Those essential social encyclicals

This story, from the Tidings, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, provides a handy summary of over a century of Catholic social teaching, as recounted recently by a visiting Prince of the Church.

In part, we read of  ecology joining the many other issues that affect both the globe and the human person. And we find that these issues are related.

"We are the heirs and inheritors of 'Rerum Novarum,'" the 1891 encyclical by Pope Leo XIII considered the starting point of modern social teaching, said Cardinal Peter Turkson, the council's president, speaking to the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering.

The conference is co-sponsored by a dozen Catholic organizations, including various departments of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Charities USA, JustFaith, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, the Roundtable Association of Diocesan Social Action Directors, the Catholic Daughters of the Americas and Catholic Relief Services, among others.

Cardinal Turkson explained that his role at the Vatican is to apply "Rerum Novarum" and the related social teaching documents of the past 120 years to the current challenges of church organizations that seek to address the world's social needs.

Sometimes that means reminding organizations of the differences between political involvement and the church's social justice obligations, he said.

Church and state are distinct from one another, each serving its own sphere, he said. But the church must also "scrutinize the signs of the times" to ensure that its efforts and resources are meeting people's needs, he continued.

The former archbishop of Cape Coast, Ghana, Cardinal Turkson was warmly greeted for his speech by an audience that included dozens of Ghanaians, many wearing colorful traditional woven fabrics and elaborate head scarves of their native country. His talk was the opening plenary session of the four-day annual gathering of more than 300 social ministry workers from around the country.

He traced the history of major social teaching documents since "Rerum Novarum," noting that each arrived at a time of societal struggles in a changing world.

For example, Pope Leo's encyclical came as the Industrial Revolution reshaped a previously agrarian society. In 1931, Pope Pius XI's "Quadragesimo Anno," marking the a 40th anniversary of "Rerum Novarum," came amid the Great Depression, a worldwide economic crisis.

Subsequent social encyclicals --- Pope John XXIII's "Mater et Magistra" (1961), Pope Paul VI's "Populorum Progresso" (1967), Pope John Paul II's "Sollicitudo Rei Socialis" (1987) and "Centisimus Annus" (1991) and Pope Benedict XVI's "Caritas in Veritate" (2009) --- have aimed to address the emergence of Marxism, the fall of the Berlin Wall and Eastern Europe's political upheaval, and the contemporary struggles with globalization, underdevelopment and other "financial, economic, moral and anthropological crises."

In these documents, Cardinal Turkson said, "the insights of theology, philosophy, economics, ecology and politics have been harnessed coherently to formulate a social teaching that places the human person (his total and integral development) at the center of all world systems of thought and activity."

"The social encyclicals of the popes have fulfilled the need to actualize the same principles of the church's application of Christian faith and the charity of Christ to the various contexts of human life," he said.

In "Caritas in Veritate," Pope Benedict suggested ways "for building up the city of man with qualities closer to the city of God," the cardinal said.

You can read the rest of the story here.

For the record, the master quote of this blog, in the top banner, is from B16's Caritas in Veritate. And I can not stress the importance of reading such documents . . .  and better yet, trying to live them.

And for the record Part II: Sometimes we hear voices critical of the Church for "responding to crises too late." In so doing, the Church is accused of writing encyclicals on social justice issues long after other groups have tackled them.

Au contraire.

The Church has an eternal encyclical—a treatise on social justice that speaks to all issues as they occur. It's called the revealed world of God, and you'll find it in the Bible.

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About the Blog

Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.