Cardinal Martino's Address in Singapore on the Laity

Social Doctrine and Human Promotion

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SINGAPORE, JUNE 25, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is the address that Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the pontifical councils for Justice and Peace and for Migrants and Travelers, gave June 20 in Singapore on the laity.



The cardinal was there as a special envoy of Benedict XVI for the 25th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Singapore and the Holy See.

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1. I am very pleased to be here to present the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, a document drawn up by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace as desired by the unforgettable Servant of God John Paul II. The Compendium has been long-awaited and is the result of a long process of elaboration. It has been received with great interest, judging from the vast number of copies published and translations made. However, it remains a document that, in keeping with the very ideals that brought it into being, is intended to sow its seeds for a long time and to provide for the long-term fertilization of the ground on which society is built.

2. The Compendium presents in a broad and systematic manner the principles, assessments and guidelines that the Church has placed before Catholics and before men and women of good will, above all starting with Leo XIII's encyclical "Rerum Novarum," in order that they might face the difficult social questions of our modern age.

The text is divided into three parts: in the first part, it is seen that social questions -- if they are to be adequately dealt with -- must be placed in and brought back to the context of God's plan of love; in proclaiming the Gospel of justice and peace the Church too is placed at the service of this plan of love. In this first part, the great principles of social doctrine are illustrated: the centrality of the human person, the common good, subsidiarity and solidarity; also presented are the key values of life in society: truth, justice, freedom and love.

The second part of the document deals with a whole series of issues that touch on social life: The first issue is family life, then work, economic life, the political community, international life, the environment and peace. As you can easily see, these are issues that are of utmost concern for us: They have implications for the lives of billions of people; they are connected with our present day, but above all they affect the fate of future generations. The Compendium ends with a rather short section in which certain guidelines are suggested, especially for the lay faithful, regarding the best way to make use of the extraordinary patrimony of human and Christian knowledge represented by social doctrine.

3. The lay faithful -- both as individuals and in associations -- are the Compendium's privileged partners; this document is meant to represent for them a precious instrument for formation and a constant source of inspiration. The lay faithful, by virtue of their baptism, are placed within the mystery of God's love for the world that Christ has revealed and of which the Church is a continuation in history. They therefore participate in the mystery, the communion and the mission found within the Church, but they do so according to their particular nature, their secular dimension.[1]

They live directly where social life is secularly organized: in the areas of the economy, of politics, of work, of social communications, of law, of institutional organizations where decisions and choices become social structures affecting civil life. The laity are not in the world to a greater degree than other ecclesial subjects, but they are in the world in a different way: They deal directly with secular realities, building the structural relations existing between the members of social and political communities, giving a certain direction to the course of world events by their work, determining the organizational and structural aspects of the world.

The lay faithful, by means of their competence and professional character, and by means of their responsibility for working in particular contexts, in some way complete the Church's social doctrine, as far as practice is concerned, and mediate its necessary impact on reality. Social doctrine is not mere theoretical knowledge, but is meant to be put into action, it is oriented to life and is to be applied creatively and actively practiced.

The lay faithful have a very particular role in this area, even if it is not a role that belongs exclusively to them. Since social doctrine is the meeting between the truth of the Gospel and human problems, the lay faithful -- both as individuals and in associations -- must actively guide the directives for action found in social doctrine towards operative results that are concrete and effective. They are people who take risks and who are open to new experiences. The lay faithful, coming up with concrete, historical solutions to humanity's problems, are not -- in a manner of speaking -- an addendum to the Church's social doctrine, rather they are the very heart of this doctrine, because social doctrine has an intimate "experiential" dimension.[2]

The lay faithful are men and women who are the intermediaries between, on the one hand, the principles of reflection, the criteria of judgment and the directives for action found in social doctrine and, on the other hand, the concrete and unique situations in which they act and make decisions. This role of mediation does not imply an absence of courage, and it is not merely a capacity to bring about moderation or effective compromises.

The lay faithful, if they are to be salt, light and leaven in the world,[3] must work to make ever more evident those things that are authentically human in social relations, without fear and with openness to and hopefulness for the future. It is my ardent wish that the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church will also help to bring to maturity here in the local Church of Singapore important personalities who are authentic believers, inspiring them to bear credible witness, making them leaders capable of bringing about change in the mechanisms of contemporary society by their thought and action. There is always a need for witnesses, for martyrs and saints, also in the area of society.

