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POPULORUM PROGRESSIO
from issue no. 01 - 2007

The fortieth anniversary of the encyclical Populorum progressio

Render unto the poor what belongs to them


An interview with Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, archbishop of Tegucigalpa, in Honduras: the relevance of Paul VI’s encyclical, which instead of dividing the world between East and West, divided it between the peoples of wealth and the peoples of hunger


Interview with Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga by Gianni Cardinale


A Brazilian peasant woman in the State of Pernambuco

A Brazilian peasant woman in the State of Pernambuco

«And I like to add that, immediately after the Council, the servant of God Paul VI, just forty years ago or so, precisely on 26 March 1967, devoted his encyclical Populorum progressio to the development of peoples». These words pronounced by Benedict XVI during the sermon given in the solemn liturgy of the Epiphany, on 6 January last, reminded the whole Church of the anniversary of one of the most important, and in some ways most debated, documents given out by Pope Montini. 30Days spoke of the anniversary and of the relevance of the Populorum progressio, with Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, archbishop of Tegucigalpa and, among other things, a member of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace that Paul VI cited at the beginning of his encyclical as a department created specifically to respond to the desire «to direct in concrete form the contribution of the Holy See to the great cause of developing peoples». We met the Salesian cardinal during his stay in Italy where he was taking part in a plenary meeting of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America and where he received an honoris causa degree from the University of Urbino.
«I am very happy that in one of his very first speeches of the year the Pope reminded us that among the most significant anniversaries of 2007 is the fortieth one of the Populorum progressio», we are told by the cardinal, who in the past has also been president of the Latin American Bishops’ Council.

Your Eminence, what is your memory of the publication of Pope Montini’s encyclical?
OSCAR ANDRÉS RODRÍGUEZ MARADIAGA: When Populorum progressio came out I was a young theology student. The first thing that struck me was that the Pope decided to sign it on 26 March, which in 1967 coincided with them «Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ». A date chosen deliberately because – they are the words of the encyclical – «faithful to the teaching and to the example of its divine Founder, who set “the annunciation of the good news to the poor” (cf. Luke 7, 22) as sign of its mission, the Church has never failed to encourage the human improvement of the peoples to whom it brought the faith in Christ». For the priests and the seminarians of that period the Populorum progressio gave great impetus to our social commitment. They were times of great post-council fervor. They were times of great thrust in the social pastoral and in general in all the social commitment of the Church. They were very fine times for the Latin American Church. The optimism that had characterized the “Alliance for progress” launched by President Kennedy had gone by, but people continued to say that Latin America was the continent of hope.
Paul VI signing the Populorum progressio, 26 March 1967, Easter Sunday

