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Catholic Social Teaching and Poverty Eradication: Key concepts and issues

2. What Is Catholic Social Teaching?
 
Now I turn to that part of the title of our two days together that holds for me the most significance. For it is here that we focus primarily on what policy makers call the "value added" dimension - what specifically can the church contribute to this whole discussion of poverty eradication?

I must admit that I am at home here! Several years ago, two Jesuit colleagues and I wrote a book on the social teaching, called "Our Church's Best Kept Secret"! And I continue to teach a course each year in Lusaka in our major seminary on "The Churches' Social Teaching." We look both at the documents of the universal church, those of our African church such as the teaching coming from the African Synod and various episcopal conferences, and the very prolific writings of our Zambian bishops.

So now, let me in the space of five minutes present the content of five weeks of that course!

By CST, I mean the body of social wisdom, about human individuals in society, and about the structures of that society that enable humanity to come to its fullness, that can be found in:

  • Scripture


  • Writings of theologians


  • Documents of churches


  • Witness of just persons and communities.


Sometimes we tend to focus primarily on the documents, but we know that the authority and the authenticity, the relevance and the credibility, of the documents come from their foundation in scripture, their clarification in theological reflection, and their evidence in lived experience.

The purpose of the social teaching can be said to be three-fold:

  • To guide individual consciences in making just decisions - e.g., about wages to pay, the treatment of woman, the respect for the environment.


  • To shape the response of the church to social issues - e.g., about racial attitudes, political involvement, care for the poor.


  • To influence the activities of the public sector - e.g., about economic policies, international relations, peace and war decisions.


These purposes - personal, ecclesial and societal - are the reason why CST is so important in the world today, especially here in Africa. Indeed, for us Christians, we can understand why Pope John Paul II has called the CST an integral part of evangelisation.

A systematised content of this social teaching can be found in:

  • Lists of key issues and topics - e.g., from Our Best Kept Secret, from the economic pastoral letter of the South African Bishops, in the statement in our background papers by the Religious Working Group on the World Bank and the IMF.


  • Development of major theme - e.g., the statement of the bishops of England and Wales on The Common Good, the analysis offered in our background papers by Bishop Diarmuid Martin on globalisation, the Zambian bishops' pastoral recent pastoral letter on political responsibility, Discipleship and Citizenship


  • Focus on a particular issue - e.g., the debt crisis (in our background papers), the call for poverty eradication (what I will develop here).


The important thing to note about the church's social teaching is that it does not provide a set of answers or a course of prescriptions. Rather it offers guidelines, questions to ponder, directions to follow. It is a light for our paths, not a roadmap for our journeys.

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