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Reading “Joy of the Gospel” in the Light of Integral Human Development & Peace



Dr. Paul Hwang Kyung-hoon

Director of the Center for Asia Peace and Solidarity under WTI

  1. Preface


Many people may have wondered why it should be South Korea to which Pope Francis made his first trip in Asia, even if there was a beatification ceremony he joined to celebrate which usually takes place in Rome. But there was another occasion called “Asia Youth Day”(AYD) in the country during his visit. In other words, the pope wanted to “see” or experience realities of Asia and its people including young ones  through meeting with youth in the event. It is possible to say that since the pope recognized the unique and pressing needs young people face in Asia today, he decided to travel to Korea. During his visit he stressed the need to reach out to the marginalized and the otherwise needy. During Asian Youth Day, the pope urged the young to reject “inhuman economic policies” that disenfranchise the poor. He spoke of “an idolatry of wealth, power and pleasure, which come at a high cost to human lives” which has especially emphasized in his exhortation Evangelii Gaudium or “Joy of the Gospel”.[1]

The pope’s first exhortation puts much stress on evangelizing works in the light of “human development” by following his predecessors especially Pope Paul VI whose ideas of it are reflected well in his encyclical Populorum Progressio or “On Progress of Peoples” (1967).

More than speaking out, Pope Francis met with families of ferry victims happened last April, migrant workers, the disabled, “comfort women” forced to be sex slaves by Japanese during World War II and the  displaced by economic pressures to build new nuclear power plants. Throughout his trip he challenged lay Catholics to become more active in living and modeling their faith. Young Korean Catholics, as well as other Asian Catholics, were inspired by his witness and his remarks. There is a widespread sense today, in no small part because of Pope Francis, that lay Catholics need to become more deeply involved in working to build just structures and societies supported by values that emerge from the Gospels and the social teachings of the Catholic Church.

Today, the work of lay-centered Asian NGOs is more important than ever. Yet Catholics make up only three percent of the population of Asia. These Catholic need each other; they need to network with each other. This is especially true for Church NGOs that are involved in “social ministries” such as human development, human rights work, justice and peace building, work with migrants, with women and young children and with ecological concerns. These groups have already been highlighted in the Fifth and Sixth General Assemblies of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), which took up their “special pastoral concerns.”

Asian Catholic activists are being called to strengthen their Christian identity as they embrace their local, traditional cultures, histories and religions. This is complex work but it is necessary work to be done. For Catholics to succeed in justice activities they need to cooperate with other religions similarly seeking a more just world order. This is yet another reason Asian lay Catholics need solid formation. Inter-religious work begins with solid Catholic formation.  Unfortunately, because of a lack of resources these Catholics don’t get adequate support from their Church.  In some cases they have been largely abandoned by some in the Church hierarchy who do not understand or do not agree with Francis’ vision. While our Church eagerly provides support for seminarians who want to enter the priesthood, it does very little for young lay leaders’ in great need of Catholic formation. This must change lest the work of these lay leaders dissolve for lack of funds and encouragement.

Among the challenges Asian Catholics face today are social and economic pressures emerging from widespread unemployment, growing materialism, and widening gaps between rich and poor. Asian societies are especially vulnerable to ecological degradation as decisions are made under the corporate pressures of globalization and market-dominated economic policies. Asians face not only physical poverty, but also a “poverty of spirit” that comes from, in no small part, by their sense of isolation from other like-minded Catholics in Asia and throughout the wider Church. It is why we need to learn how to achieve a “genuine” human development from what Francis stresses in the encyclical. Catholic social workers, activists and NGO leaders need to be better equipped with the social teachings of the Catholic Church. They need the opportunity to share their visions, challenges and experiences to solidify their faith and commitments aimed at building more peaceful, justice and ecologically sound societies. To achieve it these Catholic activists need to be in better contact with each other. They need to share their experiences with each other. They need the assistance of like-minded, justice-driven Catholic scholars, including economists, sociologists, and experts in cultural matters.


2. Francis and Neo-Liberalism


Following the spirit of Vatican II, Pope Francis put much stress on dialogue with the world and service succeeding John XXIII’s ecclesiology: “Reaching out to the world.”  By the world the pope many times talks about the poor and abandoned, the ones Church should embrace simply because they have suffered more and more in the world where nearly everything is under control by money as a new idol and forced to be a commodity to be sold in markets everywhere in the moral-disappearing world. Francis sees it precisely and points out such phenomena by calling it an “economy of exclusion and inequality.”

