02/02/2006, 00.00
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The Gospel, "instrument" for the development of peoples

by Piero Gheddo

Even Christian publishing neglects the fact that the profound factors, which can be either favourable or detrimental to development, are above all religious, cultural, as well as a matter of education, mentality and social structure.

The question of "Gospel and development" of peoples is a topic which is neglected in Christian publishing and is all but lacking in the many Church conferences on how to fight hunger in the world.  In his message for Lent 2006, Benedict XVI tackles this problem: "the primary contribution that the Church offers to the development of mankind and peoples does not consist merely in material means or technical solutions.  Rather, it involves the proclamation of the truth of Christ, Who educates consciences and teaches the authentic dignity of the person and of work; it means the promotion of a culture that truly responds to all the questions of humanity."  This truth is not new to papal documents, to the Vatican II Council (see Gaudium et Spes and Ad Gentes) and to episcopal assemblies (see Puebla's).  But when one goes from the level of theological pronouncement to examining the concrete situation of underdevelopment, the dominating tendency even in the Church and among associations engaged in social work is to attribute the causes and remedies of underdevelopment to material, technical, political and economic factors, ignoring the profound causes which are religious, cultural, as well as being related to education, mentality and social structures that might either favour or hinder development.

The Rome-based Jesuit review La Civiltà Cattolica complained years ago (July 21, 1991) that "with the number of Church documents in existence on the international debt question, it is impossible to come up with a comprehensive overview: in a few years, the ecclesiastical machine produced more than 250 position papers by bishops' conferences, individual bishops and Church groups."  But if one looks for documents or studies on "Gospel and Progress of Man" and on "Mission and Development of Peoples", the results are disappointing: practically no such specific material exists.  Yet Benedict XVI writes in his Message that "the examples of the saints and the long history of the Church's missionary activity provide invaluable indications of the most effective ways to support development."  Rightly said, but who in the Church is studying these "missionary activities", in such a way that they may become examples that favour development?  The world itself of missionary research and promotion in Italy studies and publicizes the problems pertaining to the material causes and remedies of underdevelopment (foreign debt, economic assistance, international trade rules, etc.), but almost entirely ignores all those missionary experiences that could serve as models of the spirit and of the techniques for creating development.

Have travelled for decades to missionaries all over the world, I got a real sense for the fact that, here in Italy, we speak of money, multinationals, globalization's faults, while the missionaries on the ground, in describing the causes of underdevelopment, refer to the lack of education, the corruption of the elite, ethnic in-fighting, as well as mentalities and cultures based on an inadequate vision of man and woman, and to religions themselves which, though even having values worth saving, stand in the way of development; in a word, they emphasize not the material, technical or financial values, but those pertaining to culture, education and religion.  And often they conclude: "Here only the Gospel can change these inhumane situations of poverty and ignorance."

That is what the Blessed Mother Teresa would say: "India's greatest misfortune is to not know Jesus Christ."  These words could seem absurd in the face of a country with more than a billion inhabitants, with immense human rights, economic, social and technical problems to solve.  But, Benedict XVI agrees with her, quoting her in his Message, since we believe, and as history has amply shown us, that "the primary contribution that the Church offers to the development of mankind and peoples…[is] the truth of Christ.  Thus, authentic human development presupposes that everyone is "effectively" assured religious freedom.  Our times, with all the disappointments that they hand out each day in terms of the recipes and efforts to help poor peoples, bring us to take Benedict XVI's Message seriously through the strengthening of research and study to show in a very concrete way the truth of what Pope John Paul II had already affirmed: "Man's development derives from God, and from the model of Jesus – God and man – and must lead back to God" (Redemptoris Mission, 59).

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See also
Pope talks about the Middle East, the Holy Land and the food crisis with Bush
Pope: purpose of mission is to spread
Pope proclaims four new "missionary" saints
Pope: social issues and gospel are inseparable, but God must "be in centre"
Hindu nationalism is anti-poor and anti-Dalit, research says