Pope Benedict cautions against increasing social inequality

By David Kerr

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Pope Benedict XVI.

Pope Benedict XVI used a speech to foreign diplomats May 4 to warn governments against exacerbating inequalities of wealth during the current economic crisis.

“When poverty coexists with the very rich, a perception of unfairness is born that can become a source of rebellion,” said the Pope.

“It is therefore appropriate that States ensure that the social laws do not increase inequalities and enable people to live decently.”

The comments were made in an address to five new ambassadors to the Holy See who were presenting their diplomatic credentials to the Vatican.

Speaking in French, the Pope noted that the present global economic crisis has brought “more and more families to an increasingly precarious situation.” Previously the “creation and multiplication of needs” had led many people to believe “in the possibility of unlimited enjoyment and consumption.”

Now, however, those hopes have been dashed and “feelings of frustration” have emerged with “loneliness due to exclusion” on the increase.

At the heart of all future economic policy, he said, has to be the good of the human person as “man is more precious for what he is than for what he has,” said the Pope quoting from the Second Vatican Council’s “Gaudium et spes” document.

Achieving this goal requires helping people in need to become “actors in their own society” and “enabling them to take charge of their own future.”   

“Development for which every nation aspires each should concern the integral person, not economic growth alone,” said the Pope.

Drawing upon Catholic social teaching’s belief in subsidiarity, Pope Benedict highlighted economic experiments “such as microcredit, and initiatives to create equitable partnerships” which show that it is possible “to harmonize economic goals with social needs, democratic governance and respect for nature.”

Pope Benedict then turned to another form of poverty which he described as “the loss of reference to spiritual values, to God.”

“This vacuum makes discernment between good and evil as well as the overcoming of personal interests for the common good, more difficult,” he said, adding that “it makes it easier to adhere to ideals currently in fashion and avoid the necessary effort of reflection and criticism.”

The victims of this loss are very often the young, he observed, who “in search of an ideal, turn to artificial paradises which destroy them” such as “addiction, consumerism and materialism” which “do not fill the heart of man made for infinity.”

“For the greatest poverty is the lack of love,” he said, “In distress, compassion and selfless listening are a great comfort. Even without great material resources, it is possible to be happy.”

Pope Benedict concluded by suggesting that this societal renaissance would be assisted by an education system that is “awakened to the spiritual dimension” and also by the promotion of each nation’s cultural and religious heritage given that in “familiarizing oneself with history, each individual is brought to discover the roots of his or her own existence.”

This will help each person to “forge a strong interior personality which enables him to witness to good and accomplish good even if it comes at a cost.”

The new ambassadors to the Holy See, who will not be resident in Rome, represent the governments of Ethiopia, Malaysia, Ireland, Fiji and Armenia.

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