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.

A Place at the Table Turns Fifteen—Where are We Now?

November 2017 is the fifteenth anniversary of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ pastoral reflection, A Place at the Table: A Catholic Recommitment to Overcome Poverty and to Respect the Dignity of All God’s Children (also in Spanish).

The 2002 reflection uses the powerful symbol of the table—where we come together for food, where neighborhood, national, and global leaders meet to make decisions, and where we gather as Catholics to worship—to ask: Who is invited? Who is excluded?

Poverty and its causes, including unequal access to resources and to the “table” where decisions are made, are a “moral scandal.” Pope Francis has frequently echoed this conviction, arguing that the scandal of poverty can only be addressed if those impacted by poverty are invited to the table.

In A Place at the Table, the bishops call all Catholics to act, and point to “the essential roles and responsibilities” of four institutions, or legs, which must work together to overcome poverty: (1) families and individuals, (2) community and religious institutions, (3) the private sector, and (4) government.

The bishops note that the debate around how best to address poverty is often too narrow, focusing only on one or two of the “legs” to the exclusion of the others. They call all four legs essential: “a table may fall without each leg.” The Catholic perspective recognizes the complementary roles of each leg and urges a comprehensive approach. Supporting healthy families and assisting individuals to make good choices are important, but the positive role of government is also essential. Faith-based institutions are an integral community support, yet business institutions must also contribute to the common good through decent work, living wages, and good benefits.

This perspective, the bishops write, is based on the Biblical vision of God’s special concern for those who are vulnerable, Catholic social teaching’s emphasis on human dignity and economic justice, and the Church’s rich lived experience feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, and working for justice and peace.

A Place at the Table challenges all of us—parents, children, workers, owners, managers, consumers, investors, community members, and citizens—to work together to live out this vision and call. Through public prayer and private worship, we must anchor our weekday witness in love and solidarity. And our family, parish, and school formation must reflect Christ’s concern for those in need and equip us to confront structures of sin and work for greater justice in the world.

What is most striking about A Place at the Table is its continuing relevance today, fifteen years after its publication. We still have a long way to go in our faith communities and in society. Yet, there are countless examples of how faith communities are working, in inspiring and effective ways, to create “a place at the table.”

  • Catholic Charities in Metuchen, NJ models a unique response to poverty that includes organizing community members to influence local policy around wage theft, immigrants’ rights, housing, and other issues that affect families.
  • In Fresno, CA, a parish community of immigrants recently succeeded in a thirteen-year ecumenical effort to pass a new anti-slum ordinance which will improve living conditions for countless individuals and families.
  • A Catholic school in St. Paul, MN, is helping children invite their Muslim brothers and sisters to the “table” by facilitating a pen-pal relationships between Catholic and Muslim school children in their community.
  • Dioceses around the country are implementing the process of the V National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry (vencuentro.org), which is an invitation for all Catholics to reflect on the gifts, opportunities, and challenges around U.S. Hispanic ministry. The broad Church—not only Hispanic Catholics—are invited to get involved.

There are many ways we can build on these and other efforts. We can continue to ask questions about who is invited, and who is excluded, in policies, programs, and decision-making. We can work with others, through our parishes, schools, neighborhood associations, faith-based and secular networks, to put our faith in action. We can get involved in the V National Encuentro process. We can ensure that the many faces of our diverse body of Christ are included in our efforts and in leadership opportunities.

Together, let’s work to create “a place at the table” for everyone.

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.

Blessed Pope Paul VI’s Call for Peace and Justice Challenges Us More Than Ever on 50th Anniversary of Populorum Progressio

In Washington, DC, Catholic high school students learn practical skills to become nonviolent peacemakers. In Portland, the Archdiocese trains clergy to seek economic justice for workers. Near Miami, a Catholic university supports economic development in Haiti through a fair trade cooperative. And in San Antonio, youth learn about global solidarity and then take action.

Pope Paul VI pictured in undated portrait

Pope Paul VI, Giovanni Battista Montini, is pictured in an undated portrait from the Vatican. (CNS photo)

This month is the 50th anniversary of Blessed Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Populorum Progressio (On the Development of Peoples). The examples above are only a few of the ways that Catholic faith communities are responding to Paul VI’s call today.

