ON November 22-24, 2007, in Rome the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace convened the Second World Congress of the Ecclesial Organizations Working for Justice and Peace. More than 250 delegates from the Church’s social action centers throughout the world came together to commemorate the “40th Anniversary of Populorum Progressio: the Development of the Whole Man and of All Men.”
Pope Paul VI issued his landmark letter on “The Development of Peoples” in 1967, just two years after the completion of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. Many of the conference speakers pointed out the relevance and continuing challenges raised by the social encyclical.
There is first of all the challenge to be human—in a world where violations of human rights are still rampant, especially against women and children, tribal minorities, and the weaker sectors of society.
There is also the challenge of pluralism and different cultures, even as modern means of communication and transportation have brought the four corners of the world closer than ever before.
Finally, there is the challenge of globalization--which can be viewed either from the perspective of those countries that dominate the global market or from the perspective of the many more countries that remain underdeveloped.
It is in this light that Pope John Paul II pointed out the originality of Populorum Progressio in his commemorative encyclical, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, twenty years later.
First, Populorum Progressio emphasizes the ethical-moral and cultural character of development. “Development which is merely economic is incapable of setting man free,” notes Pope John Paul II.
Secondly, the social question has now acquired a worldwide dimension. The transfer of capital and technology has gone beyond national borders without much regulation. On the other hand, the mobility of labor has been restricted.
Thirdly, development is closely linked to justice and peace. “The new name for peace is development,” writes Paul VI, even as the earlier notion of peace includes justice as a pre-requisite.
During the second day of the conference, continental-wide reports were given on the challenges of development in Africa, Europe, America, Asia, and Oceania. Working groups by languages were then asked to discuss the interrelated themes of: conflicts, poverty and inequality, democracy, and environment.
In the midst of all these sharings on development issues today, perhaps the most striking was that of Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, Archbishop of Ranchi in India. Speaking in the first person as a tribal himself in his keynote address, he asserted: “What I am today and what my people of Chotanagpur are today, is almost entirely because of the Social Teaching of the Church.”
He went on to cite the evangelizing work of a pioneer missionary, Fr. Constant Lievens, a Belgian Jesuit, who came to India in the late 19th century. Noting the mass exploitation of the tribals and land usurpation by landlords, Fr. Lievens took up legal cases in defense of the tribals’ lands.
Because of this, Cardinal Toppo continued: “A great number of them accepted Christianity, as they came to understand that it enabled them to regain their human dignity. Within seven years there were eighty thousand Catholics. Today there are over a million Catholics from this tribal region… While Fr. Lievens is called the Apostle of Chotanagpur for bringing Christ to our people, he is also popularly known as Nyay Ka Masiha, i.e., ‘the Messiah of Justice’ for bringing justice to our people. Faith and Justice always go together. This happened to my people, and for this reason, I am here with you today.”