John Paul II and church property

Today the Catholic Church celebrates, for the first time, the feast of Blessed Pope John Paul II. In 1987, he wrote a challenging encyclical, On Social Concern, or, in its Latin title,  Sollicitudo Rei Socialis.

With reference to his distinction between identifying oneself by what one has rather than by who one is, he includes these prophetic words in paragraph 31:

… part of the teaching and most ancient practice of the Church is her conviction that she is obliged by her vocation — she herself, her ministers and each of her members — to relieve the misery of the suffering, both far and near, not only out of her “abundance” but also out of her “necessities.” Faced by cases of need, one cannot ignore them in favor of superfluous church ornaments and costly furnishings for divine worship; on the contrary it could be obligatory to sell these goods in order to provide food, drink, clothing and shelter for those who lack these things. … here we are shown a “hierarchy of values” — in the framework of the right to property — between “having” and “being,” especially when the “having” of a few can be to the detriment of the “being” of many others.

In a world where there is massive inequality, not only in countries like Honduras, where I serve, but also in the United States, the “having” of a few is to the detriment of the “being” – the existence – of the many. That’s why Hondurans want to refound their nation with a new constitution, and that may be why “Occupy Wall Street” has become a national – maybe even international – phenomenon.


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