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Archbishop Diarmuid Martin on 'Populorum Progressio'

10/22/2007 - PST

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"Economics Are Not to Be Separated From Human Realities"

NEW YORK, OCT. 22, 2007 (Zenit) - Here is the address Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin gave Oct. 17 to the U.N side event co-sponsored by the Holy See's Permanent Observer Mission to mark the 40th anniversary of Pope Paul VI's encyclical "Populorum Progressio."

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Pope Paul VI, Giovanni Battista Montini, was Pope for just over fifteen years, from June 1963 until June 1978. He wrote seven Encyclical Letters in all. This afternoon we commemorate one of these Letters, "Populorum Progressio", written in March 1967, his only social encyclical. The social encyclicals are those which address, not just theological issues, but underlying social and political questions of the day.

"Populorum Progressio" was published at a particularly difficult moment. 1967 was the year of the Six Day War; it was at the height of the Vietnam War and the protest movement against the war. 1967 was marked by Cold War tensions, especially about the arms race and the race into space. It was the time of the great de-colonization process, as one by one colonies received their independence but were struggling to address effectively the needs of their peoples in the face of a complex international economic climate for which they were inadequately prepared. It was the challenge of addressing the needs of the poorest nations and their peoples which led the Pope to write his Encyclical.

The first thing that struck me, when I re-read "Populorum Progressio" in these past weeks, was its emotion. It is in the first place an appeal, a cry from the heart, a cry for mobilisation: "The hungry nations of the world cry out to the peoples blessed with abundance… and the Church… [they] ask each and every person to hear his brother's plea and answer it lovingly" (#3).

Pope Paul VI, who was in many ways the most cerebral of recent Pope's, could also surprise with the depth of his ability to identify with the emotion of the moment. It was this emotion which over these past forty years has inspired so many followers of the Gospel to become involved in the development of peoples. Anyone who has experience of the development world will have encountered the work of missionaries, women and men, lay and clerical, who have been inspired by "Populorum Progressio" to dedicate themselves to the service of their poorest brothers and sisters.

Paul VI was a master of Church politics. Most of his working life was spent within the walls of the Vatican. The archives of his work in the Vatican and of his papacy are among the largest ever generated. He was an intellectual and one familiar with modern literature as well as with the political analysis that would have crossed his desk in his many years in the Vatican Secretariat of State.

"Populorum Progressio" reveals well another side of Montini. It is a highly personalised Encyclical. He mentions his own travels and the impact that they had on his reflection. He writes about his travels as Archbishop of Milan to Africa and Latin America. I was always struck by the commemorative stone in the principle Roman Catholic Church in Soweto in South Africa noting that the Church had been blessed by Cardinal Montini. In "Populorum Progressio" he also makes special reference to the impact that his albeit short journey as Pope to India had made on him personally. He mentions the social conditions of Palestine which he had been able to see on the occasion of his historic pilgrimage to the Holy Places.

"Populorum Progressio" was a highly personalised Encyclical also because of the particular internal Church context in which it was written. It was the first social encyclical to be written after the Second Vatican Council, an event which had among its aims that of establishing a new way of looking at the relationship between the Church and the World. Paul VI from the very outset recalls that his Encyclical was to take up the message of the Council Document called Gaudium et Spes, precisely on the role of the Church in the modern world.

But "Populorum Progressio" is also inspired by the vision of Lumen Gentium, a more exclusively theological document, which presented the vision of the Church as a sign of the unity in Jesus Christ of all humankind. A Church which saw its role as fostering unity could not but raise its voice at the disunity and the continuing basic inequalities among humankind. The Encyclical is thus a call to global unity. "The social question draws all people together, in every part of the world", Pope Paul wrote. The social question had become global; the response requires a united mobilisation of the abilities of all. "Populorum Progressio" was not just an analysis of the social situation. It was a reflection which came out of the Church's self understanding.

To understand more fully the ecclesial context in which "Populorum Progressio"n was ...

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