The Lord never abandons us. As I am writing this preface to a collection of texts on the social teaching of the Church, my mind goes back over fifty years to the year 1945. I was only seventeen years of age. My country, Vietnam, was at a moment of great difficulty. In many ways it had lost its way. Japan and Europe were shaken at the end of the war. Communism was making its inroads.
I was a young member of a small group of Catholics in the Imperial City of Huê. We were fortunate to have the texts of some of the social encyclicals, such as Rerum Novarum, Quadragesimo Anno, and Divini Redemptoris. In the face of great difficulties, we reproduced them as best we could.
One of our group—his name was Alexis—went from province to province bringing the texts to families and communities. He did so at enormous risk to himself and to his large family. At times, he would hide the texts by strapping them to his legs as he secretly moved from village to village. Finally, however, he was arrested and eventually died in prison.
But this work left behind a great legacy. So many young men and women found a new sense of hope through knowledge of the documents of the Church’s social teaching. In fact, this knowledge opened up a new path of light and hopefor them, which endured during the dark days that were to come. The Lord Jesus did not abandon them.
The Church’s social teaching can have the same effect today in our situation that Pope Paul VI, in his final testament, called "dramatic and sad, yet magnificent." The social teaching of that remarkable series of Popes since Leo XIII can be, for the Christian of our time, a great source of orientation and a genuine instrument of evangelization. We all need this teaching.
In this Jubilee Year there have been many publications that bring together the various strands of Catholic social teaching. The Catechism of the Catholic Churchcontains many elements and is a most authoritative source. The Holy See is also preparing an authoritative synthesis of the social teaching of the Church, stressing its relationship with the "new evangelization." Other publications have recently emerged in Mexico and in Spain.
We celebrate the Jubilee Year as the anniversary of the Mystery of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ—God and man—who took on the human condition to redeem it. In a spirit of service to the celebration of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, the editors of this volume have brought together a useful collection of texts on the Church’s social teaching. It will appear in seven languages and will be of great use for both academic and pastoral leaders, for political and business leaders, and, of course, for workers and the poor. I pray particularly that today those who represent the sufferings of the human condition will find through these texts the path to Jesus, our Redeemer, the only new path of light and hope for our time.
Like any collection, this publication does not claim to be complete. The individual texts have been selected because of their significance, but it is hoped that the reader will be led to re-read them in their full context and thus become more familiar with the breadth of Catholic social teaching.
Students, teachers, and all those who seek a better knowledge of the social doctrine of the Church will find contained within this collection the central statements of the Roman Pontiffs from a range of texts, including papal encyclicals, apostolic letters, and Conciliar documents, on matters relating to politics, economics, and culture. The selections are arranged thematically according to the significant subject areas of Catholic social doctrine. Under each subject heading, the quotations appear in pedagogical—as opposed to chronological or magisterial—order, with each subject area opening with a quotation that explains the issue at hand.
These statements have been offered from the heart of the Church to a world that so desperately needs a moral vision for constructing a more humane social order. While the Church does not pretend to offer scientific solutions to economic or social problems in the form of public-policy recommendations or precise legal prescriptions, what it does offer is far more important—a set of ideals and moral values that uphold and affirm the dignity of all. The application of such principles to economic, political, and social realities can result in justice and peace for all, genuine human development, and the liberation of people from oppression, poverty, and violence.
The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace is grateful to the Reverend Robert A. Sirico and the Reverend Maciej Zieba, O.P., for editing this collection. The Pontifical Council also wishes to acknowledge the valuable assistance of the Instytut "Tertio Millennio" in Krakow, especially Slawomir Sowinski and Piotr Kimla; the Very Reverend Professor Alvaro Corcuera Martínez del Río, L.C., Rector, the students and staff of the Pontificio Ateneo "Regina Apostolorum" in Rome; and the Reverend John-Peter Pham, S.T.D., Rome.
I am therefore pleased to commend this collection to all those who share our vision for the conjoining of justice and peace and to all who seek to know the Church’s social teaching. I am especially satisfied to be able to offer this resource to teachers, theologians, catechists, and all those who instruct the faithful in the ways of truth. May the teaching of the Church’s social doctrine contribute to the universal common good and help to establish the vision of the Psalmist in which justice and peace embrace (Ps 85:9–12), thus helping to usher in the Kingdom of God.
+ (The Late) François-Xavier Nguyên Cardinal Van Thuân
President, Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace
Vatican City, 1 May 2000
Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker