in the Administrative Council of the World Bank but also the States in the UNO.
The international community should create a State of Law at world level, in which the “Declaration of Human Rights” of 1948, enriched with new additions, is made to play an analogous role to the Constitution of a democratic country. At the same time, it is necessary that, as soon as the International Penal Tribunal is set up, it will be a really well known and accessible place of appeal which will not be the victim of vetos by the great world powers like the UNO.
Within the framework of world globalization, the big challenge, which the Church has to face today, is the promotion of interreligious dialogue. It is a means of realizing more deeply its catholicity. The interreligious dialogue could be an effective means of finding, together with the other religions, a common way for the promotion of peace and justice, for the safeguarding of creation and to overcome all branches of fundamentalism, as John Paul II says6.
In conclusion, because of its faithfulness to the Gospel, the Church should involve itself in socio-economic and political matters. Christian faith is not a purely interior and private matter; it should have social, economic and political consequences.
Those who believe in the Gospel should have the urgent duty to build the earthly city according to God’s plan. It is important here to clarify that the aim behind the socio-economic and political involvement, at all levels, should not be the attainment of egoistic privileges or of unjust gains, but the perusal and the realization of the common good for the development of man and the defence of human dignity.
We can thus reconstruct humanity and promote universality based no longer on absolute economy but on that which is human and all its possibilities.
It is therefore not enough to humanize the economy and politics, but we should try to create conditions which make it possible for us to live together. Each and everyone should examine his own way of living in order to live in sobriety and with consideration to others poverty thus guarding against the traps of the consumistic society which is the direct and unavoidable result of todays globalization. A synergic effort is necessary for the realization of a true “community” in today’s concrete and limited conditions.
The Apocalypse gives a powerful picture of this happy community towards which we should all aim: it is the celestial Jerusalem which links the radiant identity and the openness and welcome of each other7 the announcement of kerigma and the involvement in effective testimony in socio-economic and political living. Everybody’s and each and everyone’s commitment should be aimed towards this city.
This should be done through the continual passing of possible inspired ideas to ethical principles outlined and carried out with everybody’s contribution, starting from the humblest, the poorest and the least on earth, who are the most precious in God’s eyes and although very often forgotten in this world’s reckoning books, they are written in the book of life of the Lamb8.
1 GS n. 22
2. MM n. 195; QA n. 96
3. Puebla 40-44
4. QA n. 135,144; PP n. 9,21-22
5 EN n. 31
6 John Paul II, Novo millennio ineunte n. 55
7 Ap 21,23-27
II African Continental Meeting
YOU WILL BE MY WITNESS IN AFRICA. Reality and prospects for the laypeople’s formation. The contribution of Catholic Action/2 – Bujumbura, August 21st/25th 2002
- Rev. Salvatore NICITERETSE