21 JUNE 2006




The Compendium of the Church's Social Doctrine, put together by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace at the Holy Father's behest, was presented to the press on October 25 2004. This document - long-awaited, and the result of a long process of work - has been welcomed with great interest.

On the basis of the very process that generated it, however, this is a document destined to sow its seeds very extensively, to fertilize the soil of the building of society over long periods of time, to motivate and guide the presence of Catholics in history, and not merely in some extemporaneous manner. The destiny of the Compendium will be measured by the conviction with which it is received and by the use that is made of it for the relaunching of general pastoral activity in society and, above all, in bringing about a reflective, aware, coherent and community presence of lay Catholics involved in society and in politics.

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Structure and Purpose of the Compendium

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church offers a complete summary of the fundamental framework of the doctrinal corpus of Catholic social teaching. Faithful to the authoritative recommendation made by the Holy Father John Paul II in No. 54 of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America, the document presents "in a complete and systematic manner, even if by means of an overview, the Church's social teaching, which is the fruit of careful Magisterial reflection and an expression of the Church's constant commitment in fidelity to the grace of salvation wrought in Christ and in loving concern for humanity's destiny" (Compendium, 8).

The Compendium has a simple and straight-forward structure. After an Introduction, there follow three parts: the first, composed of four chapters, deals with the fundamental presuppositions of social doctrine -- God's plan of love for humanity and for society, the Church's mission and the nature of social doctrine, the human person and human rights, the principles and values of social doctrine; the second part, composed of seven chapters, deals with the contents and classical themes of social doctrine -- the family, human work, economic life, the political community, the international community, the environment and peace; the third part, which is quite brief, being composed of one sole chapter, contains a series of indications for the use of social doctrine in the pastoral praxis of the Church and in the life of Christians, above all the lay faithful. The Conclusion, entitled "For a Civilization of Love", is an expression of the underlying purpose of the entire document.

The Compendium has a specific purpose and is characterized by certain objectives that are well spelled out in the Introduction. In fact, the document "is presented as an instrument for the moral and pastoral discernment of the complex events that mark our time; as a guide to inspire, at the individual and community levels, attitudes and choices that will permit all people to look to the future with greater trust and hope; as an aid for the faithful concerning the Church's teaching in the area of social morality". It is moreover an instrument put together for the precise purpose of promoting "new strategies suited to the demands of our time and in keeping with human needs and resources. But above all there can arise the motivation to rediscover the vocation proper to the different charisms within the Church that are destined to the evangelization of the social order, because 'all the members of the Church are sharers in this secular dimension' " (Compendium, 10).

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A fact that we do well to emphasize, because it is found in various parts of the document, is the following: the text is presented as an instrument for fostering ecumenical and interreligious dialogue on the part of Catholics with all who sincerely seek the good of mankind. In fact, the statement is made in No. 12 that the document "is proposed also to the brethren of other Churches and Ecclesial Communities, to the followers of other religions, as well as to all people of good will who are committed to serving the common good". Social doctrine, indeed, is intended for a universal audience, in addition to those to whom it is primarily and specifically addressed, the sons and daughters of the Church. The light of the Gospel, which social doctrine brings to shine on society, illuminates every person: every conscience and every intellect is able to grasp the human depths of meaning and values expressed in this doctrine, as well as the outpouring of humanity and humanization contained in its norms for action.

Obviously, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church concerns Catholics first of all, for "the first recipient of the Church's social doctrine is the Church community in its entire membership, because everyone has social responsibilities that must be fulfilled … In the tasks of evangelization, that is to say, of teaching, catechesis and formation that the Church's social doctrine inspires, it is addressed to every Christian, each according to the competence, charisms, office and mission of proclamation that is proper to each one" (Compendium, 83). Social doctrine also implies responsibility regarding the construction, organization and functioning of society: political, economic and administrative duties, that is to say, duties of a secular nature, that belong to the lay faithful in a particular way because of the secular nature of their state of life and because of the secular character of their vocation. By means of this responsibility, the laity put social doctrine into practice and fulfil the Church's secular mission.

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The Compendium and the Church's Mission

The Compendium places the Church's social doctrine at the heart of the Church's mission. It shows, above all in Chapter Two, the ecclesiological aspect of this social doctrine, that is, how this doctrine is intimately connected with the mission of the Church, with evangelization and the proclamation of Christian salvation in temporal realities. In fact, among the instruments of the Church's particular mission of service to the world, which consists in being a sign of the unity of all the human race and a sacrament of salvation, there is found also her social doctrine .

The fact that the Compendium places social doctrine within the mission proper to the Church prompts us on the one hand not to consider it as something added or peripheral to the Christian life and, on the other hand, helps us to understand it as belonging to a community subject. In fact, the only subject properly suited to the nature of social doctrine is the entire ecclesial community. The Compendium, in no. 79, states: "Social doctrine belongs to the Church because the Church is the subject that formulates it, disseminates it and teaches it. It is not a prerogative of a certain component of the ecclesial body but of the entire community: it is the expression of the way that the Church understands society and of her position regarding social structures and changes. The whole of the Church community -- priests, religious and laity -- participates in the formulation of this social doctrine, each according to the different tasks, charisms and ministries found within her".

