―Building Sustainable and Inclusive Communities―
Bonet Vicente SJ
Jesuit Social Center staff
Last April, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus Fr. Adolfo Nicolas sent a letter to all Jesuits commending to their reading, thoughtful reflection and prayer the document titled “Justice in the Global Economy―Building Sustainable and Inclusive Communities”, which had been published by the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat of the same Society.
In 2015, a group of theologians, economists and philosophers, Jesuits and lay collaborators from all over the world, gathered to reflect on the present global economy, and whether its practices are sustainable. They analyzed the effects of those practices on the people, and how the economy could answer in a better way the needs of the poor and of the environment. This document is the result of their study.
In the “Introduction: a call to action”, while quoting from Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” and Encyclical Letter “Laudato Si’”, they point out the following present realities. In recent decades, growing access to education, improved health care, advanced technology etc. have made possible remarkable improvement in the lives of many people. But at the same time, many people continue to live in abject poverty, barely living from day to day. This means that we stand now at a critical junction in which we have to decide whether the economic improvements we are clearly capable of making will benefit all people, or that they will continue to be reserved for a privileged few.
The members of this group of experts hope that the results of their study and reflection offered in this document, will “contribute to and foster efforts by the Church and others to address these questions and challenges.” The subtitle of the document, “Building Sustainable and Inclusive Communities”, can be also a clue to what they hope for.
After this “Call to Action” in the Introduction (chapter 1), and following the pattern “See-Judge-Act”, the document is divided into 4 more chapters. In chapter 2 they discuss what they call “Signs of the Times”. They see that the globalization of the economy and technological progress determine the conditions of our daily life. And in these conditions, as expected, there are positive and negative ones.
In chapter 3, the authors point out the fact that though present day economic activities have helped to increase wealth and reduce the number of people living in extreme poverty, they have also left out a large number of people excluded from participating in those economic benefits and remaining in extremely poor conditions. At the end the authors add some suggestions for a deeper study and reflection on this fact.
In chapter 4, as a new vision that can help to shape the direction of policies and practices so that they are more equitable and just, we are offered a very good reflection about the common good today.
Finally in chapter 5, we find a set of suggestions and recommendations for the Jesuits, their collaborators and institutions. These recommendations are meant to be a more concrete help for us to keep our focus on the most vulnerable people and their causes.
Signs of the Times
The members of this study group point out the following “Signs of the Times” as facts that characterize economic life today and affect the lives of those most vulnerable people.
- Poverty remains stubbornly high.
- Inequality has been steadily rising.
- Indigenous peoples and marginalized ethnic minorities have experienced discrimination.
- Women are more prone to poverty and to unequal economic opportunities.
- The nature of work is changing, producing a new class of long-term “working poor”.
- Financial markets have expanded dramatically.
- The private sector has become increasingly important.
- The sustainability of our current economic practices (privatization and exclusionary use of resources) is a critical challenge today.
- Violence, crime and delinquency often have economic roots.
- The role of the media, commercial and social, has become more and more important.
- We can find also important new signs of hope among the present signs of the times.
- Many local, grass-roots communities work to promote more just and inclusive economic relationships.
- A new global civil society is emerging.
- Some governments and businesses are showing more concern for sustainable development.
- A new, practical and theoretical understanding of development is emerging.
- The rising corporate social responsibility movement is also a sign of hope.
Today’s major challenges
In the 3rd chapter, the authors analyze more deeply today’s major challenges from the perspective of the social sciences. They consider the social and environmental aspects of the following challenges.
- The challenge of severe poverty.
- The social wound of inequality.
- The risks of modern-day financialization.
- The injustice of violence.
- The unattended fragility of our common home.
This social analysis itself offers enough material for our consideration. But the authors add also a reflection from the Christian tradition, the Bible and the Church documents.
A New Vision
After looking at the reality shown by “the signs of the times”, and reflecting on that reality from a social and Christian perspective, we are called to act for the transformation of that reality. This action is the subject of chapters 4 and 5.
To respond effectively to the challenges of poverty, inequality, unregulated markets, social conflict, and environmental degradation we will need a clear and strong vision of the common good.
After pointing out that the common good is different from the aggregated incomes of the individual members of a particular society, the authors, using the terms “contributive justice” and “distributive justice” want to make clear the true meaning of the common good.
Contributive justice requires that, in each society and in the whole world, everybody, without being excluded and/or discriminated, contributes to the common good of the society (the world) to which he belongs. This means that having a decent job with a just salary and just working conditions, taking care of the environment, etc. he/she participates actively in the building up of a just society.
And the realization of distributive justice requires that the benefits of a country’s and of the world’s economy have to be distributed according to justice among all the members of that particular country and of the world.
To promote the real common good of all peoples, states, civil society and global networks for justice have to work together in order to attain the necessary changes. The authors offer concrete recommendations for reform at both the national and international levels. And suggest a new spirituality and a new way of understanding personal well-being.
Recommendations for our Ignatian family
Chapter 5 of the report is aimed at our Jesuit family and the institutions in which we serve. The authors offer the following recommendations.
- First of all we should commit ourselves to regular contact with the poor and collaboration in their causes.
- We should turn our institutions into instruments of economic justice.
- We can improve the use of the resources at our disposal for the causes of the poor.
- We can advance our knowledge in the service of the poor and marginalized.
- Through the network of Jesuit institutions we could have more impact on the status quo.
- The potential of our professional schools and universities has not been realized yet.
Finally, the authors return to a reflection on the power of the Gospel, the special love of God for the poor and the suffering people, and His care for those who hunger and thirst for Justice.
※ Limits on the space provided do not allow for a more detailed resumé of the document.
But I hope it will help to encourage the reading of the whole document.
This is available in English, French, Italian and Spanish
at www.sjweb.info/sjs, Promotio Iusticiae nr. 121.