On Sollicitudo rei Socialis’ birthday, an Advent reflection

 

Thirty years ago, in late December of 1987, St. John Paul II promulgated his encyclical Sollicitudo rei Socialis, or On Social Concern. Reflecting on Blessed Paul VI’s Populorum Progressio on its twentieth anniversary, John Paul called attention to the continuing need to address poverty and underdevelopment. He pointed to the divisions, both East-West and North-South, which were widening the gap between rich and poor. He called attention to superdevelopment and consumerism, which were contributing to spiritual impoverishment, especially in wealthy societies. He called for authentic human development which values being over having. He invited all people to solidarity and to work together to overcome the structures of sin that prevent true development and peace.

One well-quoted passage from the Sollicitudo rei Socialis is St. John Paul II’s description of solidarity:

[Solidarity] is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all (no. 38).

Today, we continue to struggle to encounter the “other”—of different class, race, culture, religion, etc.—and to truly see the concerns of those who are vulnerable as our own concerns. Pope Francis, for whom the “globalization of indifference” and the “throwaway culture” are important themes, reflected on our contemporary challenge:

God is asking each of us: “Where is the blood of your brother which cries out to me?” Today no one in our world feels responsible; we have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters. We have fallen into the hypocrisy of the priest and the levite whom Jesus described in the parable of the Good Samaritan: we see our brother half dead on the side of the road, and perhaps we say to ourselves: “poor soul…!”, and then go on our way. . . . In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business! (7/8/13).

Both St. John Paul II and Pope Francis invite us to solidarity. During Advent, we wait in anticipation of the utmost expression of solidarity, the coming of Emmanuel, or “God with us.” What does the invitation to solidarity mean for us, as Catholics, during the Advent season as we prepare for Christ’s coming? What concrete actions can we take during this season to go beyond “vague compassion”?

Particularly relevant are St. John Paul II’s and Pope Francis’ reflections on consumerism as a barrier to solidarity because it can cause us to value things more than people and blind us to our obligation to care for people who are vulnerable.

During these weeks before Christmas, we are inundated with advertisements that aim to convince us that we can only be happy if we buy this or have that, and that family and friends will love us more as a result.   We should see this as a spiritual struggle. How can we reject these illusions, refocus on Jesus’ imminent coming, and prioritize our relationships with others, in whom God is present?

In my own family, we exchange gifts at Christmas, but we limit our spending and try to be aware of the ethical implications of our purchases. I often utilize the fantastic CRS Ethical Trade website, which connects ethically-conscious consumers with numerous extensively-vetted companies committed to social and economic justice.  Some years, my extended family has foregone gifts to make donations to charitable organizations. We have found that experience rewarding and refreshing.

As a parent myself, I am quite aware that celebrating an “alternative” Christmas can be difficult with children. Instead of making radical changes in a short time frame, one approach is to work gradually towards moderation in gift-giving while introducing new activities that value persons over things. We participate, for example, in a parish program to purchase gifts for children on behalf of low-income, incarcerated parents. I see it as a victory that my 5-year old speaks proudly about the toy he picked out for Randy, a child of the same age whose parent is incarcerated. It is of course our “encounter” with God and neighbor that leads to solidarity, which is why service activities orientated towards relationship-building can also be effective at building the groundwork for solidarity. Activities based in encounter can become fertile ground for conversation about poverty, inequality and the ways we can respond as individuals and communities.

Towards the end of Sollicitudo rei Socialis, St. John Paul II writes:

I wish to ask [all men and women] to be convinced of the seriousness of the present moment and of each one’s individual responsibility, and to implement – by the way they live as individuals and as families, by the use of their resources, by their civic activity, by contributing to economic and political decisions and by personal commitment to national and international undertakings – the measures inspired by solidarity and love of preference for the poor. This is what is demanded by the present moment and above all by the very dignity of the human person, the indestructible image of God the Creator, which is identical in each one of us (no. 47).

I pray that during this Advent—and beyond—we can all take this challenge to heart. Let’s work together to create a culture of solidarity!

Jill Rauh is assistant director of education and outreach of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Ethical Consumerism and our Catholic Faith

Stephanie Rapp, Director of Marriage & Family Life for the Diocese of Columbus

Working with victims of human trafficking forever changed me. The immeasurable suffering of so many of our brothers and sisters broke my heart and it does still each time I think of them. It is unfathomable that human beings are seen as objects and then, are abused, exploited, bought, and sold.

We as Catholics know this is wrong. We know that each human person is created in the image and likeness of God and willed into being by Him. Pope Francis once said, “Things have a price and can be for sale. But people have dignity that is priceless and worth far more than things.”

