By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Arguing that the current financial crisis illustrates the failures of an economic approach “turned in on itself, lacking any long-term consideration of the common good,” Pope Benedict XVI today insisted that the struggle against “the cruel forces of poverty” must be the heart of any effort to promote global peace.
Facing chronic poverty, Benedict appealed for a sense of moral outrage: “Effective means to redress the marginalization of the world’s poor will only be found if people everywhere feel personally outraged by the injustices in the world, and by the concomitant violations of human rights,” he wrote.
Among other things, Benedict denounced escalating expenditures on weapons, called for greater attention to a mounting global food crisis, and insisted that efforts to curb child poverty in particular represent an urgent priority.
The comments came in Benedict’s annual message for the World Day of Peace, observed by the Catholic church on Jan. 1. The theme for the pope’s message this year is “Fighting Poverty to Build Peace.”
The message was presented this morning in a Vatican news conference.
Benedict stressed that he was not calling simply for new structures or policy measures, as important as they are, but also personal conversion.
“We often consider only the superficial and instrumental causes of poverty without attending to those harbored within the human heart, like greed and narrow vision,” he wrote. “What the fight against poverty really needs are men and women who live in a profoundly fraternal way and are able to accompany individuals, families and communities on journeys of authentic human development.”
Benedict argued that the mounting global financial crisis reveals a lack of sensitivity to the common good.
“The recent crisis demonstrates how financial activity can at times be completely turned in on itself, lacking any long-term consideration of the common good,” he wrote. “This lowering of the objectives of global finance to the very short term reduces its capacity to function as a bridge between the present and the future, and as a stimulus to the creation of new opportunities for production and for work.”
“Finance limited in this way to the short and very short term becomes dangerous for everyone, even for those who benefit when the markets perform well,” the pope wrote.
He also called for new curbs on the global arms trade.
“An excessive increase in military expenditure risks accelerating the arms race, producing pockets of underdevelopment and desperation, so that it can paradoxically become a cause of instability, tension and conflict,” he wrote.
Benedict called upon governments around the world to address the injustices which often form the underlying basis for conflicts. Strikingly, the pope asked governments to practice “courageous self-criticism.”
The pope’s strong anti-poverty message came with two important caveats.
First, Benedict insisted that efforts to reduce poverty not be based on the assumption that population growth is at odds with economic development, and therefore that efforts to promote birth control or abortion should be part of anti-poverty strategies. In fact, the pope argued, some of the nations that experienced the strongest economic growth in the latter half of the 20th century also had surging populations.
Second, Benedict made clear that he was not talking primarily about classic bureaucratic approaches to fighting poverty, premised on government programs to redistribute wealth.
“The illusion that a policy of mere redistribution of existing wealth can definitively resolve the problem must be set aside,” the pope wrote. “Wealth creation therefore becomes an inescapable duty, which must be kept in mind if the fight against material poverty is to be effective in the long term.”
Benedict XVI is expected to issue a new social encyclical in the near future, so today’s message for the World Day of Peace may offer a preview of that document.