Integral Human Development: a new path with local churches

Integral Human Development: a new path with local churches


A recent visit to the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development made me aware of the journey that local churches are being asked to make in order to be in tune with the new mission being reconfigured by this Dicastery.

The Dicastery has a broad spectrum of being at the service of integral human development.  This terminology "integral human development" is not new. The topic was the focus of Pope Paul VI's encyclical letter Populorum Progressio

The development We speak of here cannot be restricted to economic growth alone. To be authentic, it must be well rounded; it must foster the development of each man and of the whole man. As an eminent specialist on this question has rightly said: "We cannot allow economics to be separated from human realities, nor development from the civilization in which it takes place. What counts for us is man—each individual man, each human group, and humanity as a whole." (Populorum Progressio, 14).

Fifty years later, in order to provide the Church with a structure that rises to the occasion of this aspiration at the service of authentic development, Pope Francis merged four pontifical councils – namely those concerning Health Care, Migrants, Justice and Peace, and Cor Unum. The establishment of the new Dicastery came into effect on 1 January 2017.  

A broad and complex mission

The Dicastery’s mission is to be attentive to all areas of public and social life where integral human development is at stake. It is not, therefore, a sum of old councils, but a new way of being present in all aspects of social life. Thus, when this Dicastery puts on its agenda the economy, ecology, security, health, and migration, this list is not meant to be exhaustive but rather to be understood as indicative and evolving. Local churches then have the possibility of extending this list by adding concerns that are specific to them.

A mission at the service of evangelisation

The mandate of the Dicastery is to support the mission of the Holy Father and the whole Church in its social outreach and socio-pastoral ministries. The Dicastery is at the service of dioceses, national and continental bishops' conferences, religious congregations, parishes, grassroots communities, Catholic organisations, other pastoral structures, the Catholic media, and other groups.

Innovative methodology

This mission calls for a real adaptation by local churches. The Dicastery now refrains from being the starting point for initiatives to be received and carried out by the local churches. Praedicate Evangelium defines it as a Dicastery "at the service of the pope [and] the college of bishops and individual bishops, as well as the episcopal conferences and their regional and continental groupings, and the hierarchical structures of the Eastern Churches" (Preamble 8), and of all those who, together with the bishops, help to identify, understand, and analyse the pressing obstacles to the full development of the People of God. This approach aims not to give directives, but to listen and dialogue, to analyse and propose. This approach, it should be noted, is indeed a revolution: that of Vatican II.

Concretely, it means that from now on "griefs and anxieties" (GS 1) that the Dicastery responds to must come from the local churches. It is they who will provide subjects of interest to the Dicastery in Rome. And it is on the basis of these requests that the Dicastery, always in synodal dialogue, will engage in discernment and reflection in order to participate in the elaboration of responses at the service of integral human development. The result of this participatory work, done in a back-and-forth movement between the local church and the Dicastery, will continue to develop and be amplified.


In order to animate this abundant, diverse, and complex work, the Dicastery has organised itself into three different sections.

Listening-Dialogue: this section is in charge of listening and animating the dialogue with the contact persons of the different structures of local churches on the ground, and their various ministries at the service of integral human development, or lack thereof.

Research-Reflection: this section is in charge of studying and translating the "griefs and anxieties" in question, with the help of the social sciences and in the light of the Church's social teaching, and proposing approaches in search of answers.

Communication-Restitution: this section is responsible for "translating" analysis and reflection into responses that promote or serve integral human development, characterised above all by human dignity, and to share and communicate widely the good practices that emerge from the local churches.

Relationship between the structures of the local churches and the Dicastery

During my visit I discussed with those I encountered the relationship between local churches and the Dicastery. Here too the situation is new. It is not necessary for organisations such as Justice and Peace or the Development Office to change their name. What is important is that the bishops and their collaborators feel invited and welcome to share what the People of God entrusted to their care are suffering from the most, and hopefully to feel encouraged and even empowered to embark upon a new journey. This journey involves defining their priorities in promoting the dignity of the human person, integral development, and the care of our common home. Not to expect ready-made answers from Rome, but rather to listen and accompany them on an ongoing basis, equipping themselves with the tools to analyse, understand and respond to the challenges they face. And if they feel that the issues they are dealing with require clarification from the Dicastery, to dialogue with the regional coordinator, as the point of contact for the Dicastery in their region or their local church. The regional coordinator will then share their concerns with the Research-Reflection Section of the Dicastery, which will in turn forward them to the Communication-Restitution Section, in a circular dynamic that can be described as "synodal." The options to be considered will thus be the result of a collaborative effort rooted in the concrete realities of each situation. Through this practice, the Dicastery reaffirms the principle of "subsidiarity," which is one of the pillars of the Church's social teaching. 


In order for this new approach to work and take root, local churches are invited to take the initiative; the important thing will be to have access to sufficient means of communication. The Dicastery is aware of this challenge. In its interaction with the local churches it has provided facilities for local capacity building. What we need now is for our grassroots structures to embrace these new possibilities and to learn together this rather new way of doing things. The Dicastery is grateful for the openness, patience, and courage of everyone, moving forward with joy and hope.

The reform of the Roman Curia will be authentic and effective if it is the fruit of an interior reform whereby we appropriate “the paradigm of the spirituality of the Council” as expressed in “the ancient story of the good Samaritan”, the person who goes out of his way to be a neighbour to someone left half-dead on the roadside, a foreigner whom he does not even know. This spirituality has its deepest source in the love of God, who loved us first, while we were still poor sinners. It reminds us that our duty is, in imitation of Christ, to serve our brothers and sisters, especially those in greatest need, and that Christ’s face is seen in the face of every man and woman, particularly those who suffer in any way (cf. Mt 25:40). (Praedicate Evangelium, Preamble 11).


Rigobert Minani, SJ

Regional Coordinator

Ecclesial Network of the Congo Basin Forest

07 July 2023