Paul VI: Populorum Progressio

A Summary Article by Gerald Darring

Paul VI notes that today the social question has become world-wide (a. 3), and social conflicts have taken on world dimensions (a. 9). His international concerns are several. He is disturbed by the capitalist system accompanying industrialization, a system which contains such abuses as profit being the key motive for economic progress, competition the supreme law of economics, and private ownership of the means of production an absolute and unlimited right (a. 26). He worries that the destitution of whole populations tempts people to have recourse to violence (a. 30), although a revolutionary uprising produces new injustices unless there is an established tyranny damaging human rights and harming the common good (a. 31). He notes with disapproval that with so many people hungry and destitute, lacking education and health care, money is squandered on national or personal ostentation and the arms race (a. 53).

One of his major concerns is the gap between the rich and the poor: glaring inequalities exist not only in possessions but also in power (a. 9). The hard reality of modern economics works to widen differences: rich peoples enjoy rapid growth while the poor develop slowly (a. 8). The distance is growing that separates the progress of some and the stagnation and regression of others (a. 29), and as a result of uneven trade relations, the poor nations remain ever poor while the rich ones become still richer (a. 57). The pope warns that in promoting development, we must avoid the risk of adding to the wealth of the rich, the misery of the poor, and the servitude of the oppressed (a. 33), and he insists that programs to increase production should reduce inequalities (a. 34 ).

There exists in this the traditional Christian concern for the poor, and Paul reminds us that Christ cited the preaching of the Gospel to the poor as a sign of his mission (a. 12). He teaches that our goal is not just to eliminate hunger or reduce poverty: the goal is to build a world in which the poor man Lazarus can sit down at the same table with the rich person (a. 47). But there is in addition a strong concern for problems in developing countries. The pope worries that industrialization is breaking down traditional structures which do not adapt themselves to the new conditions (a. 10). He notes that there is some evidence of a neo-colonialism, in the form of political and economic pressures aimed at complete dominance (a. 52). Within the underdeveloped countries, he calls attention to two problems: nationalism and racism. Asserting that the Church offers people what is her characteristic attribute: a global vision of humanity (a. 13), he says that legitimate feelings of concern for national unity and pride in cultural heritage should not be demeaned by an isolating nationalism (a. 62), and that racism is an obstacle to collaboration among disadvantaged nations and a cause of division and hatred within countries (a. 63).

The pope had experienced first-hand the problem of development during travels to Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia (a. 4), and he seeks to convey a sense of the seriousness of the problem. He says that the world is sick, its illness consisting of the lack of kinship among individuals and peoples (a. 66). More and more people seek to do more, know more and have more in order to be more, but their living conditions prevent them (a. 6). In whole continents countless people experience hunger, infant mortality, retarded mental development, and depressing despondency (a. 45). He insists that no one can remain indifferent to the lot of those still buried in wretchedness, the victims of insecurity and the slaves of ignorance (a. 74). People need to grasp their serious problem in all its dimensions (a. 1). The present situation must be faced with courage and the injustices linked with it must be fought against and overcome (a. 32). The present moment is crucial, and the work to be done is urgent (a. 80). We must make haste: too many are suffering (a. 29).

Paul's response to the demands of this crucial moment is contained in the concept of development, and he says that his encyclical is a solemn appeal for concrete action towards people's complete development and the development of all people (a. 5). He notes that the Church's interest in development focuses primarily on the hungry and miserable, the diseased and ignorant, those who share less in the benefits of civilization (a. 1). He teaches that development must be integral, promoting the good of every person and of the whole person (a. 14), and that authentic development involves a transition from less human to more human conditions (a. 20), from the less human conditions of poverty, selfishness, oppression and exploitation to the more human conditions of faith and unity in the love of Christ (a. 21). Development should mean social progress as well as economic growth (a. 34), and in fact economic growth depends in the first place on social progress, such as education (a. 35). He asserts that development is not assured by private initiative and competition (a. 33), and that it calls for more technical work as well as more reflection on higher values (a. 20).

The pope makes sure we understand that the solution is not merely economic, but human development (a. 73), and a major theme of his encyclical is the fully human, the truly human. He speaks of the construction of a more human world (a. 54), of being on the road towards a greater humanity (a. 79). Time and again he returns to this theme: the Church fosters the human progress of nations (a. 12); through the use of intellect and will a person can grow in humanity (a. 15); newly independent nations seek to assure their citizens a full human enhancement (a. 6); technology alone cannot render the world a more human place in which to live (a. 34); people are truly human only when they are the authors of their own advancement (a. 34); better-off nations should work to bring about a world that is more human towards everyone (a. 44); the goal is not just to eliminate hunger or reduce poverty: the goal is to build a world in which everyone can live a fully human life (a. 47).

The pope translates this into a call for humanism: what must be aimed at is complete humanism: the fully-rounded development of the whole person and of all people. It must be a humanism open to the values of the spirit and to God who is their source (a. 42). Wise people are in search of a new humanism (a. 20), and the highest goal of personal development is a transcendent humanism achieved through union with Christ (a. 16).

The development of which Paul speaks demands the simultaneous development of all humanity in the spirit of solidarity (a. 43), and the encyclical refers to the formation of a world which is better organized toward a universal solidarity (a. 62) and the desire to build a civilization founded on world solidarity (a. 73). The reality of human solidarity means that we have obligations towards everyone, even those who will come after us (a. 17), and better-off nations have obligations that reflect the duty of human solidarity (a. 44).

The sign of human solidarity is peace, and it is no wonder that Pope Paul VI, writing at the height of both the Cold War and the Vietnam War, would have peace in the forefront of his thoughts. The pope notes that in the struggle for development, civil peace in developing countries and world peace itself are at stake (a. 55). Excessive economic, social and cultural inequalities among peoples arouse tensions and conflicts, and are a danger to peace (a. 76). Paul expresses the hope that the violence which often characterized international relationships will be replaced with mutual respect and friendship as well as interdependence in collaboration (a. 65). He teaches that peace is not the mere absence of war: it is built up day after day in pursuit of a more just order among people (a. 76), an international morality based on justice and equity (a. 81). He expresses his conviction that the way to peace lies in the area of development (a. 83); that the new name for peace is development (a. 87); and that the person who struggles against underdevelopment is a creator of peace (a. 75).

In the course of presenting his thoughts on development, solidarity, and peace, Paul VI touches on several economic issues which impact on the pursuit of development. Aid. Human solidarity obligates the better-off nations to aid the developing countries (a. 44). There needs to be a dialogue between the donor nations and the receiving countries to insure proper terms of loans without political strings attached (a. 54).

Trade. Unfavorable trade relations between rich and poor countries cannot be allowed to nullify any aid that might be given (a. 56). The industrialized nations have an advantage, because their exports--for the most part manufactured goods--have steadily rising prices, while the under-developed countries' exports--mostly food and raw materials--are under-priced and subject to wild fluctuations (a. 57). Social justice obligates the better-off nations to rectify inequitable trade relations (a. 44). The rule of free trade, taken by itself, is no longer able to govern international relations because economic conditions differ too much from country to country (a. 58); freedom of trade is fair only if it is subject to the demands of social justice (a. 59). Without abolishing the international competitive market, it should be kept within the limits which make it just and moral, and therefore human (a. 61).

Property. The desire for necessities is legitimate, but acquiring property can lead to greed (a. 18), which is the most evident form of moral underdevelopment (a. 19). Everyone has the right to obtain what is necessary, and all other rights are subordinate to this right, including the rights of property and free trade (a. 22). In other words, private property is not an absolute and unconditioned right, and one is not justified in keeping for oneself what one does not need, when others lack necessities (a. 23). Sometimes the common good may even demand the expropriation of landed estates (a. 24).

Work. Work is willed and blessed by God, but it can be given exaggerated significance (a. 27). Everyone who works is a creator, and work with others unites people as brothers and sisters (a. 27). Work is human only if it remains intelligent and free, and sometimes it produces undesirable effects in people (a. 28).

Unions. All social action involves an ideology (a. 39). Many professional organizations and trade unions are acceptable, but only those whose ideology is not materialistic and atheistic (a. 39).

Immigrants, migrant workers. Human solidarity and Christian charity oblige us to welcome immigrants (a. 67), and this same welcome should be extended to migrant workers (a. 69).

Family. Rigid family frameworks are gradually relaxing their hold on the people in developing nations, but it is important that the natural family remain as willed by God: monogamous and stable (a. 36). Population increases can create problems, but parents should be free to decide on the number of children they will have, following their consciences enlightened by God's law authentically interpreted (a. 37).

Earlier we noted the negative international indicators which caused Paul VI to be so concerned. There were also some positive international circumstances and activities which seemed to please the pope and give him some hope. Among these positive indicators: private individuals, public authorities, and international organizations are doing good work in promoting literacy (a. 35); the Food and Agriculture Organization is being supported, and Caritas Internationalis is at work everywhere (a. 46); experts are being sent on development missions by institutions and private organizations (a. 71); young people are undertaking social service in developing nations (a. 74). Buoyed by these activities, Paul VI concludes that in spite of its ignorance, its mistakes and even its sins, its relapses into barbarism and its wanderings from the road of salvation, the world is taking slow but sure steps towards its Creator (a. 79).

Having identified the negative and positive aspects of the world problem of underdevelopment, the pope issues some challenges to rich people and rich countries, pointing out that peoples in hunger are making a dramatic appeal to peoples blessed with abundance (a. 3). The wealthy should come to realize that the poor stand outside their doors waiting to receive some left-overs from their banquets (a. 83). Those with education, position and opportunities for action should respond with generosity and give of their own possessions (a. 32). Let all examine their consciences: are they ready to pay, through charitable donations, higher taxes, and higher tariffs in order to help the destitute (a. 47)? Better-off nations have obligations that reflect the duties of human solidarity, social justice, and universal charity (a. 44). A developed nation should devote a part of its production to meet the needs of under-developed nations (a. 48); the superfluous wealth of rich countries should be placed at the service of poor nations (a. 49). Industrialists entering less developed countries should display the same social sensitivity in those countries as they do in their own country (a. 70).

Paul VI also issues challenges to developing countries. He says that developing nations must know how to assess critically and eliminate those things which would lower the human ideal, and to accept those values that are sound and beneficial (a. 41). People in these countries must be helped and persuaded to work for their own betterment (a. 55). They should organize among themselves areas for concerted development (a. 64), establishing regional agreements among themselves for mutual support (a. 77)

In the end, the pope tells everyone that the world situation demands action based on a clear vision of all economic, social, cultural, and spiritual aspects (a. 13). The present situation calls for concerted planning (a. 50), especially in the form of a worldwide collaboration in the establishment of a development fund (a. 51) and in the establishment of equality in discussions and negotiations between rich and poor countries (a. 61). The goal is not just to eliminate hunger or reduce poverty: the goal is to build a world in which everyone can live a fully human life, in which freedom is not an empty word and the poor man Lazarus can sit down at the same table with the rich person (a. 47).