4. The Compendium is undoubtedly a complex and articulate text that does not allow us, in the context of this meeting, to consider all its various themes in their vastness. Allow me, therefore, to make a few brief comments that may be of some usefulness and relevance for your witness as lay Christians involved in the world.

a) Valuing and Defending Life. The Compendium affirms that the theme of life, of defending life from conception to natural death and promoting it in all its stages, is of fundamental importance for Christian action in the area of society.[4] The right to life is the first right without which all other rights would lack their foundation. As the right of rights, the right to life should be the basis of all social planning. Moreover, the right to life makes available to society a dimension that is not attainable in politics, the dimension of what is owed to the human person simply by virtue of his being a person: In this way, the right to life places limits on politics, a limit without which politics would become oppressive. The right to life is of fundamental importance for giving politics its proper humanistic purpose.

b) Valuing and Defending the Family (cf. Compendium, chapter 5). The natural family -- based on monogamy and stability, as it was conceived in the divine plan and sanctified by Christianity -- is today facing a difficult moment because of the multiple attacks made on it from different fronts. A concrete way of promoting the family consists in recognizing, respecting and promoting its rights. This has been a constant reminder found in Christian social teaching.

The dignity, rights and duties of families derive from the very nature of the institution of the family; this dignity, these rights and these duties cannot be conditioned by state and/or social authorities, which instead have the obligation to defend them. The history of political thought demonstrates that if social planning overlooks the subjectivity of the family, it fails also to respect the rights of individuals.

Recognizing the pre-eminence of the family, moreover, is an incentive for overcoming purely utilitarian perspectives in favor of a culture of selflessness, which society so urgently needs. Such a culture promotes the quest for adequate criteria for solving other social problems, such as those connected with work, the home, health, education, and so forth. In our society also, the family must therefore remain what God has made it to be: a community of life, love and educational growth of people and for people.

c) Strengthening the Relationship between Ethics and the Economy (cf. Compendium, 330-335). The economy and economic institutions are concerned with that dimension of the social-relational life of men and women that seeks to meet the primary needs arising from human existence in the world. Within this perspective is found the intrinsically ethical dimension of the economy, considered both as a practical aspect of human life and as a science. In fact, the human person is at the center of economic quests and economic praxis, as has been repeated many times by the Church's social magisterium, which teaches that man is to be seen as "the source, the center, and the purpose of all economic and social life" ("Gaudium et Spes," No. 63).

It is within this perspective that we are to place the question -- of great current interest and the subject of heated debate -- of the value to be given to the market, or, to be more precise, of the regulation of the market and by whom it should be regulated.

The Compendium repeats the teaching that the market must be regulated, in the first place because it is not right that all goods should pass by way of the market. The human person cannot be an object of the market. In the second place, because there are needs that the market is not able to satisfy. In the third place, because there are people who -- due to situations of want into which they were born, to poverty or to losses suffered in life -- are not able to gain access to necessary goods. In the fourth place, because there are goods that belong to everyone and that do well to remain the common property of all (cf. Nos. 347-350).

We come then to the second question: Who must regulate the market? I believe that by now we are all convinced that the market must be regulated by different subjects. The market must first of all be regulated by its own rules: transparency, knowledge, trust, lawful competition, economic democracy (cf. No. 347). Second, the market is regulated by the ethics of business owners and of those who work in the economic sector (cf. Compendium, 343).

Third, a people's culture and tradition contribute to regulating the market. This obviously includes religion. The market always exists within a culture, it does not exist in a pure state as a mere technical fact; social bonds of solidarity, models of behavior are of vital importance for giving the market a soul (cf. Compendium, 350).

Fourth, the market is also regulated by legitimate divergences between the different sectors of society, by associations of people in various work categories and by labor unions that democratically demand respect for the rights of workers. Healthy clashes of social opinion have never been condemned by the Church, provided that they never give rise to violent or ideological conflicts (cf. Compendium, 306).

Fifth, the market is regulated by civil society: by consumer associations, by education, by families, by public opinion[5] (cf. Compendium, 356-357). Last, economic organizations and international financial organizations are factors of regulation for the market when they succeed in their aim of providing the market with equitable rules, fostering economic democracy (cf. Compendium, 370-372).

All these factors together with the political authorities contribute to the regulation of the market (cf. Compendium, 351-353). As can readily be seen, the issue of the market is an issue of governance, that is, of dynamic and regulated orientation on the part of various subjects that must be integrated among themselves according to the principle of subsidiarity. I believe I can affirm that in our globalized era these factors are being imposed as if with new force and that the urgent need to coordinate them, with a view to an economic order ethically oriented to the service of the person, can no longer be avoided.

d) The Contribution of Christians to the Political Community and to Democracy. The Compendium states that the first contribution that the Church offers the political community is of a religious type and corresponds to her mission: preserving and promoting in the conscience of all people the sense of the transcendent dignity of the human person.

As declared in No. 26 of "Gaudium et Spes": "The ferment of the Gospel too has aroused and continues to arouse in man's heart the irresistible requirements of his dignity." In the message of Christ, the human community can find the strength that will enable people to love their neighbor as another self, to combat all that is contrary to life, to accept the fundamental equality of all, to fight against every form of discrimination, to overcome a purely individualistic ethic in the perspective of civil friendship (cf. Compendium, 390-392).

The Compendium speaks also of democracy, the political system that, better than any other, fosters participation and therefore mutual solidarity and cooperation within the political community. The Compendium affirms: "An authentic democracy is not merely the result of a formal observation of a set of rules but is the fruit of a convinced acceptance of the values that inspire democratic procedures" (No. 407).

