The release today of Pope Francis’s 2014 World Day of Peace Message, “Fraternity, the Foundation and Pathway to Peace,” is the pope’s second major statement in two weeks. A significant theme in the message is the link between poverty and inequality. The Holy Father notes that while we are witnessing a reduction in so-called “absolute poverty” (degrading abject poverty), “there is a serious rise in relative poverty, that is, of instances, of inequality of peoples and of groups who live to together in particular regions or in determined historical-cultural context.”
People “who are equal in dignity and fundamental rights” require, the pope argues, (equal) “access to capital, services, educational resources, healthcare and technology, so that every person has an opportunity to express or realize his or her life project and can develop as a person.” Contemporary Catholic social teaching going back to John XXIII’s Mater et Magistra (1961) has contended that the common good consists in just this: the sharing of resources in the interest of the full development on the part of every human being.
What the tradition has also insisted, though it is sometimes denied, that in the interest of protecting the poor, inequalities have to be held in check. Accordingly, Francis argues that the excessive imbalance between incomes must be lightened (reduced), invoking the notion of “the social mortgage on private property,” the notion that private property is not just for one’s own use but for the good of all as well, and so subject to social control in the interest of ameliorating poverty. It is by growing in the spirit of fraternity, the pope maintains, that we will be able to rethink our models of economic life and undertake a shift in lifestyles that will enable people to enjoy a just peace together.
Drew Christiansen, S.J.