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July 11, 2005
Vol. 3, No. 12



Pat Marrin Urgently needed: an encyclical on global economic justice

By Pat Marrin, editor of Celebration

A new pontificate occasions the opportunity for all Catholics to communicate their concerns to Rome. I submit this very rough draft for Pope Benedict XVI's first encyclical. The global economy is addressed as the root cause of most other woes, and the church's liturgy is proposed as the model for a just economy.

Tempus Agere (A Time to Act):
Encyclical Letter on Global Economic Justice.

To my brothers and sisters in the universal church, and to all who by office or by conscience are responsible for the welfare of the human family.

Urgent greetings.

We regard it our highest duty before God and before the councils of human discernment to express our deepest concern over the grave suffering and hopelessness visited on so many of our brothers and sisters for causes that could be alleviated by ordinary means with available resources. That such suffering occurs unabated exposes the failure of global systems that determine how common goods are shared among the children of this world. The prophetic voices within the world's great religions rise in a chorus of anguish and alarm, that the failure to secure the most basic rights for all threatens not just the survival of the poor man Lazarus, but also the rich man at whose gate he lies. We join our voice to that chorus because we believe that the failure of global economic justice is at the root of other moral failures, especially the scourge of war in all its forms, hunger and disease, the plight of millions of refugees and the scandalous disparity that divides the world into the fortunate few and the desperate many.

Open letters to Pope Benedict XVI
Global Perspective, an online feature of NCRonline.org has been running open letters to the new pope from Catholics around the world.
It is not the purpose of this letter to catalogue the injustices now plaguing the human community or the basic principles of economic justice long taught by the Church and recognized by religious and civil consensus as universal human rights. Economic systems are judged not by profit, production or market share, but by how they meet human needs, protect the earth, promote the common good, ensure access and participation by all in decisions that affect everyone. As national and regional markets have merged into global markets, protocols have grown more complex. The assertion of national, cultural and historical interests is inevitable in the exchange of resources, technology and labor. But when negotiations at every level between the strong and the weak, developed and developing nations, are marked by unfair advantage and force, the results are evident at the global family table, where some dine sumptuously while many suffer want or are excluded altogether. To assert that such inequity is the result of blind market forces denies human ingenuity and disgraces any economic system that fails the global family it exists to serve.

Liturgy as a model economy
The Church has relatively little power, wealth or influence in the temporal realm. What it does have is an ancient voice of human experience, a comprehensive tradition about the meaning and purpose of human existence, and a profound ritual life that can serve as a model for the just economy. The liturgy of the Church, the first work of the People of God, mirrors the altar of self-sacrifice and table of life that are also the center of the global economy. In its structure of shared offering, communion and mission, the Eucharist stands as a stunning model for the just economy seen in the vital exchange typified by the primitive church: "from each according to their means, to each according to their needs" (Acts 2:45). In the Church's liturgy, Christ presides at the altar-table, embodied by the whole baptized assembly. His life, death and resurrection reveal self-emptying love for the sake of others as the true measure of a mature human life. Every participant is invited to enact this same paschal pattern. Formed in love, the body of Christ is bread to the world, broken and shared to feed the hungry, restore hope and transform human structures to effect peace and justice for all.

The Church Portable
The Church's witness is empty and ineffectual if not lived. Jesus Christ, prototype of the mature human being and the icon of our divine destiny, demonstrated God's intentions for the whole human family by going among the poor as their champion. As his keynote he proclaimed "good news to the poor, release for captives, sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed, and a year of jubilee" (Luke 4:18-19). His death on the cross enacted fully his obedience as God's Suffering Servant, and his resurrection from the dead revealed the ultimate victory of justice and love over human injustice and its mortal consequences.

In these critical days when the world again is poised at the brink of ideological and religious divisions that threaten human survival, it is fitting that the Church, in imitation of her divine exemplar, position herself among those poor and dispossessed peoples God has promised to be with.

Therefore, in our role as the Servant of the Servants of God, we have directed that the essential administrative functions of the papal office be reconfigured for relocation to the Darfur region of the Sudan. In cooperation with civil and religious officials of that stricken nation, the Church will convene the human and material resources needed to address effectively and immediately the vast human suffering inflicted on that region by civil war, religious strife and weather-related disasters. We come primarily as a spiritual voice appealing to the conscience of the world. We come as a community that worships the absolute authority of God, who commands us all to be just and compassionate. We come as servants of our brothers and sisters in need, among whom God waits to be fed, clothed and cared for (Matt. 25:31-46).

In our office as chief shepherd, we have directed the Vatican's diplomatic office to draw up a list of the world's most desperate and neglected regions as the successive location for our pastoral presence. The Church is defined not by place but by its mission. We are summoned by Christ, who goes before us into the world as Good News to the poor.

To multiply this effort in every part of the world, we have also directed each bishop as Christ's vicar to adopt this same pattern of relocating to where there is greatest need in his diocese. We seek this as a worldwide sign of God's preferential love for the poor and the Church's sincerity in practicing what she preaches.

By modeling this first in Africa, then in other locations, it is our intent to witness to the power of God joined to selfless human effort to promote right relationships among the myriad interests that come together in every human economy.

Groundwork efforts are underway to restore civil authority through disarmament and reconciliation. We call on international bodies to support this effort with debt relief, aid and investment. At the same time, regional autonomy and subsidiarity must guide our efforts to assemble African resources to diagnose, plan and implement the rebuilding infrastructures for housing, healthcare, transportation, food production, communication, and education. Our goal is to revive local markets, self-sustainable agriculture and industry to provide jobs that restore dignity and build community.

We call to this work the African church's greatest treasures, her mature members, religious and lay, especially married couples as seasoned models of collaboration and self sacrifice, and the young, whose energies and idealism are needed to give a future to the efforts of their elders.

An urgent appeal
New models for a just economy in one part of the world will challenge systems everywhere. To our beloved sisters and brothers in the developed nations we address an urgent appeal. We know of your great charity in times of crisis. We ask also for your openness to the demands of justice in a global economy where every benefit enjoyed or consumed in one part of the world exacts a cost elsewhere. Curbing consumption, conserving and recycling common resources, using purchasing power to influence just labor practices are not just lifestyle options but a call to conversion and to solidarity with the poor everywhere. Simplicity is the spirituality of our age. The Church must demonstrate this in its own life by her advocacy on behalf of the poor and her practice of the corporal works of mercy.

The judgment of history will surely fall on powerful nations whose domestic appetites and strategic interests have long constituted a virtual war upon the poor of the world. The voices of prophets multiply in our troubled times to challenge those to whom much has been given and from whom much is expected.

To our beloved brothers and sisters in the developing world who have long borne the burdens of economic exploitation and exclusion from the councils of power, we offer the Church's presence and partnership on the path of human development. The Church is committed to nonviolence and will work tirelessly for negotiated resolution of conflict. We urge bold initiatives and generous collaboration among neighbors in overcoming nationalist impulses that block development. Development is the key to peace. Where stability and security hold, all other goals become possible and hope rises in every human heart.

It is this vision of a just economy as the basis for a peaceful world that now moves the Church to speak. But, more than that, to act. With trust in God and in the innate goodness of the human family, we invite others to act with us.

Pat Marrin's e-mail address is patmarrin@aol.com. Celebration, NCR's sister publication, is an ecumenical worship resource. For a preview, follow this link: Celebration.
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