Paul VI signing the Populorum progressio, 26 March 1967, Easter Sunday

The encyclical stirred hopes, but also criticism…
RODRÍGUEZ MARADIAGA : At the time the encyclical was accused of being “warmed-up Marxism”. The whole social commitment of the Church was branded as Marxism to some extent. Also the closing document of the General Conference of the CELAM, celebrated in Medellín in 1968 and on which the Populorum progressio had large influence, was seen as a subversive text.
How do you explain criticisms of the sort?
RODRÍGUEZ MARADIAGA: The accusations came because the document of Pope Montini, in a clear and courageous manner for the period, spoke for the first time of the need of social justice for genuine development. And when the Church speaks in favor of the poor there’s always somebody who reproaches it with meddling in politics and of encroaching on spheres that don’t belong to it. As for the accusation of being Marxist, it was and remains ridiculous. The encyclical quoted a famous phrase of Saint Ambrose’s: «You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone. The earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich». And he added: «No one may appropriate surplus goods solely for his own private use when others lack the bare necessities of life». That doesn’t seem like Marxism to me. Saint Ambrose wrote those words some centuries before Marx...
Yet in the encyclical it states that in determined situations the common good demands «the expropriation of certain possessions»…
RODRÍGUEZ MARADIAGA: It was a concept taken from the Council constitution Gaudium et spes, so nothing revolutionary. As the warning that there was a danger that profit be considered the «essential motor of economic progress» and that competition be venerated as the «supreme law of economics» was not at all revolutionary. Paul VI spoke of «unbridled liberalism» on the matter. In this case also it doesn’t seem that forty years have passed, albeit today there’s no more talk of «unbridled liberalism»,but liberalism.
Again in the encyclical a small chapter was devoted to revolutionary insurgency…
RODRÍGUEZ MARADIAGA : But to say that it was lawful only «in the case of a clear and prolonged tyranny that grievously attacked the fundamental rights of the person and harmed in dangerous fashion the common good of the country». Otherwise – the encyclical explained – revolutionary insurgency «is source of injustices, introduces new imbalances and provokes new damage. One cannot combat an evil at the cost of a greater evil». It’s true that at the time some people interpreted this point in the encyclical in their own way, almost as if it were approval of a kind of theology of revolution. Nothing more mistaken. To the extent that Paul VI later stated in peremptory fashion that «violence is not evangelical and is not Christian».
It states in the encyclical that «Sincere dialogue between cultures, as between individuals, paves the way for ties of brotherhood»… That is also a prophetic statement! That maybe we understand better today than forty years ago. One reason more for remembering and spreading this encyclical also among those who unfortunately predict and at times hope and provoke “clashes of civilizations” for which mankind feels absolutely no need
What is the present relevance of the Populorum progressio?
RODRÍGUEZ MARADIAGA: Today the times have changed, there is no longer the clash there was at the time between Marxism and capitalism. We live in the atmosphere of so-called globalization of the market. Globalization, however, that brings with it a great element of injustice, with the marginalization of those who are unable to enter this new type of market. There is reduction of the concept of development to a purely economic level. The social aspect is completely neglected. There is concern for the figures of the macro-economy but concrete human beings are not considered. Human beings instead, as the Populorum progressio explains with force, are the principal subject of development. That is why the encyclical has not lost much of its relevance. Its words on social justice, on what should be considered development, on peace, have kept all their value.
So the concept that «development is the new name of peace» is still relevant
RODRÍGUEZ MARADIAGA: It’s a prophetic concept, but it hasn’t been listened to. Forty years have passed and it’s truer than ever: if there is no development, if peoples have no way of progressing in welfare, material also, then peace is an ever more unreachable mirage. And here I’m referring not only to peace among nations, among peoples, but also to the domestic peace of countries, within individual societies. I’m thinking of Latin America, but not only. If our young people do not have the possibility of finding an honest job they have two paths in front of them: emigrate or enter the terrible world of drug dealing.
On the phenomenon of emigration, the encyclical reminds us of the duty of welcoming «the emigrant workers who often live in inhuman conditions, forced to squeeze their own wages to lighten the burden on the families who have stayed behind in poverty on their native land»…
RODRÍGUEZ MARADIAGA: It is an admonition of extreme relevance. As a pastor of the Latin American Church I hope that these words are also listened to by our richer brethren in the North. And I’m not referring to the American Church, that has been and always is very close to us. But to the political leaders. President Bush and the Congress should not make laws against immigrants. There’s no advantage in it for them. These laws in fact make them disliked by our peoples. The United States is a great nation, but they must do more to support the development of Latin America. Otherwise this void of political initiative will be filled by other emergent powers, such as China, or debatable ones, such as Iran. And so one can’t complain too much when this happens.
Earlier you mentioned the influence that the Populorum progressio had on the second General Conference of the CELAM held in Medellín in Colombia in 1968…
RODRÍGUEZ MARADIAGA: It had a really notable impact. Its influence was shown in the numerous quotations but above all in the emphasis that the Church set on the issue of the poor immediately after the Conference.
Paul VI with Colombian campesinos, Bogotá, 23 August 1968

Paul VI with Colombian campesinos, Bogotá, 23 August 1968

The fifth CELAM General Conference will be held in May in Aparecida, Brazil. Do you think that the Populorum progressio will be remembered on the occasion?
RODRÍGUEZ MARADIAGA: I hope of course that the next Conference in Aparecida remembers the encyclical fittingly. Not least because today there is no longer the climate of 1968 and hence there’s no danger of those manipulations that were almost inevitable at the time.
Even if there is a political shift to the left in Latin America today, in some cases with strong populist tones…
RODRÍGUEZ MARADIAGA: It’s undoubtable that here and there populist tones are emerging. Something that poses problems for democratic stability. But the question that the rich, the rich countries and also the international financial institutions must ask themselves is this: what has been done to prevent these electoral results that they then disapprove? Precisely as we are reminded by the Populorum progressio, «the superfluous goods of wealthier nations ought to be placed at the disposal of poorer nations […] And the prospering peoples will be the first to benefit from this. Continuing avarice on their part will arouse the judgment of God and the wrath of the poor, with consequences no one can foresee». Now, the powerful of this world may not believe and hence not fear the judgment of God. But of the anger of the poor, that can also be expressed through certain unforeseeable and unwelcome electoral results, they should have some fear at least. But it doesn’t seem so to me.
Your Eminence, a last question. It states in the encyclical that «Sincere dialogue between cultures, as between individuals, paves the way for ties of brotherhood»…
RODRÍGUEZ MARADIAGA: That is also a prophetic statement! That maybe we understand better today than forty years ago. One reason more for remembering and spreading this encyclical also among those who unfortunately predict and at times hope and provoke “clashes of civilizations” for which mankind feels absolutely no need.





The Salesian cardinal of Honduras
Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga during a meeting with 
the young people of Tegucigalpa

Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga during a meeting with the young people of Tegucigalpa


Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, a Salesian, was 64 years old at the end of December, and has been bishop since 1978, archbishop of Tegucigalpa since 1993. John Paul II gave him the cardinal’s hat at the consistory of 21 February 2001. For twenty years he performed his mission in the Latin American Episcopal Council (Celam), and was then elected its president for the four-year term 1995-1999. Since 2003 he has been president of the Justice and Solidarity department of the Celam. In the Roman Curia he is a member of the Congregation for the Clergy, of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace, of that for Social Communications and of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.


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