With world leaders meeting for the G8 Summit inL’Aquila, Italy, one uninvited leader is interjecting his thoughts: Pope Benedict XVI. In his third encyclical in four years, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), the Pope makes the case for how the Catholic church’s social teachings can have a positive impact on the human condition. With the global economic crisis as a backdrop, Benedict criticizes our modern economic structure that lacks respect for workers and places emphasis on bsinesses that “are almost exclusively answerable to their investors, thereby limited in their social value.”
Pope Benedict, in his encyclical, advocates the creation of a “political authority” that “giv[es] direction to the process of economic globalization. It is also the way to ensure that it does not actually undermine the foundations of democracy.” In what might be construed as a liberal-oriented view on economics, Benedict explains that in a globalized world, that seems to be increasingly individualistic, a sense of inter-connectedness and community is lost. There is a concern for the needs of one’s self, while the needs of his brother are ignored or forgotten. For too long economics have been a tool of the strong against the weak, who “should remain at a fixed stage of development, and should be content to receive assistance from the philanthropy of developed peoples.” Instead, he argues, that globalization should be a process that is “community-oriented” and allows people to “transcend” their economic situation. In the end, it is up to all of us to stand for social jutice and to “steer the globalization of humanity in relational terms, in terms of communion and the sharing of goods.”
The thrust of Benedict’s encyclical is that humanity needs to fully experience love: “Love — caritas — is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace.” The most authentic form of love is charity, which “rejoices in the truth” (1 Cor 13:6)( hence the title of the encyclical Caritas in Veritate, or Charity in Truth) because it originates in God. “Love is God’s greatest gift to humanity, it is his promise and our hope.” Conservatives often dismiss charity and giving because they do not link it to “moral responsiblity,” instead they empasize a Reagan-esque supply-side economic model– the sort that precipitated our current economic melt-down. Benedict, in his critique, seems to support a wealth distribution model: “to love is to give, to offer what is ‘mine’ to the other… The more we strive to secure a common good corresponding to the real needs of our neighbours, the more effectively we love them.” To simply argue that wealth accumulation in the hands of the few (at their expense) would eventually benefit the poor masses ignores the fact that we all live in a global community, and as such we should be charitable with our neighbors. “The whole Church, in all her being and acting—when she proclaims, when she celebrates, when she performs works of charity—is engaged in promoting integral human development.” We should remember Matthew 25:34-46:
“Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ “Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
The Pope, in his encyclical, identifies four issues that must be addressed in order to promote integral human development: hunger, respect for life, religious freedom, and disciplinary collaboration.The most pressing is hunger. As many would argue, but others would dispute, access to food and water is a human right. Unfortunately, we live in a world where not everone has access to food and water. Hunger across our globe (even within our own borders) is still a major problem: everyday 963 million people go hungry every day throughout the world; 24,000 people die everyday from hunger, two-thirds of which are children; one in seven also suffer from malnutrition. With the wealth of all Western nations, who reap the benefits of globalization, why can hunger be ended?
The Pope’s encyclical is a call to action, as well as a rebuke to the modern concepts of selfish individualism. On friday, President Obama will meet with Pope Benedict in Vatican City. Though the two might clash over issues such as abortion, the two will likely find much common ground in combating world hunger. The two are set to discuss issues regarding human dignity.