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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 468

Populorum Progressio by Pope Paul VI addresses the Catholic Church's stance on social and employment issues. It was issued in 1967.

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At the outset, the author explains that it's the duty of the church to not only better understand the problem of poverty and the development of people around the world, but also to increase awareness of the world's responsibility on these issues. He says that impoverished people are crying out for help to a world where there are people with more than enough; the church is directly asking these people to help. To explain his understanding of the subject, he discusses his visits to Latin America, Africa, Palestine, and India, where he saw development difficulties.

The circumstances that have contributed to a lack of development in some nations are discussed. For example, he mentions colonialism, the wealth gap, and social problems that cause unrest. He explains that all men are tied together as part of a community and that every man is responsible for his own self-fulfillment and salvation. We can work together to make the world a better place where everyone can work toward those goals.

The document contrasts the nobility and dangers of work. While work is important and good for the soul, it can also lead to sin. This is because it includes rewards like money and power. However, everyone needs basic necessities like work, healthcare, a safe place to live, and education. Next, they need an interest in the common good, dignity, and working toward peace. Finally, they need to share in the spirit of God and work toward that type of spiritual life.

One idea that the Populorum Progressio suggests is wealth transfer via a world fund. He suggests that countries put aside some of their military spending and create a fund to help impoverished people. By doing this, he says, it will help impoverished people to have better circumstances while also fostering more productive dialogue among different countries. He doesn't believe in trade between nations and says that the lack of goods in developing nations will make it a less-than-feasible solution.

The Pope says that the world needs to work together to fix existing methods of helping each other and reform ways that aren't working. He doesn't believe in revolution; it causes more problems than it solves. He believes that all wealthy nations should have social justice, universal charity, and solidarity with the rest of the world. Through these, they can work to better the world for the countries that have less. As he says, there are people who go hungry and people who have more than enough.

In the end, he addresses people who have already begun to reach out to needy people and developing nations. He says, "We consider you the promoters and apostles of genuine progress and true development."


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Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1387

First published: 1967 (English translation, 1967)

Edition(s) used: Encyclical Letter of His Holiness Paul VI, by Divine Providence, Pope, to the Bishops, Priests, Religious, the Faithful of the Whole Catholic Word, and to All Men of Good Will, on Fostering the Development of Peoples. London: Catholic Truth Society, 1967

Genre(s): Nonfiction

Subgenre(s): Encyclical

Core issue(s): Capitalism; charity; connectedness; peace; poverty; social action


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 abused while others endure severe hardship, Paul proposes that the government should have limited power to intervene to foster a just distribution of goods.

Paul extends the call for both solidarity and brotherly love to a national and international level. He explains that nations must have effective economic structures to address the needs of the impoverished. He critiques unbridled liberalism, stating that while competition among equals encourages economic growth, competition among those with different resources places the power of competition in the hands of the wealthy and often leads to economic tyranny. Despite his emphasis on the need for effective economic structures, Paul encourages the pursuit of reform rather than revolution. He proposes that the latter often leads to greater evils and therefore is contrary to progress. That being said, Paul calls for significant and urgent reform, and he states that such development ought to occur on a large-scale level. He states that large organizations must have clear goals, plans, methods, and authority; their activities should seek to serve human nature; and, if possible, they should have a religious orientation. Paul also writes that education is essential for economic reform.

In the second part of Populorum Progressio, Paul expands many of his earlier observations to the international level. He focuses on the duties of wealthy nations, which he summarizes in three virtues: solidarity, social justice, and universal charity. Concerning solidarity, Paul writes that wealthier nations should share the fruit of their land with those less fortunate. He encourages the development of a world fund, which would receive contributions from wealthier nations and would be distributed to those nations in need. To promote solidarity and the effective distribution of goods, Paul stresses the importance of communication concerning the needs of the impoverished nations and the most efficient means for wealthy nations to share their resources.

In his discussion of social justice, Paul focuses on trade relations. He explains that impoverished nations lack marketable goods and that international trading often leads only to greater debts and the obligation of paying interest. Paul writes that competition has important limits, and he proposes that these limitations should be acknowledged on an international level. He argues that steps must be made to equalize trade relations so that all countries can benefit from their mutual interactions. Further, Paul encourages the development of international organizations and warns against the evils of nationalism and racism.

Paul also addresses developing nations. He explains that the reception of aid from wealthy nations is only a short-term solution. Citizens of impoverished lands must take a central role in the progress of their nations. They must actively discern the forms of aid that they would like to receive to avoid unnecessary dependence on undependable assistance. Paul also states that developing nations need access to education, which fosters technological advances and long-term production of resources. Paul encourages developing nations to attain peaceful relations with neighboring countries so that the nations may seek economic reform by pooling their resources.

While Paul focuses on economic reform, he continually states that developing nations are in need of moral and spiritual resources as well. Paul states that the foundation of economic poverty and likewise economic development is the absence or presence of brotherly and sisterly charity.

Christian Themes

In Populorum Progressio, Paul VI offers focused reflection on the Christian themes of solidarity, options for the poor, and Christian anthropology. He explains that all people have the same supernatural destiny and are called to contribute to the building up of the human community. This shared destiny brings people in unity with their brothers and sisters. A fruit of this unity is the virtue of solidarity, which entails being aware of the sufferings of others and assisting those in need.

Central to solidarity is the need to be attentive to the situation of the impoverished. Paul acknowledges that the voices of the impoverished tend to go unheard because they lack the wealth and power to gain the attention of others. Therefore, all people must make efforts to acknowledge the needs of others so that the poor will also have the opportunity to contribute to society. In particular, Paul states that private property should be expropriated when owners abuse their land while others go without necessities. Further, Paul encourages the development of a world fund and calls for reflection on how international trade relations can be equalized.

Paul also makes frequent mention of the need to develop a genuine understanding of humans. Paul states that economic development alone is not sufficient. He argues that for people to be fully human, they must have a peaceful family and political community, education, moral formation, and spiritual orientation toward their origin and end. Paul argues that Christian social teaching is more than a set of principles and rules because this teaching promotes the fulfillment of human life. Promoting Christian social teaching, then, is not an imposition on others but an act of charity expressed for the benefit of others.

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.

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