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Social Teachings of the Church: Building a Better Society

March 14, AD2017

poverty, children, neighbor

Many developed countries in the world today have accepted the fact that mining is one of the world’s most profitable industries. No one can deny that industry and even technology relies greatly on some of the minerals that are taken by mining companies from the vast mountains of the world. But what happens when the need to take care of the earth’s natural resources and the need to keep an industry that supports the livelihood of thousands of families clash?

Case Study: Mining in the Philippines

This is the situation that we find ourselves in the Philippines today. Last month, our Secretary of Natural Resources, the Government department that oversees how the natural resources of the country are used and protected, ordered the shutting down of twenty-three mining sites. After doing an audit of these sites, the Secretary proclaimed that all the sites were doing their mining activities very near watershed areas. Hence, their location makes them a source of danger for the communities within their vicinity.

Of course, those in the mining industry did not take this closure order sitting down. They have claimed that decision was made in a haphazard manner. They also claimed that such an order will result in the Philippine government facing a possible number of lawsuits because of contract violations. They have also voiced concerns as to what will happen to the estimated 1.2 million miners whose jobs will be lost if the closures push through.

Both sides of the debate have backed their arguments with their own data favoring their side. I do not wish to dwell on the evidence and data. But as a writer on a Catholic site, what I wish to do in this article is to see and learn how a Catholic can apply the social teachings of the Church in the face of a relevant social issue.

The “Best-Kept Secret of the Church”

The social teachings of the Church have been called as the “best-kept secret of the Catholic Church.” This title is due to the fact that only a few Catholics actually know that there is such a body of Church teachings that speak about Gospel principles in relation to current social issues. These teachings have been born out of the long tradition of the Church of dealing with the travails of human experience and in her efforts to shed the light of faith to these experiences.

In the Church’s efforts to apply these teachings to the key issues of the world today, she follows the so-called “pastoral cycle”. The pastoral cycle is a tool that can be used in assessing how one can act according to faith in a given social issue at hand. It follows the basic process of the See, Judge (or Reflect), and Act cycle.

See refers to the act of studying or experiencing the current social issue at hand. In our case, we take a close look at the issue of mining. Any serious Catholic who really wants to act upon any social issue must give time to study and gather relevant data. Historical, economic and cultural studies should not be separated from one’s efforts to live one’s faith honestly in today’s society.

The second step of the cycle is the Judge or Reflect stage. It is at this stage wherein the faithful can ask questions like: Are there relevant scripture teachings and reflections from the long history of Church tradition that pertain to the issue at hand? Taking the issue of mining as an example, there are certain principles of the social teachings of the Church that can be used.

Applying the Principles

The first of these principles is the principle of the stewardship and care of the earth.  Any attempted use and development of the natural resources of the earth have to take into consideration whether other habitats and resources are being endangered. Stewardship for the earth calls for a strong conviction that mankind does not own all of creation. We are only its caretakers. Hence, every use of the earth’s resources should also take into consideration the future of the next generations.

The second principle worth considering is the option for the poor. Any developmental project should contribute to the holistic development of the poor and their communities. In church circles, this has often been called as the “development with a human face.” While profit-oriented companies may flood us with growth and revenue statistics, the question that really needs to be answered is: does the project really benefit the lives of the poor?

A third principle is the principle of the common good. The Church has always been insistent that true economic growth should really be beneficial to the majority of the people and not only the for the benefit of a few. When mining companies start digging up the resources of the earth, for whose benefit are they really working for? Are they tampering with the world’s resources in order to enrich their own pockets or are they really concerned with the welfare of the greater majority?

A fourth principle is connected with the condition of the workers inside mining companies. While the issue at hand may perhaps center on whether the proper rules for the care of the earth’s resources are followed or not, attention should also be given whether the mining companies do follow the necessary regulations and labor laws with regards to the care and the proper remuneration of their workers.

Acting on the Social Teachings

After using these principles to make an evaluation of the issue at hand, the third step of the cycle comes into the picture. After seeing, experiencing and reflecting upon the situation, Catholics are called upon to take decisive action in the name of social justice.

Here, the vocation of lay Catholics can be put into good use. Lawmakers can enact laws that strive to protect the environment better. Government officials can take cognizance of their respective departments and see how the principles of Catholic Social teachings can be put into use. Academics can give pertinent data and study materials; economists can look deeper into the economic and social justice gains of the mining industry. Teachers can make use of the issue and use that to spur their students how to think of better ways to apply these principles in society. Even engineers can make use of these principles to prod them to develop better technologies and machines that can be used in the mining industry without the destruction that accompanies it. Mining company owners and officials can take a clear and critical look at their very own industry and ask themselves the hard questions whether the industry they are promoting is really consistent with the faith they proclaim to believe in.

Summary

The debate whether our Secretary of the Natural Resources was right in ordering the closing of the twenty-three mining companies still continues in our country. Whether they are allowed again to operate or not, I do hope that the actions that follow will be more reflective of a praxis based on Catholic social teachings.

There are a lot of other social justice issues at work in society today. By using the social teachings of the Church as a basis for reflection and action, Catholics can really create an impact in today’s world. It is high time that we take a closer look at these principles and really make use of them as our best-kept weapon.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Mon hails from the Philippines and currently works as a school head in an affordable private high school in Manila. His passion lies in bringing educational opportunities to young people who have less in life. Someday, he dreams of writing his own book that relates the Gospels to the daily life of teachers and educators.

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  • DLink

    I would recommend the author get a bit better acquainted with classical economics before trying to make “Social Justice” principles, which have largely been co-opted and distorted by the left, conform to religious doctrine. It will clarify the argument wonderfully. As far as mining, it is an economic activity like any other. The usual posits of safety, efficiency, profitability and compensation apply just like farming, automobile manufacturing or retail sales. There is such a thing as getting so deep into the weeds that one loses a sense of direction to the original destination.