First, the good news. The past 50 years has seen millions of people brought out of poverty, thanks largely to health and nutrition improvements. Yet few are predicting anything but unsettled times ahead. Nearly a billion people still live in absolute poverty and will be most affected by climate change and conflict. More than half the world’s population now live in cities seeking decent work. Humanitarian crises will become more protracted. Migration will become the defining issue of our time.
As we have done for the past 50 years, Catholic charities will rise to these challenges. We will do this in a political environment that pitches globalisation against nationalism. Successive popes have addressed the shortcomings of globalisation by returning to the basics of Catholic teaching: putting people at the centre of economy and society, and urging us to rediscover the fundamental relationships we all need.
St John Paul II called for “globalised solidarity” to counter its emerging excesses. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said in Caritas in Veritate: “The social doctrine of the Church has unceasingly highlighted the importance of distributive justice and social justice for the market economy, not only because it belongs within a broader social and political context, but also because of the wider network of relations within which it operates … Without internal forms of solidarity and mutual trust, the market cannot completely fulfil its proper economic function.”
Catholic charities have to meet this challenge with a renewed sense of purpose and charism. Benedict XVI reinforced the charitable and justice work of the Church as an indispensable third pillar of mission alongside preaching the Gospel and celebrating the sacraments. Pope Francis has said that “whoever lives the mission of Caritas is not simply a charitable worker but a true witness of Christ”.
What will make Catholic charities distinctive in the next 50 years is our confidence in our identity, promoting the principles of Catholic social teaching.
Here in Britain, we are regularly presented with false choices and a suggestion we must choose – for example, between health and social care for our families or the aid budget that cares for those in need in developing countries. Yet for Catholics the question is how we create a fairer and more equitable society, both here and overseas, so that all people can flourish and contribute to the common good.
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