Taking Risks to Challenge the "Globalization of Indifference"

By: Marcel Uwineza

January 26, 2015

Why Catholic Social Thought Matters for the Future of Global Development

Constitutive of Catholic social thought (CST) are strong foundations which are imperative for any debate about the “Global Future of Development”: (1) life and dignity of the human person, (2) rights and duties, (3) preferential option for the poor and vulnerable, (4) the dignity of work and the rights of workers, (5) solidarity and sustainable development, (6) family, community participation and common good, and (7) care of God’s creation. These foundations explain why Christian action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world are at the center of CST. At the center of these dimensions is integral human development.

While CST is faith-action oriented, it also offers a vision to live by where the human person is at the center, not at the periphery. Charles E. Curran recognized “the fundamental importance of anthropology as the basis for CST.”[1]  Consequently, the promotion of justice for the well being of each person is integral to the Church’s service of faith[2]. One then understands why judgments on the development of a given country should fundamentally be based on a fair allocation and distribution of the country’s wealth, not primarily on its assets in terms of wealth and prosperity.

CST tells global leaders that there are ultimate values that have to be pursued. For example, there has to be an ethic of responsibility and accountability. For financial developers, one learns that the best way to destroy a financial system is to refuse to hold the elites accountable. CST insists on doing justice by advocating for the creation of economic fairness. CST reinforces the fact that all development issues are human rights issues; therefore human rights and development are two sides of the same coin. CST in advocacy for human rights sets the achievements of human rights as an objective of development.

In a world where more than 1.2 billion live in extreme poverty with an income of less than $1.25 per day, CST insists that we cannot measure development of a country in terms of money, but in terms of the development of its people. If all the wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few, then a country is not necessarily developed and issues of human rights, distribution, solidarity and indifference come to the fore. The role of CST is to help global future developers realize that poverty is much more than the deprivation of income alone. It is multidimensional. To be poor is to be powerless and voiceless, to have no freedom of choice and action. To borrow the words of Amartya Sen, to be poor is to “be deprived of capabilities.” More than ever, CST matters for global future development as it promotes participation where no group is excluded from participating in the common good, accountability, non-discrimination, empowerment and all that can allow people to live a good life or in the words of Martha C. Nussbaum “creating capabilities.” In Rawlsian terms, this is the idea of a society organized in a way that everyone benefits. This is the meaning of social justice and it examines how institutions of the society are organized in a way that people make their contribution to the common good. I have been privileged to have had personal conversation with Dr. Paul Farmer, who has been at the forefront of healthcare in poor countries. I asked him: what keeps you going as you help the poor? Dr. Farmer said: “Fr. Marcel, our legitimacy comes from how we render service to the people. On top of competency, we do it with love.” That is CST par excellence.

In a period threatened by the Ebola virus that has ravaged some parts of West Africa, CST says, “Wait a moment!” Health is a human right. It is not a gift to a few. There is a deadly cost of unequal access to medical care and those who have died from Ebola or are still threatened by it are not people that need charity or pity, they need opportunities. What the poor desire is a chance and this requires partnership and networking with all players to begin talking about development. Without this shift, Pope Francis’ “globalization of indifference” will make a lot of sense. The question is: are we willing to take risk?

[1] Charles E. Curran, Catholic Social Thought: A Historical, Theological, and Ethical Analysis (Washington DC: Georgetown University Press, 2002), 127.
[2] John W. Padberg ed., Jesuit Life and Mission: The Decrees and Accompanying Documents of the 31st-35th Congregations of the Society of Jesus (Saint Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 2009).

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