In the “Joy of the Gospel” he clearly mentions it.  “Today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion.(n.53) It is well known phrase among others in the encyclical. He laments that under such economic system, people especially the poor will not simply be isolated or separated but excluded or abandoned. That means they will never be a part of the society again. The pope continues:

“Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless…It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new… those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”(n.53)

Although he is not an economist, the pope definitely denies “trickle-down theories” which support the market-dominated system mainly because it doesn’t work nor never be confirmed by the facts yet according to him. “In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”(n.54)

Then the pope directly point to the relation of people and money which dominates them without any resistance from people themselves. He calls money a new Idol:


“One cause of this situation is found in our relationship with money, since we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies. The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.”(n. 55)


What does such new idol imply to people in this world especially those who profess their faith in God? Francis asserts that behind their attitude toward money there should be rejection of ethics and God. He quotes Saint John Chrysostom to weigh more on the said attitude by saying: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs.”(n. 57)

Then he notes how to lead inequality to causing violence. Before that, he points to a sort of “sin of structure”: If every action has its consequences, “an evil embedded in the structures of a society” has a constant potential for disintegration and death. In other words, “It is evil crystallized in unjust social structures, which cannot be the basis of hope for a better future.”(n. 59) We know that the current economic system promotes inordinate consumption. Francis sees the same way and connect it to inequality which proves doubly damaging to the social fabric. Therefore, “Inequality eventually engenders a violence which recourse to arms cannot and never will be able to resolve..”(n. 60)



3. Francis’ alternatives?


Francis suggests an “integral” human development following the spirit of Populorum Progressio by Paul VI as an alternative to the world of limitless competition, the money worship cultures, extreme market-dominion system; the law of jungle.

“We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market. Growth in justice requires more than economic growth, while presupposing such growth: it requires decisions, programs, mechanisms …an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality.” (n. 204)

What he means by the ‘integral promotion of the poor’ is the point which he mentions many times in the papal exhortation and which should not be stop at development of materials, economy and visualized one.  At this point, he is so critically and strongly using some phrases like “rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets” and evenattacking the structural causes of inequality,” as long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems. He concludes that “Inequality is the root of social ills.” (n. 202)

“Human development” is one of main areas which Catholic Church has contributed to the concept of ‘development’ and also a real growth of the whole human life including human economy in the world. Not many people know that, however, it was Father Louis Joseph Lebret (1897-1966) who was a major ‘ghostwriter’ of Populorum Progressio which presents the first comprehensive view on what is meant by the notion of human development. Lebret was the first intellectual who explicitly talks about ‘human development’. Pope Francis has begun a vigorous revival of the Church’s attentiveness to protecting human dignity and integral human development of people especially the poor. It is because he sees “evangelization” or “mission” in light of holistic human development. In his apostolic exhortation, Francis mentions Paul VI’s Evangelii  Nuntiandi or “Evangelisation in Our Time”[2] 11 times and quite a few times for Populorum Progressio .


Populorum Progressio & MDGs

John W. Ashe, president of the UN General Assembly in 2013, said the post-2015 agenda “will completely redefine the concept of development as traditionally understood, rooting it in partnership, cooperation, equity—both social and generational—peace, good governance, and economic growth based on environmental sustainability.” That description sounds an awful lot like the sociological recipe for the church’s understanding of “authentic development,” memorably proposed by Pope Paul VI’s Populorum Progressio in 1967.

Among 8 goals of MDGs is environmental sustainability which is crucial for “sustainable development” for now and the future. In a recent meeting, Catholic Bishops from all continents issued a joint statement highlighted their first-hand experience of working alongside vulnerable communities and described how people were suffering as a result of climate change.[3] They put much stress on ecological sustainability in the statement titled “Catholic Bishops’ statement in Lima on the road to Paris” on 10th, December in 2014.

Suggesting responsibility for the current global warming system lies mainly with the dominant global economic system. It also blames the destructive effects of a financial and economic order based on the primacy of the market and profit, which has failed to put the human being and the common good at the heart of the economy. Therefore, it suggests we “must” recognize systemic failures of this order and the need for a new financial and economic order.

The bishops ask to keep in mind particularly the ethical and moral dimensions of climate change as indicated in article 3 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The article 3 points to equity, common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, precautionary principle, right to sustainable development. Regarding sustainable development, the statement calls on all parties to build new models of development and lifestyles that are both climate compatible and bring people out of poverty. For this, we should be confident that everyone has a capacity to contribute to overcome climate change and to choose sustainable lifestyles. Finally, the bishops invite all Catholics and people of good will to engage on the road to Paris as a starting point for a new life in harmony with Creation respecting planetary boundaries.

As seen in the statement, the bishops connect climate change closely to sustainable development which should be reflected and emphasized in the human development area. Along with his emphasis on human development, Pope Francis places much weigh on “peace” in the document. It is right and proper for us to look the pope’s view on evangelization both in the light of human development and peace. He says:


“Nor is peace “simply the absence of warfare… it is fashioned by efforts directed day after day towards the establishment of the ordered universe willed by God, with a more perfect justice among men”. In the end, a peace which is not the result of integral development will be doomed; it will always spawn new conflicts and various forms of violence.” (n. 219)


The sentence, “a peace which is not the result of integral development will be doomed,” is indeed the conclusion as one of the most important parts of this paper. However, we need to go deeper in the relationship of human development and peace in the apostolic exhortation, although it is not a right place for us to do the job here. Instead, we limit ourselves to examining what are ‘four principles’ as effective tools for serving as “primary and fundamental parameters of reference for interpreting and evaluating social phenomena.” (n.221)

