Any attempt at exploring the different discourses on development – its nature, extent, and meaning(s) – needs to also consider the language, context and content of the Catholic Social Teaching (CST) on development especially in the Papal encyclical Populorum Progressio (trans. “On the Development of Peoples,” abbreviated to PP). It needs special consideration because of the authority of this document to a significant portion of the world population. Catholics, at least in demographics, number 1.196 Billion or 17% of the world’s population as of 2013 . This prompts a closer attention to the “developmentspeak” or the discourse(s) used by the Catholic authority in matters of “development” because such a large number of members may dictate Catholic “developmentspeak” as norm and mainstream, or that it has the potential (or is already under work) to significantly alter the course of development works, not to mention the power of the Catholic church to form leaders in her educational apostolate.
Populorum Progressio is first and foremost, a Papal Letter written by the Catholic Church’s Pope to the bishops or even to a wider audience. It is not ex cathedra, or speaking from and with his authority as the Roman Pontiff, but more or less of a personal take on issues. It is second only in authority to the Apostolic Constitution but nonetheless sufficiently authoritative to end theological debate on a particular question, as Pope Pius XII wrote in Humani Generis: “But if the Supreme Pontiffs in their acts, after due consideration, express an opinion on a hitherto controversial matter, it is clear to all that this matter, according to the mind and will of the same Pontiffs, cannot any longer be considered a question of free discussion among theologians.”
Several other encyclicals have become the staple of Catholic Social Teaching, i.e. Rerum Novarum, Pacem in Terris, Humanae Vitae and others. But I would like to focus on PP and its vision, language and contexts on development, using the lens of Cultural Anthropology.
Written in 1967, a decade and a half after the Bretton Woods (1944) and the Truman Address (1949), it is shaped by the situation of its day in which poverty alleviation is not viewed as an “outcome of “self-regulating processes of economic growth or social change” but of concerted action by both rich and poor nations working in cooperation with new international aid agencies and financial institutions” (Cooper and Packard, 1997 quoted in Edelman and Haugerud, 2005). The PP is deeply rooted on the reflection of material poverty experienced in the world through the personal journeys of Pope Paul VI to Latin America (1960) and Africa (1962) in which he wrote about the “perplexing problems that vex and besiege these continents, which are otherwise full of life and promise” (PP, 4) and of his trips to Palestine and India in which he contemplated about “the difficulties that these age-old civilizations must face in their struggle for further development” (PP, 4). 1967 was also the height of the Cold War, when the conflicts between the economic and social arguments between capitalism and communism were at its peak and the threat of nuclear war was palpable and real. It was a time of great uncertainty for the Vatican as it has to make a clear yet diplomatic stand on the two economic and political blocs. Poverty, the outbreak of dissension and the pandemic of mutual distrust were the contexts of this Papal encyclical.
We read in the PP how development was framed and defined:
The development We speak here cannot be restricted to economic growth alone. To be authentic, it must be well rounded; it must foster the development of each man and of the whole man. As an eminent specialist on this question has rightly said: “We cannot allow economics to be separated from human realities, nor development from the civilization in which it takes place. What counts for us is man – each individual man, each human group, and humanity as a whole.” (PP, 14)
This definition was based on the idea that development is both natural and divinely-ordained: “In God’s plan, every man is born to seek self-fulfillment…” and that “at birth a human being possesses certain aptitudes and abilities in germinal form, and these qualities are to be cultivated so that they may bear fruit.” In the PP, development is tied with personal responsibility and that “progress” is intimately directed at “human self-fulfillment” and that “Man is truly human only if he is the master of his own actions and the judge of their worth, only if he is the architect of his own progress.” This human self-fulfillment is not just in the realm of the material but more importantly directed towards spiritual salvation, “a higher state of perfection” (PP, 16). We see here that as a Catholic Social Thought, the PP is intended to be a roadmap of living this earthly life without compromising the highest spiritual goal.
The discourse of development in the PP acknowledges human solidarity in its pursuit, that each man is a member of society and that “he belongs to the community of man” (PP, 17). It speaks of development as a series of efforts from each preceding generation and that the current generation is both an heir of earlier generations and the wielder of obligations for the succeeding generations. This is, of course, what we now call as “the principle of intergenerational responsibility,” a forward-looking responsibility, in which coming generations are as worthy of consideration and respect (if not equal consideration and respect) as present generations.
