Populorum Progressio Summary

Overview (Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Pope Paul VI begins Populorum Progressio by explaining that he has turned his attention to the progress of the peoples of the world because of the widespread hunger, poverty, endemic disease, and ignorance present in underdeveloped nations. He explains that he has seen the social evils firsthand and states that the problems are urgent.

Paul breaks Populorum Progressio into two main sections: humankind’s complete development and the common development of humankind. In the first section, Paul repeatedly acknowledges that progress is a “two-edged sword.” He explains that colonialism has led to technological advances but has often entailed self-seeking activities, missionary work has spread the Gospel through charitable activity but has also engaged in cultural imposition, and industrialization has led to economic growth but has encouraged the evils of unbridled liberalism as well as the neglect of moral and spiritual goods.

To avoid the negative effects of progress, Paul proposes that social activity should seek to address the whole person. With this holistic view in mind, Paul provides a list of conditions important for human development. He describes these conditions on three levels: first, material necessities, social peace, education, and refinement and culture; second, awareness of human dignity, spirit of poverty, interest in the common good, and desire for peace; and third, sharing in God’s life. Paul writes that every person has certain aptitudes and tasks to contribute to society and the building of God’s kingdom.

Paul encourages the wealthy to stand in solidarity with those who are impoverished. Solidarity entails acknowledging the sufferings of our brothers and sisters and doing what we can to eliminate their difficulties. In particular, Paul emphasizes the universal destination of goods, which implies that wealthy individuals should share their fruits with those who lack material necessities. Paul states that the universal destination of goods is primary to the rights to private property and free trade. If property is...

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Populorum Progressio Bibliography (Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Himes, Kenneth R., ed. Modern Catholic Social Teaching: Commentaries and Interpretations. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2005. This scholarly collection includes four foundational essays and fourteen commentaries on influential church documents. Each essay includes thorough bibliographical information. Brief index.

Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Translated by Vatican Press. Washington, D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2005. This reference work provides a comprehensive synthesis of central concepts in Catholic social ethics. Includes thorough reference and analytical indexes.

Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. The Social Agenda: A Collection of Magisterial Texts. Città del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticano, 2000. This work is a concise compilation of official church statements thematically organized to discuss eleven issues central to Christian social ethics.

Royal, Robert. “Reforming International Development: Populorum Progressio. In Building the Free Society: Democracy, Capitalism, and Catholic Social Teaching, edited by George Weigel and Robert Royal. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1993. Royal is critical of Paul VI’s call for national and international organization as a way to address poverty.