Via a Catholic social justice listserve that I monitor I found out about this powerful statement from the Pope on his challenge to Catholic Bishops on social justice concerns. This particular excerpt from the Pastores Gregis is particularly powerful:
- The Bishop, promoter of justice and peace67. Within this missionary context, the Synod Fathers described the Bishop as a prophet of justice. The war of the powerful against the weak has, today more than ever before, created profound divisions between rich and poor. The poor are legion! Within an unjust economic system marked by significant structural inequities, the situation of the marginalized is daily becoming worse. Today, in many parts of the world, people are starving, while in other places there is opulence. It is above all the poor, the young and refugees who are the victims of these dramatic cases of inequality. In addition, women in many places are demeaned in their dignity as persons, victims of a hedonistic and materialistic culture.
In the face of, and often in the midst of these situations of injustice which inevitably open the door to conflicts and death, the Bishop is the defender of human rights, the rights of human beings made in the image and likeness of God. He proclaims the Church’s moral teaching by defending life from conception to its natural end. He likewise proclaims the Church’s social teaching, based on the Gospel, and he shows profound concern for the defence of all who are poor, raising his voice on behalf of the voiceless in order to defend their rights. The Church’s social teaching is able to offer hope even in the worst of situations, because, if there is no hope for the poor, there will be no hope for anyone, not even for the so-called rich.
The Bishops vigorously condemned terrorism and genocide, and raised their voice on behalf of those who cry out because of injustice, those who are being persecuted and those who are unemployed, as well as children who are being abused in various and increasingly serious ways. Like holy Church herself, which is in the world the sacrament of intimate union with God and of the unity of the whole human race,278 the Bishop is the defender and the father of the poor, concerned for justice and human rights, and one who brings hope.279
The words of the Synod Fathers, and my own, were explicit and forceful. ”During this Synod, we could not close our eyes to many other collective tragedies… A drastic moral change is needed… Some endemic evils, when they are too long ignored, can produce despair in entire populations. How can we keep silent when confronted by the enduring drama of hunger and extreme poverty, in an age where humanity, more than ever, has the capacity for a just sharing of resources? We must also express our solidarity with the flood of refugees and immigrants, who, because of war, political oppression or economic discrimination, are forced to flee their homeland in search of employment or in the hope of finding peace. The ravages of malaria, the spread of AIDS, illiteracy, the hopelessness of so many children and youth abandoned to life on the streets, the exploitation of women, pornography, intolerance and the unacceptable exploitation of religion for violent purposes, drug trafficking and the sale of arms: the list is not exhaustive! Still, in the midst of all this distress, the humble take new heart. The Lord looks at them and strengthens them. ‘Because they rob the afflicted, and the needy sigh, now I will arise,’ says the Lord” (Ps 12:5).280
The dramatic picture just painted can only evoke an urgent appeal for peace and a commitment to building peace. The hotbeds of conflict inherited from the past century and from the whole past millennium continue to smoulder. Numerous local conflicts are creating profound wounds between different cultures and nationalities. And how can we fail to mention forms of religious fundamentalism, a constant enemy of dialogue and peace? In many areas the world resembles a powder-keg ready to explode and shower immense suffering upon the human family.
In this situation the Church continues to proclaim the peace of Christ who in the Sermon on the Mount proclaimed blessed those who are peacemakers (cf. Mt 5:9). Peace is everyone’s responsibility, a responsibility which passes through the thousand little acts which make up everyday life. It awaits its prophets and builders, who should be found especially in the ecclesial communities of which the Bishop is the pastor. Following the example of Jesus, who came to announce freedom to the oppressed and to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord (cf. Lk 4:16-21), the Bishop will be ever ready to show that, as the Church’s social teaching makes clear, Christian hope is deeply linked to zeal for the integral promotion of individuals and society.
In the midst of tragically frequent situations of armed conflict, the Bishop, even as he exhorts people to assert their rights, must always remind them that Christians are obliged in all cases to reject vengeance and to be prepared to forgive and to love their enemies.281 There can be no justice without forgiveness. Hard as it may be to accept, for any sensible person the matter seems obvious: true peace is possible only through forgiveness.282
Interreligious dialogue, especially on behalf of world peace
68. As I have insisted on various occasions, dialogue between the religions must be put at the service of peace between peoples. The different religious traditions possess the resources needed to overcome divisions and to build reciprocal friendship and respect. The Synod appealed to Bishops to promote meetings with the representatives of the world’s peoples, in order to reflect carefully on the conflicts and wars which are tearing our world apart, and to identify the paths which can be taken towards a common commitment of justice, concord and peace.