So, does it matter what “things” we buy? Can our consumerism be directed for the betterment of others?

Let us look again to Pope Francis. In a speech delivered on January 1, 2015, Pope Francis called us all to honor God with our purchases, highlighting the fact that people are at the heart of every product we buy. His speech also brought awareness to the issue of human trafficking in the marketplace. Our pope encouraged us to “practice acts of fraternity towards those kept in a state of enslavement” and not to give in to the temptation to purchase items that may have been produced by exploiting others. He invited us to be socially responsible consumers, stating that “every person ought to have the awareness that purchasing is always a moral – and not simply an economic – act.” What we purchase, and who we purchase from, is important and linked to our faith.

The sad reality is that the exploitation of others may be involved in the production of everyday products such as coffee, tea, chocolate, jewelry, clothing, etc. In addition to trafficking, poor working conditions, unfair wages, child labor, and production methods that harm the environment, are common business practices. Yet, praise God, there are simple ways we can all help. One way is by supporting ethical trade!

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) defines ethical trade as “a transparent commitment by a company to treat its workers and suppliers fairly, care for the environment, and invest in the community.” There are many ethical companies that one can purchase from, including ones that partner with CRS. These companies go a step further and ensure that they are not involved in any practices that conflict with Catholic social and moral teaching.

So, what do we do with this information?

Do what the students at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish School in Grove City, Ohio did – take action! In the 2015-2016 school year, Denise Johns, guidance counselor for the school, introduced me to a group of students called Legacy Leaders. This group of students eagerly learned about ethical trade and immediately wanted to do something to educate others and promote justice. They made ethical trade their social justice theme for the school year, enthusiastically taking on many substantial projects including the following: holding an assembly for the student body explaining ethical trade in a child-appropriate manner, selling ethically traded products at a school craft fair, ensuring all teachers in the school had curriculums addressing ethical trade, and facilitated school-wide participation in Catholic Relief Service’s Rice Bowl Lenten Program.

Let us all be like the students of OLPH, raising awareness and using the power of their purchases to transform lives.

Here are some ways that Catholic Relief Services suggests we do this:

  • Pray;
  • Learn;
  • Buy only what you need;
  • Shop ethical companies;
  • Create community with ethical trade via a consignment sale, community order, coffee sale or CRS Fundraiser.

Stephanie Rapp is the Director of Marriage & Family Life for the Diocese of Columbus and a Fair-Trade Ambassador with Catholic Relief Services.

Being an Ethical Consumer: A Call for People of All Ages and Backgrounds

Deisy Muñoz Viesca, policy intern for Migration and Refugee Services, USCCB

Living in the United States, I think many of us take for granted the ready accessibility of food resources. Supermarkets across the nation offer a variety of food that is not necessarily produced in this country. For example, the United States imports 80-90% of its seafood. A simple trip to your local supermarket when you are craving tuna or shrimp is likely just a couple of minutes away. But do you ever think about the process or individuals who were involved in getting that food to your kitchen table?

When I first heard about ethical consumerism and product labeling, it was the summer before my first year of college. A friend was talking to me about the importance of fair trade labeling for coffee. She explained how fair trade certification kept companies accountable for just payment to their employees throughout the supply chain. This seemed like a beneficial endeavor to me, and I’ve kept it in mind since. Ethical consumerism came up again at my local parish in Colorado where only fair trade coffee is served. I was shocked to learn that engaging in ethical consumerism is a shared concern for both hippy-college students in Boulder and suburban daily Mass-goers in the suburbs of Denver

Catholic social teaching tells us to respect and support human dignity because we were created in the image and likeness of God. Yet our patterns of consumption can inhibit people living from a dignified life.

Human trafficking has become a global phenomenon that puts women, men, and children at risk. For example, in the seafood industry, tens of thousands of people are exploited due to the isolated nature of work on boats and lack of regulations. These vulnerable conditions can lead to forced labor, sexual servitude, and debt bondage.

All hope is not lost. We can use our power as consumers to help prevent and reduce these atrocities by becoming ethical consumers. The Coalition of Catholic Organizations Against Human Trafficking (CCOAHT) began a campaign last Lent called “Labeling for Lent: An Effort to Prevent Human Trafficking”. This campaign began as an effort to raise awareness about the reality of human trafficking in the seafood industry. A survey was conducted asking consumers if they would like seafood companies to include labeling on their packaged products to eradicate human trafficking and forced labor in their supply chains. More than 2,000 participants supported such a step.

