How Catholics can contribute towards an authentic, integral development of those in need

Hannah Lee

Singapore has developed from a low- to high-income country with a competitive economy and high living standards. But how complete is our notion of development? And what would Christ have to say about how we have developed as individuals, communities and as a society?

In his encyclical Populorum Progressio, Pope Paul VI stated that development “must be well rounded; it must foster the development of each man and of the whole man”.

Further, Pope Francis defined “integral” development as “a development that harms neither God nor man, since it takes on the consistency of both”.

As Catholics, we are therefore called to practise authentic integral human development.

Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, reminds us: “The faithful, therefore, must learn the deepest meaning and the value of all creation, as well as its role in the harmonious praise of God. They must assist each other to live holier lives even in their daily occupations. In this way the world may be permeated by the spirit of Christ and it may more effectively fulfil its purpose in justice, charity and peace.”

We can reflect more deeply on how we are each called to exercise our contributions to the development of the people we care for, the communities we reside in, and practise our virtues and values to illuminate a positive development for societies around the world.

We start with the individual. The elderly is one group who seems to have missed out on development as persons. Many suffer loneliness and neglect despite numerous government schemes and programmes.

Some do not have a living next-of-kin, while others have children who do not make time to visit. The elderly who are willing and able-bodied also face barriers to employment. Firms find them expensive to hire compared with younger, faster, and less-experienced workers.

With the number of elderly expecting to double to 900,000 by 2030, it is crucial for us to address the state of their development. We can start by giving our seniors their due respect, making known the elderly’s wealth of experiential work knowledge, as well as emulate Jesus’ relationship with His mother in our own relationships with our aged parents.

Next, we look at how we have developed as communities of Singaporeans. In recent times, much has been discussed about inequality, social mobility (or lack of) and social cohesion.

A study on social capital in Singapore, released by the Institute of Policy Studies in December 2017, suggested that there was a clear class divide with social networks concentrated around class differentiators such as housing type and schools attended. The researchers suggested that people gravitated towards those with similar backgrounds.

These findings invite us to reflect on our role in contributing to cohesion across socio-economic groups: Do our life choices, including choice of friends and acquaintances, imitate that of Jesus who ate with tax-collectors and interacted with lepers as well as Roman officers?

Finally, we grapple with society-wide development. This year, the spotlight turned to the education system, wherein there is unequal development for different groups of people, with its strong emphasis on academic excellence, the early sorting of children into different tracks by intellectual ability, and “kiasu parents” who use whatever resources available to them to prepare their children for exam success.

Sociologist Teo You Yenn commented in her book, This is What Inequality Looks Like, that some kids, because of class advantages, are advantaged in a system where early exposure and precocity – such as being able to read and write at primary one – are rewarded, and consequently the others “fall behind”.

Again, we are urged to examine our roles in contributing to the problematic system: As a Catholic parent, have I made choices to benefit only my own children? As a Catholic educator or policy-maker, how can I help to shape a system which allows all children to develop their full human potential?

Are our Singaporean children developing holistically as human persons? Does an over-emphasis on academic results undermine their sense of self-worth, and thus their dignity as children of God?

Practising integral human development is core to our faith. Pope Francis reminded us of our mission to bring Christ to the vulnerable – “the manifestation of God in Christ – including His acts of healing, liberation and reconciliation that today we are called to offer in turn to the many injured who lie by the roadside – shows the way and the form of service that the Church intends to offer to the world”.

Today, let us imitate Christ and contribute to an authentic, integral development of our brothers and sisters in need. 

For more on integral human development, sign up for the Social Mission Conference (July 21)

The writer is with the Caritas Singapore Young Adults.

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