An Integral Philosophy of Development
By Fr. Fernando Navidad Egargo, Ph.D.
THERE are those who claim that the church is “meddling” in the affairs of state and that it should “stay away” from “politics”. By this they actually imply that priests (and nuns) should limit themselves to activities which are religious in nature – i.e. celebration of the sacraments (mass, wedding, baptism, funeral, etc.), catechism, and other devotional practices. Is this claim correct? Or does this claim lack true understanding of the nature of the church, of what Christ really intended the church to do?
Let me begin by quoting two scripture passages:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19).
“Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me”; “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25: 40,45)
The basis of engagement of the church in society is rooted in the mandates of Christ. Giving food to the hungry is not political. Defending the poor from the abusive powers of oppressors is not political. Promoting human rights is not political. These are central in the belief system of anyone who claim to be a follower of Christ. A person who is anti-poor or who supports abuses inflicted on the poor is not worthy of the name of Christ.
The Catholic Church has always taken the side of the poor. This is the reason why the church has placed great emphasis on promoting development as an essential component of evangelization. Catholic social thought talks of development in relation to integral and total human development. The norm is very clear: the centrality of the human person. Populorum Progressio (#14) categorically declares that “development cannot be limited to mere economic growth” but rather to be authentic, “it must be complete: integral, that is, it has to promote the good of every man and of the whole man.”It is a kind of development which seeks to help man “to have more in order to be more,” that is, development only in so far as it helps man to promote his self-realization and dignity. It is a “having” which must contribute to the “being” of the human person, to the true good of the human person. This concern for man’s self-realization as the ultimate goal of development runs through all the social teachings of the church from Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum to Pope John Paul II’s Centessimus Annus.
Although the Catholic Church does not assume to know nor does it propose concrete technical solutions in relation to the issue of development, there is one thing which is clear: emphasis on the centrality of the human person. Paraphrasing Pope Paul VI’s statement in Populorum Progressio, Pope John Paul II wrote in his encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (#9) that “true development cannot consist in the simple accumulation of wealth and in the greater availability of goods and services, if this is gained at the expense of the development of the masses, and without due consideration for the social, cultural, and spiritual dimensions of the human being.”
Populorum Progressio (#20) further asserts “authentic development is the transition from the less human condition to those which are more human.” Obviously, the “less human condition” referred to here by Pope Paul VI cannot just be equated to material and economic factors. This is rather the complex whole of absence of material necessities as well as the presence of moral deficiency and of oppressive social structures, which reduce the human person to the level of non-human.
By saying, however, that the church does not offer technical solutions to the complex problem of human development does not mean that the church detaches herself from the problems that burden a large number of people. The church, in fact, offers concrete commitments and material assistance in the struggle against marginalization, suffering and underdevelopment. The church shares, in her own capacity, in this work for total human development both by engaging in social actions for the people and, most specially, by offering a set of “principles for reflection, criteria for judgment, and directives for actions” (Solicitudo Rei Socialis #2)in order to define the problems well and, consequently, look for the best solutions. In this way, the church does not attempt to do everything alone but rather instructs and inspires others to proceed according to the law of justice and love. It orients and directs human actions and behavior in finding solutions to social problems