Personally, I’ve struggled with being an ethical consumer because of my budget. I grew up in an immigrant household were the priority was to feed five people, not to buy products of ethical companies. Real barriers can present themselves when trying to be a conscious consumer. But think about it this way: exploited workers don’t have an option. Individuals are stripped of their freedom and dignity thousands of miles away, and, yet, we as American consumers have the capacity to stop this injustice. I’m not asking you to radically change your entire shopping routine because frankly that’s unreasonable. I am simply asking you to keep in mind our Catholic social teaching on the dignity of every human and be mindful of the products you purchase and companies you consequently support.

In the words of our Holy Father for the 2015 World Day of Peace, “Together with the social responsibility of business, there is also the social responsibility of consumers. Every person ought to have the awareness that purchasing is always a moral – and not simply an economic –act.” But this call is not limited to those of the Catholic faith – anyone can be an ethical consumer.

For more information on how to become an ethical consumer and an advocate against human trafficking, please visit:

Deisy Muñoz Viesca is a policy intern for Migration and Refugee Services at USCCB. She is pursuing a degree in Political Science and Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado – Boulder.


Going Deeper

At WeAreSaltAndLight.org, read about creative ways that faith communities are educating and acting to engage Catholics in supporting ethical trade, including a new fair trade program at a Catholic school, a fair trade coffeehouse and retreat by parish teens, and a Catholic university that helped start a fair trade cooperative.

5 Ways to Fair Trade This Month, or Any Time of Year

CRS Gift of HOpe TreeIn October Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Fair Trade celebrates the fair trade movement in a special way. At its core, the fair trade movement creates enduring relationships that uplift human dignity and ensure a better work environment for marginalized farmers and artisans around the globe.

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege to meet artisans and farmers whose lives are positively impacted by the benefits of a trading system that pays a fair price, provides monetary support for community development projects, and supports farmers and artisans with financing and product development.

headshot of young woman in Ghana

Fatima Ali, President of Kuapa KoKoo Farmers Union

Farmers like Fatima Ali, president of the Kuapa KoKo farmers union in Ghana. Her farmers union produces the cocoa for Divine chocolate. Fatima shared with me the real impact that fair trade has had on her life and the life of her community: financial independence, schooling for children, a well with clean water, and safe secure houses.

When economic justice is your job, it is sometimes easy to get lost in the details and complexity but it really is quite simple. Every day our economic choices affect our brothers and sisters around the world positively or negatively.

Here are five simple ways to live your faith in the market place and encourage your school, parish, or community to do the same.

  1. Bring faith formation to life through reflections, prayers, and activities with a global perspective.
    Find out how fair trade relates to our faith with our Catholic Social Teaching and fair trade resources. You can also prepare for Advent with special prayers, weekly reflections connected to the Gospel, and activities to help prepare our hearts and minds to receive Jesus!
  2. IMG_6397Host a CRS Fair Trade Consignment Sale before and after Masses. Bring fairly traded art, jewelry, gifts, and housewares to your parish and teach parishioners about fair and ethical purchasing.
    Call 1.800.685.7572 or request a consignment information packet and order beautiful products from fair trade artisans through our partner Serrv at no cost to you!
  3. Host a CRS Fair Trade Community Order and share fair trade with your small faith community, youth group, women’s group, senior group, or other ministry. Raise awareness and funds!
     CRS Fair TradeCall 1.800.685.7572 or request a free CRS Fair Trade Community Order packet online. Round up all of the individual orders from your group, and place one order ($300.00 minimum). Make a 20% profit for your ministry!
  4. Participate in a community shopping event to benefit CRS at Ten Thousand Villages stores nationwide on Friday October 16. Fifteen percent of customer-designated purchases will be donated to CRS to support artisans and farmers overseas. Can’t make it to the store? Shop on-line and use promo code CRS2015.
  5.  Switch to fair trade coffee through CRS partner Equal Exchange or other CRS partners in your area.
    Call 774-776-7366 or use this link to shop.  Be sure to select “Catholic Relief Services Fair Trade Program” when setting up your account so that your purchase can be counted! Raise Money right with the Equal Exchange fundraising program. Schools make a 40% profit.

Remember when you support CRS’ fair trade partners, you support artisans and farmers, and provide economic opportunities for people living in poverty. For every purchase, our partners donate a percentage back to the CRS Fair Trade Fund to support artisan and farmer organizations overseas.

For more information visit crsfairtrade.org, email fairtrade@crs.org, or watch a short webinar on how to fair trade your fall.

 

Simone BlanchardSimone Blanchard is the Manager of the Economic Justice Program at of Catholic Relief Services.

 


Sign up for more information about  what the Church is doing to confront global poverty, U.S. international and economic policies, and their impact on poor people around the world. Visit Catholics Confront Global Poverty | Get Involved, an initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services.