This development, this human self-fulfillment substantiated by both material and spiritual progress in and with the community of man, is not without dangers. As the PP declares: “Every kind of progress is a two-edged sword. It is necessary if man is to grow as a human being; yet it can also enslave him, if he comes to regard it as the supreme good and cannot look beyond it” (PP, 19). It immediately leads our attention to the “growth” and “acquisition” obsessions of capitalism, of free market, of neo-liberal economic attitude. The PP warns of this exclusive pursuit of material possessions as an “obvious form of stultified moral development” and called for a new humanism that will enable man to pursue “higher values of love and friendship, of prayer and contemplation” (PP, 20). In this sense, development as articulated in the PP is not exclusively material but also, and more importantly, a pursuit of self-fulfillment outside the purely economic discourses. This is more evident when PP tried to answer the question of “What are less than human conditions?” It differentiated between material poverty, those who lack the bare necessities of life, and moral poverty, the latter being felt by those “who are crushed under the weight of their own self-love [and] oppressive political structures” (PP, 21).
Among the discourses on development, it is vey rare to talk of this moral poverty. This moral poverty is both individual and communal. We see this happening in everyday news, of gunmen indiscriminately shooting at school children, violence brought by religious fundamentalists, politically motivated murders and of widespread corruption in governments. Something in the human “soul” has died and individual interests, avarice and the cult of money, have overtaken the higher values of morality.
The PP speaks of development in terms of prioritizing what is morally good with great emphasis on people’s dignity, the common good and the desire for peace. PP stressed that the human community must acknowledge our moral roots before the pursuit of material goods, and that severing the national life with the moral life only jeopardizes the nation. Or to put it differently, when a tree is severed from its roots, the tree will die. Will Durant succinctly puts it: “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.”
In this sense, the PP advises that any nation that equates development with the sole acquisition of material goods and the downgrading of the moral life of its people in favor of the former is on a suicidal track. A nation that puts money over family, convenience over the life of a baby, feelings over covenantal commitment, or consumption over thrift, reveals its moral bankruptcy and is destined to a slow death. A balanced progress is required (PP, 29).
PP section 6 entitled “Development, the New Name for Peace,” is a promise that needs to be re-examined in the light of current world affairs. The PP suggests that “extreme disparity between nations in economic, social and educational levels provokes jealousy and discord, often putting peace in jeopardy” yet we also see nations, and even small communities already at war because of development aggressions. This is where the PP seems to mis-align itself from the rest of the document because it has already suggested that free trade concept is inadequate (PP, 58) and unbridled liberalism results in the “international imperialism of money” (PP, 26). The current situation, especially in the Philippines is that because of this present economic systems, transnational companies, in the name of development, has been encroaching in communities with the latent dangers of conflicts erupting or exacerbating presenting conflicts between tribes, the community vs. government forces who are pushing for the government’s version of “development”, and the community versus other groups advocating their own development discourses.
What then does the “developmentspeak” of Populorum Progressio mean to the present context of Mindanao? For instance, in the proposed Bangsamoro, a political entity of majority Muslim populace, how is the message of the Catholic PP being appropriated? In its call for economic growth based on human realities, how is it translated to the reality of the lumad who must work within his or her own worldview of “pag-lambo“? How can the message of the PP be appropriated by the landowner, or the worker within the contexts of social injustices in Mindanao, in which some landowners have forcefully grabbed the land from indigenous communities, and in which present workers, the traditional owners have no right to their land? How can Mindanawons turn away from the dictatorship of economics, strongly opposed by the PP, when present development framework plans are based on the concept of free trade and neoliberalism?
The Populorum Progressio, as a papal encyclical, is not a development plan for the world, neither is it infallible, rather it acts as the moral compass of the Catholic population, at the least, but intended to be universal for all humanity. It is the Jiminy Cricket of development workers, policy makers, and individuals, and as of yet, is still the developmentspeak of bishops, priests and their lay partners in the Church’s active “development works”.
 Sources for this information include The Official Directory (OCD), the Vatican’s Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae (ASE) and other Center for Applied Research in Apostolate research and database.