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Spiritual Reflection - October 2023


The encyclical Pacem In Terris was presented to the world by Pope John 23rd in 1963 in response to the Cuban missile crisis a year earlier. We could say the document was a call to politicians everywhere to establish a global community. It was certainly well-received and intended as not something meant just for Catholics.  

Early in the document, Pope John refers to human rights: the right to freedom of speech, belief and so on.  Under the heading of Human Rights, the following statement appears:  

But first we must speak of the rights of human beings. All have the right to live. All have the right to bodily integrity and to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and, finally, the necessary social services. In consequence, they have the right to be looked after in the event of ill-health; disability stemming from their work; widowhood; old age; enforced unemployment; or whenever through no fault of their own they are deprived of the means of livelihood.   

It is this statement Vincentians might find most relevant to their apostolate. It is far more challenging than appears at first sight. You may find it helpful in widening the vision of your Conference’s own work. We are well aware these days that governments have an obligation to attend to the issues listed above. Certainly, that is implied in Catholic social teaching. Inevitably though we will find gaps, which requires us to ask:  

  1. whose job is it to pick up the pieces that no one seems to care about? Is our work just enabling the government of the day to take an easy path? 

  2. should we speak up when we discover these gaps? After all, it is one thing to help the poor, but another to ask why there are poor. Or, as Dom Helder Camara is believed to have said: "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist!” 

  3. The St Vincent de Paul Society does not normally, as far as I am aware, make public statements to the press or governments. Does this need to be corrected? Mother Teresa on the other hand worked on the philosophy of love. She brought the poor to the forefront of our minds, but, as far as I am aware, refrained from public criticism of governments.

  4. Comment on the following: there could be a tension between asking why there are the poor and working for the poor. 

Discussion:  Share with each other your answer to the questions above.