Paul VI spent the first years of his pontificate shepherding the Second Vatican Council to its conclusion, visiting the United States and the Holy Land and, in doing so, brought the Catholic Church into the modern world. He began healing ancient divisions among Christians and challenged the entire world to peace. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that his 1967 contribution to the Church’s social tradition, the encyclical Populorum Progressio (On the Development of Peoples) has been called the “Magna Carta on development.”

In it, Paul VI builds on the already rich social teaching of Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903), Pope Pius XI (1922-39), and St. Pope John XXIII (1958-63) and focuses on inequality and underdevelopment. He offers a global vision for economic justice, development and solidarity. This vision is as challenging in 2017 as it was 50 years ago.

Here are a few major themes of enduring relevance:

Ending poverty: a mandate for all.

Paul VI writes: “The hungry nations of the world cry out to the peoples blessed with abundance. And the Church, cut to the quick by this cry, asks each and every man to hear his brother’s plea and answer it lovingly.”

Ending poverty is the responsibility of all of us.

 Economic justice.

We must work towards a world where all people can be “artisans of their destiny” and where “the needy Lazarus can sit down with the rich man at the same banquet table.” The economy must be made to serve the human person (instead of the other way around).  We must address inequality and restore dignity to workers.  And we must remember that the needs and rights of those in poverty take precedence over the rights of individuals to amass great wealth. The Church has a preferential option for the poor.

 “Development is the new name for peace.”

Paul VI’s challenge on poverty leads directly into his appeal for peace. Development is “the new name for peace,” he writes. Development leads to peace, since “peace is not simply the absence of warfare.” And war, which destroys societies and the individuals who inhabit them, and which the pope railed against in his 1965 address to the United Nations, is human development in reverse. Authentic development responds to the needs of the whole person, including both material and spiritual needs. It results instead from fighting poverty and establishing justice. Paul VI would distill this in his theme for World Day of Peace 1972: “If you want peace, work for justice.”

Solidarity.

True development requires a true commitment to solidarity—the idea that we are one human family, each responsible for all.  Without solidarity, there can be no progress toward complete development. Those who are wealthy can also be poor—morally poor—as they live blinded by selfishness. We have to overcome our isolation from others, so that “the glow of brotherly love and the helping hand of God” is reflected in all our relationships and decisions.

Think global, act local.

Inequality is a global issue, and wealthy countries should act to help nations in need through “aid,” relief for poor countries “overwhelmed by debt,” “equitable trade relations,” “hospitable reception” for immigrants, and, for businesses operating in foreign countries, a focus on “social progress” instead of “self-interest.” Sadly, these are all issues still in need of our attention.

 

So enduring was Paul VI’s vision, John Paul II revisited it in Sollicitudo rei Socialis (1987), as did Benedict XVI in Caritas in Veritate (2009). Its themes are also strongly apparent in Pope Francis’ vision of peace rooted in integral human development in Evangelii Gaudium (2013) and Laudato Si’ (2015). Pope Paul and Pope Francis both challenge our current response to poverty and violence. They challenge us with the alternative of a vision that is cohesive and global, Catholic in the truest sense.

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.


Going Deeper

Visit WeAreSaltAndLight.org for additional examples of Catholic faith communities’ efforts to pray, reach out, learn and act together. You can also see ideas for faith-inspired action.

Links for April 21, 2015

Here are a few links for today.

“heed the voices of the poor who are impacted most by climate change … “
In his recent column in the Florida Catholic, Archbishop Thomas Wenski, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, writes about the challenge of climate change and how Pope Francis may address the issue in his upcoming eco-encyclical later this year. For more on the eco-encyclical and environmental justice, follow Cecilia Calvo, coordinator of the USCCB Environmental Justice Program, on twitter.

More on our great new children’s storybooks!
Merged Books
Lisa Hendey over at CatholicMom.com interviews our Jill Rauh on the great new storybooks, Green Street Park and Drop by Drop, meant to help parents and educators teach children to put their faith into action by pursuing both charity and service.

Want an awesome new children’s book to read to your child?