The Synod Fathers strongly emphasized the importance of interreligious dialogue for peace, and asked the Bishops to commit themselves to engage in this important activity in their respective Dioceses. New paths to peace can be blazed by defending religious freedom, which the Second Vatican Council discussed in the Decree Dignitatis Humanae, and by working for the education of the younger generation and the proper use of the communications media.283
The horizons of interreligious dialogue, however, are surely wider, and so the Synod Fathers stated once more that such dialogue belongs to the new evangelization, especially in these times when people belonging to different religions are increasingly living together in the same areas, in the same cities and their daily workplaces. Interreligious dialogue thus has a place in the daily life of many Christian families; for this reason too the Bishops, as teachers of the faith and shepherds of the People of God, must give it proper attention.
When Christians live side-by-side with persons of other religions, they have a particular obligation to testify to the oneness and universality of the saving mystery of Jesus Christ and to the consequent necessity of the Church as the means of salvation for all humanity. ”This truth of faith does not lessen the sincere respect which the Church has for the religions of the world, but at the same time, it rules out, in a radical way, that mentality of indifferentism characterized by a religious relativism which leads to the belief that ‘one religion is as good as another’ ”.284 It is clear, then, that interreligious dialogue can never be a substitute for the proclamation and propagation of the faith, which constitute the primary goal of the Church’s preaching, catechesis and mission.
A frank and unambiguous affirmation that human salvation depends on the redemption accomplished by Christ is not an obstacle to dialogue with other religions. In the context of our profession of Christian hope, it cannot be forgotten that it is precisely this hope which is the basis of interreligious dialogue. As the conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate states: ”All nations are one community and have one origin, because God caused the whole human race to dwell on the whole face of the earth. They also have one final end, God, whose providence, manifest goodness and plan of salvation extend to all, until the elect be gathered together in the holy city which the glory of God will illuminate and where the peoples will walk in his light”.285
Civil, social and economic life
69. The pastoral activity of the Bishop cannot fail to manifest particular concern for the demands of love and justice arising from the social and economic situation of the poor, the abandoned and the mistreated. In every poor person believers see a special image of Jesus. Their presence within the ecclesial and civil communities is a litmus test of the authenticity of our Christian faith.
I would also like to mention briefly the complex phenomenon of globalization, which is one of the features of our world today. Certainly there exists a ”globalization” of the economy, finances and culture which is expanding as a result of the rapid progress of information technology. As I have observed on other occasions, this phenomenon calls for careful discernment in order to identify its positive and negative aspects and their consequences for the Church and the whole human race. Bishops can make an important contribution to this discernment by insisting on the urgent need for a globalization in charity, without marginalization. In this regard, the Synod Fathers spoke of the duty of promoting a ”globalization of charity” and considered issues associated with the cancellation of foreign debt, which compromises the economies of entire peoples, holding back their social and political progress.286
Without entering into the details of this serious problem, I would only repeat several fundamental points already indicated elsewhere. The Church’s vision in this area has three essential and concomitant points of reference: the dignity of the human person, solidarity and subsidiarity. It follows that ”the globalized economy must be analyzed in the light of the principles of social justice, respecting the preferential option for the poor who must be allowed to take their place in such an economy, and the requirements of the international common good”.287 When globalization is joined to the dynamism of solidarity, it is no longer a source of marginalization. Indeed, the globalization of solidarity is a direct consequence of that universal charity which is the heart of the Gospel.
Respect for the environment and the protection of creation
70. The Synod Fathers also addressed the ethical dimension of the ecological question.288 In the deepest sense, a call for the globalization of solidarity also involves the urgent question of the protection of creation and the earth’s resources. The ”crying out of all creation” spoken of by the Apostle (cf. Rom 8:22) seems today to occur in a reversal of perspectives, since it is no longer a matter of an eschatological tension which awaits the revelation of the sons of God (cf. Rom 8:19), but rather of a paroxysm of death which strives to grip humanity itself in order to destroy it.
Here in fact we encounter the ecological question in its most insidious and perverse form. In effect, ”the most profound and serious indication of the moral implications underlying the ecological problem is the lack of respect for life evident in many of the patterns of environmental pollution. Often, the interests of production prevail over the dignity of workers, while economic interests take priority over the good of individuals and even entire peoples. In these cases, pollution or environmental destruction is the result of an unnatural and reductive vision which at times leads to a genuine contempt for man”.289
Clearly, what is called for is not simply a physical ecology, concerned with protecting the habitat of the various living beings, but a human ecology, capable of protecting the radical good of life in all its manifestations and of leaving behind for future generations an environment which conforms as closely as possible to the Creator’s plan. There is a need for an ecological conversion, to which Bishops themselves can contribute by their teaching about the correct relationship of human beings with nature. Seen in the light of the doctrine of God the Father, the maker of heaven and earth, this relationship is one of ”stewardship:” human beings are set at the centre of creation as stewards of the Creator.