There can be no development without the promotion of human dignity

50 years from Populorum Progressio, the mission of the Church at the service of integral development

Populorum Progressio, sviluppo umano, dignità

Your Eminence, 50the anniversary of the Encyclical Populorum Progressio is being celebrated these days. What does this document mean for society and for today's man?

It has had and has prophetic meaning. We read it over and over again, and see how many things pronounced then are here today, before our eyes: very clear, yet we still struggle to understand its importance. Let me explain myself a little better, by taking up some of the statements that Blessed Paul VI had included in the encyclical. The first, at number 14: development is not reduced to economic growth. Well, it is now almost ten years that we hear nothing other than the crisis of the economy, of finance, of markets: yet we have not yet understood that the crisis we are experiencing is first of all anthropological. We pursue a purely ideological approach, not human. And this is because man no longer understands the reasons for which he lives.

We must instead return to look at the person, in his entirety, made of body and soul! Thus, we will find the ability to understand that what changes life is the conversion of the heart, the one that Pope Francis asks of us every day, not the tension to want to destroy this world to build another one in our image and likeness. The second, at number 15: every man is called to development, because every life is a vocation. And yet today, more and more, we fill our mouths with concepts that refer to personal success alone, and we are ready to cut off everyone else’s vocation by constantly offending life. The right to life is the first of human rights, but never has it been under deliberate attack as today. Just think of the many wars there are in the world, as well as the desire to make legal those policies that promote a culture of death, rather than giving value to life. Never as today have we had the opportunity to meet the other, in his weakness, but also in the fullness of his desires. For those who bear the testimony of Christ, for the Church, there are priorities in this sense: let us set out on our journey. 

Is there a third aspect?

Yes, also number 21 is very important. Paul VI says that true development takes place with a shift towards more humane conditions of life: greater consideration of the dignity of others, an orientation towards the spirit of poverty, cooperation for the common good, the will for peace, and above all recognition on the part of man of the supreme values, and of God who is the source and the end. This means that excluding the human factor from progress and focusing only on changing social structures means cutting off God's plan for the person. The encyclical was meant to clarify not only the moral bond of the international community to pursue the development of every man and all humanity, but it also wanted to make explicit what this integral development consists of.

The concept of integrity is typical of Christian doctrine and, significantly, it has also been included in the denomination of the new Dicastery for Promoting Human Integral Development.

Meanwhile, I would like to say that for me, and for the collaborators who are called to be part of it, it is a sign of the providence that the fiftieth anniversary of Populorum Progressio coincides with the birth of the new Dicastery that is inspired by it. This gives us the opportunity to reflect directly on the roots that are the foundation of this new reality and to understand what orientation the encyclical can give us in our actual work. We will do this in a conference that will be held on Monday 3 and Tuesday 4 April in the Vatican, entitled: "Prospect for Integral Human Development: 50 years after the Encyclical Populorum Progressio". And the fact that the Pope wanted to emphasize this integral aspect of the person already in the name indicates - in my opinion - a fruitful path for our activity at the service of the Holy Father and of the universal Church: that is to explain the anthropology that lays the foundation to the action, ours and that of Catholic charitable organizations, when it is committed to the human person, especially in favor of the suffering, the needy, the poor.

At what point are we in the process of starting up this new office of collaboration of the Holy Father?

I would say a good one. As is well-known, the Dicastery was established at the end of August 2016 with the motu proprio Humanam Progressionem, and officially became valid starting 1 January 2017. The Holy Father’s wish was to merge and integrate the functions of the four Pontifical Councils (Justice and Peace, Cor Unum, Migrants and Itinerants, Health Care Workers), which, for their nature and mandates, carried out many tasks in the fields of human promotion. During these months we gave gotten to know one another, and we have analyzed and closely examined the competence of each one and now we are about to move on to the more direct operative phase. The field of work done so far will remain so, but the way of keeping these skills in order will change, because a new combination must be created between them. For this reason, it was decided to not organize the Dicastery according to sections that correspond to the old offices. If we had done so, the problems leading to the reform would not have been resolved. That's why we are called to implement a new combination, which is based on two points. The first: service towards Church and service towards the person, based on: the theology of charity, the social doctrine of the Church and theology of suffering. It means that the service to the Church aims at developing the person in all his/her potential. This is the keystone upon which the Dicastery will be able to carry out its mission. On the other hand, the second point concerns the practical aspect of the areas of competence, which are separated into pastoral and social terms. Integral development aims to keep all these aspects together.

What are the concrete consequences?

The centrality of the individual is an important key concerning every social aspect, such as ecology and the care of the “common home” that man is called to “cultivate and care for” (Ge 2:15). Laudato Sì states in number 89 that “all of us are linked by unseen bonds and together form a kind of universal family, a sublime communion which fills us with a sacred, affectionate and humble respect”, recognizing “human beings of their unique worth and the tremendous responsibility it entails” (LS, n. 90)

Man exercises his dominion over creation not in an absolute way, rather in obedience to God the Creator, of which he himself is image. Respect for the person and for creation are conditions that are indissolubly necessary for the integral development of man, because man and the environment respond to God's creative wisdom and his plan of love. This overlaps with the great challenges we face, because today technological achievements sometimes call into question the very being of man. In the conference, based on three major thematic areas, body-soul, man-woman, person-society, we will further study all these themes.

Among today's global challenges there is immigration. Your Eminence, some of your critical statements about US policies have caused a sensation.

I would like to emphasize that I only expressed my concern. My words aimed at expressing the hope that the culture of encounter, as often repeated by Pope Francis, may prevail in every area of ​​life, especially in welcoming those most in need and suffering. Meeting people helps that conversion of the heart of which I spoke earlier. We are all called to this conversion, me in the first place. It is neither the task nor the will of the Holy See to get involved in the policies and legislations of a State, which freely expresses its representatives. In the field, the American Church naturally knows how to promote - and it is already doing so - a presence that can make a credible contribution to the common good.


Original: Italian

Source: L'Osservatore Romano

26 March 2017