Merged Books

For years, the US Catholic bishops have used a “two feet” model to explain how Jesus’ disciples are called to put God’s love into action to address the problems that face our local and global communities. The “two feet” are charitable works and social justice

Charitable works describe those immediate actions we can take to address the needs of families and individuals in short-term ways, like serving at a soup kitchen or donating money to emergency relief efforts. Social justice addresses the root causes of problems, with the aim of making long-term change that will affect many people. Fixing flawed laws or policies, and promoting economic development are examples of social justice. Both “feet” are complementary and necessary.

This concept can be tough to teach to adults, let alone children! But it just got easier with two new children’s storybooks published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in partnership with Loyola Press:

Green Street Park is a story about a boy named Philip, who lives on Green Street. He loves his neighborhood, but the park he and his friends play at is in rough shape. When Philip and his friends complain about the park, their teacher, Sr. Mary Clare, challenges them to follow the example of St. Francis and care for creation in their own backyard. They clean up trash and they also work to engage their parents and community—even the mayor—in “fixing” the park. The end result? A safe, clean place to play and a community garden that produces healthy food for neighborhood families and the parish soup kitchen.

In Drop by Drop, Sr. Mary Jerome’s class has a visit from her nephew, Mr. Mike, who works for Catholic Relief Services in Burkina Faso, in Western Africa. Mr. Mike shares about his friend, Sylvie, a little girl who could not go to school because it took several hours each day for her and her sisters to walk to a river and collect clean water for their family. CRS and the community implement a water project, and this means Sylvie can finally go to school. The students listening to Mr. Mike’s story decide to help through a creative project of their own.

As a parent, I’m excited about these two new books because they are such a great tool in helping children learn about our call, as disciples of Jesus, to respond to the problems that affect our neighborhoods and world. They explore real issues that children in the U.S. and around the world face, and spark imagination about how children can be involved in creative charitable works and social justice solutions.

Loyola Press has created a beautiful reflection guide to help children (and their parents) pray with the books, as well as downloadable worksheets for educators.

I hope you’ll join me in sharing these super new books with children in your lives. This week (April 20-24, 2015), in honor of Earth Day and both books’ focus on caring for creation, you can also visit USCCB Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to participate in a contest. You might even win a free copy of one of the books!

Rauh headshot

Jill Rauh is assistant director for education & outreach at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.

Where are all the young people? Right here!

As a young adult who has worked for the Church my entire adult life, it irks me when I hear questions like:

   Where are all the young people?
   Why don’t they care about the Church’s work in [insert topic being discussed]?
   Why aren’t they here?

In my experience, the major reason we don’t see “young people” is because we haven’t invited them. When we do invite them, they come. And when we respect their interests, experience and contributions, they keep coming.

Case in point: in February 2015, we will welcome over 100 Catholic student leaders from colleges and universities around the country to the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering—the preeminent gathering of US Catholics in social ministry, presented by 16 national Catholic organizations, under the leadership of the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.

CSMG logo 2015

The Gathering attracts around 500 participants—so college students will likely make up at least a fifth of the total attendees in 2015. This wasn’t always the case: just a few years ago, the Gathering was limited to social ministry professionals. But we realized we were missing out, so we created the Young Leaders Initiative, a special effort to attract and invite emerging student leaders.

Involving younger Catholics led to contagious energy, dynamism, faith and creativity. Long-time participants in the Gathering felt renewed hope in the future of social ministry. Young Leaders Initiative participants couldn’t stop talking about their experience.

Students at the University of Notre Dame reflected about how participating in the Mass, adoration, the Rosary, and other forms of prayer at the Gathering were “the most powerful action,” sending them on a mission to do God’s work.

Participants from St. Mary’s University in Minnesota discovered their essential role in calling lawmakers to pay attention to the real people impacted by poverty and injustice.

Students at Australian Catholic University spoke about connecting their faith with their “passion” for social justice, developing friendships, and being inspired by those who have “committed their lives” to this work.

A student from the University of Dayton reflected that the Gathering helped him “ask the hard questions about how we put the things that move our heart, our faith, our spirit into action? How do we make a real difference and stand with and for others?”

Such questions are a challenge to us, too. Instead of asking, “Where are all the young people?” let’s think about even more ways we can ask talented, passionate, faith-filled emerging leaders to join us in the work for the Kingdom.

Rauh headshotJill Rauh is assistant director for education & outreach at the USCCB’s Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.