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Celebrating The Progress of Peoples

HONG KONG (SE): The 50th anniversary of the publication of the encyclical of Pope Paul VI, The Progress of Peoples (Populorum Progressio), was marked at the Vatican with a two-day symposium from April 3 to 4.
In his landmark encyclical, which brought a fresh spirit into the life of the Church on the ground, Pope Paul called on nations to begin a dialogue of mutual understanding with each other, something he said is especially important for wealthy nations in their dealings with people from developing economies.
Pope Paul was especially concerned with the risk of developing countries becoming overwhelmed with debt, which in 1967 was beginning to strangle many an economy in Asia, Africa and Latin America, as nations continued on a debt spiral until eventually a moratorium was declared and a decision made to drop debt or radically reschedule it with the formation of the Millennium Development Goals.
Pope Paul’s concern is still relevant today, as China is embarking on a programme of huge loans to countries like The Philippines, which do not show any great capacity to carry their repayments out of income in the coming years.
However, Pope Paul did not stop there, he also pushed the need for human development to accompany economic development, as strengthening the human side of international relations is the only path to follow in the monumental task of bringing about peace in the world.
Pope Paul said that development is not reduced to mere economic growth. “It does not consist in having more goods,” but in the words of Pope Francis to the delegates at the symposium in the Pope Paul VI Hall, it is an integration of the body and soul.
In addressing the delegates, Pope Francis spoke about human development in the context of integrating the various peoples of the world, saying, “It requires us to seek a fair sharing mode, because there is a dramatic inequality between those who have too much and those who have nothing.”
He added that it also requires a recognition that in the dynamic of world trade, much attention needs to be paid to the temptation to discard people and a relationship with those who are discarded is the only way in which to come to an understanding of the evil of this process.
Patrick Poon Kar-wai, along with Rock Li Cheuk-yin and Joe Chan Jo-wing, attended the symposium on behalf of the Justice and Peace Commission in Hong Kong.
Poon told the Sunday Examiner that he found the style of presentation significant in showing us how faith can be connected with ministry, especially in the areas of justice and social services.
He said that he was particularly taken with a sharing by Father Bernard Kinvi, the director of the John Paul II Hospital of Bangui in Central African Republic.
Poon described him as being calm in his presentation as he recounted his work to protect hundreds of Muslims who were being besieged.
“He risked his own life and faced numerous death threats to shelter the people and negotiate with the militias. His calmness showed the huge contrast of the content of his sharing on one of the most horrific conflict zones in the world,” Poon reflected.
He added that Father Kinvi’s calmness reflects the type of humility and wisdom we need to handle such difficult and dangerous situations.
Poon said that he found his sharing inspiring, as he showed how we need to take action to help others, not merely saying prayers when we feel inadequate at encountering situations that seem to be so difficult that there is nothing we can do.
Brother Varghese Theckanath, from the Gabrielite Secretariat for Justice and Peace in India, was another whom Poon said he found inspiring with his dedication to some of the most vulnerable people in society.
He said that Brother Theckanath has been involved in working for the rights of children and women, as well as interreligious dialogue in a country where, because of its complicated historical situation, operating in these areas is an extremely tricky path to tread.
“Brother Theckanath chooses to engage with the people to enhance mutual understanding of traditions and customs while discussing concepts of gender equality and protection of children’s rights with people,” Poon reflected.
Poon said that he found these two men real models of the bottom line push of The Progress of Peoples, which is to offer viable models of social integration.
In addressing the symposium, Pope Francis also commented, “Everyone has a contribution to make to the whole of society, everyone has a feature that can be used to live together, no one is excluded from making something for the good of all. This is both a right and a duty.”
Father Andrés Fernándex Pinón, the national coordinator of the Penitentiary Pastoral Care of Colombia in Fundación Caminos de Libertad, Bogotá, spoke of his prison ministry in terms of Jesus, whom he described as a prisoner of conscience.
Poon described his work as a concrete example of how showing care and love to those in prison can help those on both sides of the bars rejuvenate their lives.
The symposium was also an introduction to the newly formed combination of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Council for the Pastoral Care for Migrants and Itinerant People, Council for the Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers and Cor Unum into one new body called the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.
Headed by Peter Cardinal Turkson, formerly from the Council for Justice and Peace, Poon says that the very name of the new dicastery gives a hint as to the way in which the Church will continue its work in this area.
“Serving the people, especially the most vulnerable people in the spirit of solidarity and charity and upholding justice and achieving peace should be the integral development of human beings,” Poon proposes.
He says, “That’s what I grasped from the speeches and sharing from the conference. Without any of the work of these aspects, we cannot say that we are working towards integral human development.”
As Pope Francis concluded, “No development work can really achieve its purpose if it does not respect the place where God is present to us and speaks to our hearts.”
However, what the delegation from Hong Kong found to be the weak point of the three-day event was the absence of the prophetic role the Church is called to play in society by promoting policies that address the root causes of poverty, rather than focussing on the social service aspect only.
Li said that he discovered that Churches rarely fill this role in terms of their outreach to migrants, workers or refugees, but insisted that it is a role that the justice and Peace Commission in Hong Kong is dedicated to fulfilling.

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