For this reason, the Compendium understands and proposes democracy as a political system for the protection and development of the human person. In the perspective of the Compendium, democracy is understood not only as political and electoral freedom, but above all as protection and development of the person, understood as a being subject to no conditions. The Christian vision of the person is distinguished by the absolute character recognized in the person deriving from the fact of men and women being the "imago Dei": This means that the human person cannot be reduced to something else, or be considered a means and not an end, or be understood in a partial and reductive sense. Instead, this vision requires that the person be understood in his horizontal and transcendental openness, and in his capacity to relate to others and to God in truth and goodness. A true democracy needs this soul (cf. Compendium, 407).

e) Promoting Peace. We can understand the Compendium's reflection on peace if we make a distinction between peace understood as life that is fully human and peace understood as the absence of war. The Compendium is repeatedly concerned with peace in this second sense, but it is concerned even more -- infinitely more and constantly so -- with peace in the first sense. This, in fact, is the "fullness" of peace, which includes truth, freedom and justice, and which alone makes it possible to arrive firmly at peace as the absence of war and to be firmly rooted in this kind of peace.

I do not believe I am in error in saying that the Compendium speaks of peace always, even when it does not use this word; it speaks of peace also when it speaks of justice or solidarity, of the unity of the human family, of God's plan for humanity, of the human rights of every person and the corresponding duties, of the dignity of the human person, peoples and cultures. In the Compendium, therefore, peace also takes on a powerful cultural significance that is very relevant today. The sense of mutual respect for religious and cultural traditions, dialogue between religions, international cooperation, a culture of openness and reconciliation: These are all fundamental dimensions that foster peace. According to the Compendium, at play here is the ultimate meaning of the building up of human society and, consequently, of peace (cf. Compendium, 494-496).

5. Dear Friends, moving now towards the conclusion of this presentation, I wish to make a connection between the Compendium and the first encyclical of our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI. In fact, at the heart of "Deus Caritas Est" -- especially in paragraphs 26-29 -- is found a reflection on the Church's social doctrine, and in paragraph 27 an historical sketch of this doctrine from "Rerum Novarum" to "Centesimus Annus" is made.

In the same place, moreover, reference is made to the publication of the Compendium of the Social Teaching of the Church, which has made a "comprehensive presentation" of the entire social teaching of the Church. We can therefore say that the encyclical takes to itself not only certain aspects of social doctrine but the whole of the Church's modern social magisterium.

Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI declares that the Church's task, with her social doctrine, in building a just social order is that of reawakening spiritual and moral forces. What are the forces that the Holy Father is referring to? Let us listen to his words: "The direct duty to work for a just ordering of society … is proper to the lay faithful. As citizens of the state, they are called to take part in public life in a personal capacity. So they cannot relinquish their participation 'in the many different economic, social, legislative, administrative and cultural areas, which are intended to promote organically and institutionally the common good.' The mission of the lay faithful is therefore to configure social life correctly, respecting its legitimate autonomy and cooperating with other citizens according to their respective competences and fulfilling their own responsibility. Even if the specific expressions of ecclesial charity can never be confused with the activity of the State, it still remains true that charity must animate the entire lives of the lay faithful and therefore also their political activity, lived as ‘social charity'" (No. 29).

In compliance with the different requirements of their particular area of commitment, the lay faithful express the truth of their faith and, at the same time, the truth of the Church's social doctrine, which finds its fullest realization when it is lived out concretely as a solution to social problems. In fact, the very credibility of social doctrine is found in the witness of works more so than in its internal coherence and logic.

We should also note the constant reference and appeal made by Benedict XVI to the saints, put forth as examples to be imitated by the lay faithful through the cultivation of an authentic lay spirituality inspired by love that will regenerate them as new men and women immersed in the mystery of God and inserted into society, as those who are holy and those who make holy.

This kind of spirituality builds up the world according to the Spirit of Jesus: It makes us capable of observing history without distancing ourselves from it; of nurturing a passionate love of God without looking away from our brothers and sisters, whom we are able to see instead as the Lord sees them and to love as he loves them. It is no coincidence that the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church begins with a first chapter entitled "God's Plan of Love for Humanity" and ends with a concluding chapter entitled "For a Civilization of Love."

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[1] Cf. Second Vatican Council, dogmatic constitution "Lumen Gentium," No. 31.

[2] John Paul II, encyclical "Centesimus Annus," No. 59.

[3] Cf. John Paul II, apostolic exhortation "Christifideles Laici," No. 15.

[4] Entries under the word "life" are among the most numerous in the analytical index of the Compendium.

[5] An important regulatory factor for the market, from the Church's perspective, is also represented by the nonprofit economy of the so-called third sector, which is a full-fledged partner in the market, although it operates according to criteria not exclusively of efficiency, but also of solidarity.