The Church is one body with many members who, "though many, are one body" (1 Cor 12:12). The action of the Church is likewise one, it is the action of a sole subject, but it is carried out according to a variety of gifts through which the whole richness of the entire body passes. "The entire Christian community" is called to an adequate discernment aimed at "scrutinizing the 'signs of the times' and interpreting reality in the light of the Gospel message" , but "each individual person" is also called to this same task. "Everyone for their part" and "each individual person": service to the world, so that it may know the ways of the Lord, is brought about through the specific -- and at the same time all-encompassing -- commitment of every component of the ecclesial community. In this perspective, I wish to offer a reflection concerning the contribution of these different ecclesial components.

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Priests and the Compendium

The Compendium is put into the hands of priests. The priest, "by virtue of the consecration which he receives in the Sacrament of Orders, is sent forth by the Father through the mediatorship of Jesus Christ, to whom he is configured in a special way as Head and Shepherd of his people, in order to live and work by the power of the Holy Spirit in service of the Church and for the salvation of the world" . Priestly service to the world takes place according to the specific character proper to the priest. He is a missionary, but not independently of his liturgical service, of his making Christ present in his preaching and in his very life, of his being a shepherd to his flock, of his value as an instrument of dialogue among Christians and between Christians and all men and women.

The priest serves the Church's social doctrine not when he becomes involved directly in social or economic activities, but by preaching the social Gospel from the altar, by proclaiming in his preaching the freedom of Christ and condemning the denial of human rights and the disregard for the dignity of the person, by showing the uncontainable force of the love and justice that issue forth from the Word, teaching the social value of the Christian faith, by promoting a catechesis -- especially among young people and adults -- that draws its inspiration also from social doctrine, by prompting the Christian community and the laity, both as individuals and in associations, to open their minds and hearts to the human needs found in their own territory as well as to the needs of the larger world community.

Moreover, to the priest belongs the mission of promoting the "different roles, charisms and ministries present within the ecclesial community" , in relation also to the assimilation and proclamation of the Church's social doctrine. He has the first responsibility, within his community, of fostering and strengthening the awareness that all subjects of the community must have concerning their role in the evangelization of society: parents and families, the laity, the world of school and education, associations, movements, and so on.

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Consecrated Life and the Compendium

The Compendium is put into the hands of men and women religious. Those who have responded to Christ's call to a form of life that already in this world can anticipate the perfection of the Kingdom of God have a special place in the Christian community and, by virtue of their charism, have a unique role in the evangelization of society. Theirs is not a detachment from the world, it is a different way of being within the world. It is a particularly profound and non-evasive way, in that those in consecrated life see social relationships and economic questions not only as they are, but also and above all as they will be and therefore as they should be.

Men and women religious leave everything behind (cf. Lk 14:33; 18:29) in order to open their hearts to a greater fullness and to live more completely an undivided love for the Lord (cf. 1 Cor 7:34), and thus to show prophetically to men and women new forms of relations with the things of creation and with one's brothers and sisters: relations oriented towards sharing, built on the freedom of God's children, relations that accept rather than possess, relations of human promotion rather than oppression.

Consecrated life focuses its gaze prophetically on the Resurrection, when men and women will be "like angels in heaven" (Mt 22:30), and, already in the present time that we live here and now, it is an anticipation of that mysterious state of perfection that the merits of Christ make possible: all of us, already, are in fact "one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28). By their witness to the Gospel beatitudes in their personal and community lives and by their total openness -- with their vows of obedience, poverty and chastity -- to living with the Lord for the salvation of the world, consecrated persons imbue social, political and economic relations with the radicality of the Gospel. Consecrated life offers a Gospel-based model of coexistence based on gift and keeps alive the ability of the entire Christian community and of all people to discern in the "already" the "not yet", to seek communion and charity, in order to provide human relations with a heart even in today's society.

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Witness and Planning

In concluding these reflections on the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, I would like to emphasize the necessity of building a civilization of love. And you, priests and religious men and women, are called to offer your precious contribution for the achievement of this civilization of love. In this regard, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church affirms in number 582: "In order to make society more human, more worthy of the human person, love in social life — political, economic and cultural — must be given renewed value, becoming the constant and highest norm for all activity. If justice is in itself suitable for ‘arbitration' between people concerning the reciprocal distribution of objective goods in an equitable manner, love and only love (including that kindly love we call ‘mercy') is capable of restoring man to himself". Human relationships cannot be governed solely according to the measure of justice. Christians know that love is the reason for God's entering into relationship with man. And it is love which he awaits as man's response. Consequently, love is also the loftiest and most noble form of relationship possible between human beings. Love must thus enliven every sector of human life and extend to the international order. Only a humanity in which there reigns the ‘civilization of love' will be able to enjoy authentic and lasting peace".


Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino

President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

and President of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerants

Singapore, 21 June 2006

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