The following is four principles: Time is greater than space; Unity prevails over conflict; Realities are more important than ideas; The whole is greater than the part. I am not going to deal with all the four principles in details here but will do in relation to our main themes, namely, human development and peace, and their reciprocal relationship. The principle, “time is greater than space,” means that it enables us to work slowly but surely, without being obsessed with immediate results. And it helps us patiently to endure difficult and adverse situations, or inevitable changes in our plans. Francis recognizes significance of diversity in relation to peace. “It overcomes every conflict by creating a new and promising synthesis. Diversity is a beautiful thing when it can constantly enter into a process of reconciliation and seal a sort of cultural covenant resulting in a ‘reconciled diversity’”. (n. 230) In the principle emphasizing realities rather than ideas, Francis offers another word “dialogue” without which according to him ideas become detached from realities. “Ideas disconnected from realities give rise to ineffectual forms of idealism and nominalism, capable at most of classifying and defining, but certainly not calling to action.” (n. 233)

One of the most important and relevant principles in the light of human development and peace is the last one: the whole is greater than the part. Francis points out that “The whole is greater than the part, but it is also greater than the sum of its parts.”(n. 235) We could find a deeper meaning of it when he deals with it in the light of evangelization. It is clearly mentioned as follows:


The Gospel is the leaven which causes the dough to rise and the city on the hill whose light illumines all peoples. The Gospel has an intrinsic principle of totality: it will always remain good news until it has been proclaimed to all people, until it has healed and strengthened every aspect of humanity, until it has brought all men and women together at table in God’s kingdom. The whole is greater than the part. (n. 235)


We can find a similar idea in the papal exhortation as follows:


“The kingdom, already present and growing in our midst, engages us at every level of our being and reminds us of the principle of discernment which Pope Paul VI applied to true development: it must be directed to “all men and the whole man” We know that “evangelization would not be complete if it did not take account of the unceasing interplay of the Gospel and of man’s concrete life, both personal and social”. This is the principle of universality intrinsic to the Gospel…” (n. 181)


Here, Pope Francis clearly shows how much he relies on Paul VI when it comes to an idea of evangelization in the light of human development which should be for the whole and all just like “numbers.”

We feel we need to quote more phrases from Pope Paul VI’s view on development mentioned above with regard to such a “the whole or wholeness” in his encyclical “On Progress of Peoples”.


“The development we speak of here cannot be restricted to economic growth alone. To be authentic, it must be well rounded; it must foster the development of each man and of the whole man. …‘What counts for us is man—each individual man, each human group, and humanity as a whole.’” (n. 14)

Once again, we could find the idea of development of each man and the whole man without which evangelization would not be complete, according to both Pope Paul VI and Francis.


4. Conclusion

I have begun this paper with Francis’ visit to South Korea in order to show how much he wanted to see realities in Asia by meeting especially with the isolated and youth in Asia. It is why I wrote a bit longer about his activities during his visit on the one hand, a role of young lay leaders in Church-related NGOs on the other. Before fishing this paper, I want to deal briefly Francis’ idea of Church or ecclesiology in relation to significance of role of lay young leaders who are the future of the Church.

He clearly express his view on an image of the Church as saying that he prefers a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. Because “I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and which then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures.” (n. 49) Such a web of obsessions and procedures makes the Church feel fear of going astray. Rather he says that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving.

He continues to say about how the Church should be in order to responds rightly to the starving people under the market-dominating system which makes the poor poorer and poorer. Francis gives another bright insight to the Church in terms of its “reform” or “renewal.” He says, “Any Church community, if it thinks it can comfortably go its own way without creative concern and effective cooperation in helping the poor to live with dignity and reaching out to everyone, will also risk breaking down, however much it may talk about social issues or criticize governments.”(n. 207)

In order to be a Church for the poor, it should have much concern and genuine cooperation in helping and supporting the poor. Otherwise it will risk breaking down, no matter what they say about justice and peace to the society or criticize governments. Why? It is simply because the Church shows a total inability to bring its internal matters to justice, if it fails to deal properly and rightly with them.

It is why I have stressed Church-related NGOs and their role to play to make the Church reformed and renewed. It is very much true in Asia where clergy monopolize nearly everything in the Church. So only enlightened lay leaders and groups with support from “like-minded” clergy and Religious could lead the Church to what Francis calls the Church going out to or reaching out to the poor in the street without forgetting the Church reform from a parish level to Roman Curia. Again in order to understand and achieve the goal and purpose of evangelization Francis has in mind, the evangelizing mission should go with an integral human development of the poor and peace for the universe with help from such prophetic voices within and out of the Church especially those of the young lay activists. Therefore, their formation is necessary if the Church really wants to see a creative vision and achieve it, which should be a part of evangelization based on human development and peace.




[3] “Catholic Bishops’ statement in Lima on the road to Paris” issued on Dec. 10th, 2014. The statement came from nine bishops from four continents and five countries, primarily from the Global South, with five from host country Peru. That included Archbishop Salvador Piñeiro García-Calderón of Ayacucho, president of the Peruvian bishops’ conference. See its full statement in the following website:


<Peace on Asia>, Seoul : WTI 2013