Redemptoris Missio 58: Conscience Formation

When Pope John Paul II wrote of “Promoting Development by Forming Consciences” in numbered sections 58 and 59 of this document, what did he mean? Stay with him on this topic, as he offers something of a preliminary:

The mission ad gentes is still being carried out today, for the most part in the southern regions of the world, where action on behalf of integral development and liberation from all forms of oppression is most urgently needed. The Church has always been able to generate among the peoples she evangelizes a drive toward progress. Today, more than in the past, missionaries are being recognized as promoters of development by governments and international experts who are impressed at the remarkable results achieved with scanty means.

Progress and related words get a bad rap or rep these days. But the aspiration is virtuous. We should be concerned about fewer people dying of starvation and disease, or suffering through a low quality of life compared to their brothers and sisters in the Old World.

A few years before penning this document, John Paul II wrote an encyclical on the twentieth anniversary of another papal document outlining the hopes for moving past the failures of humankind in the Third World. He has his own take on what the Church can offer:

In the Encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, I stated that “the Church does not have technical solutions to offer for the problem of underdevelopment as such,” but “offers her first contribution to the solution of the urgent problem of development when she proclaims the truth about Christ, about herself and about (humankind), applying this truth to a concrete situation.”(Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (1987), 41) The Conference of Latin American Bishops at Puebla stated that “the best service we can offer to our brother (or sister) is evangelization, which helps (them) to live and act as a son (or daughter) of God, sets (them) free from injustices and assists (an) overall development.”(Puebla Document (1979), 3760 (1145)) It is not the Church’s mission to work directly on the economic. technical or political levels, or to contribute materially to development. Rather, her mission consists essentially in offering people an opportunity not to “have more” but to “be more.” by awakening their consciences through the Gospel. “Authentic human development must be rooted in an ever deeper evangelization.”(Address to Clergy and Religious, Jakarta, October 10, 1989, 5)

If it were as simple as this, we would have accomplished it in the Tridentine Era. The problem is that powers-that-be are threatened by people who are more. They could engage in absolutely peaceful demonstrations, and they would still be persecuted, beaten, and killed just for the threat they pose in being more than they are.

The Church does operate in the realms of healing, education, and other human labors:

The Church and her missionaries also promote development through schools, hospitals, printing presses, universities and experimental farms.

Christ preached more, and if we are faithful to his mission and mandate, we will attend to the deepest aspects of our humanity. We will help others realize their potential. And if our faith is true and deep, we will have trust that by uplifting people by a Christian example, those who do not yet know God will come to know because of our witness, in part:

But a people’s development does not derive primarily from money, material assistance or technological means, but from the formation of consciences and the gradual maturing of ways of thinking and patterns of behavior. (The person) is the principal agent of development, not money or technology. The Church forms consciences by revealing to peoples the God whom they seek and do not yet know, the grandeur of man (and woman) created in God’s image and loved by him, the equality of all men and women as God’s sons and daughters, the mastery of man (and woman) over nature created by God and placed at (human) service, and the obligation to work for the development of the whole person and of all (humankind).

This document is available online here and is © Copyright – Libreria Editrice Vaticana


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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