Poverty of Goods, Poverty of the Spirit

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By George Weigel

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The other great trial affecting the life of peoples and hindering their development is poverty, both material and moral.

Never has the earth produced so much and never has it counted so many hungry people. The fruits of growth continue to be divided unfairly. Added to that is the growing division between North and South. As you know, I wished to draw the attention of people of good will to this problem with my Message for the World Day of Peace on 1 January, in which I wrote: “Destitution … is a hidden but real threat to peace. By impairing human dignity, it constitutes a serious attack on the value of life and strikes at the heart of the peaceful development of society.”

In the face of this growing destitution which is causing the poor to become more numerous and ever poorer, faced with forms of exclusion such as the unemployment which is so sadly affecting the younger generation, illiteracy, racism, broken families or illness, those in positions of political responsibility are the first to be questioned.

The world possesses the technological and structural capabilities to improve conditions of life. Today even more than yesterday every individual should have the opportunity to participate worthily and fairly in the banquet of life. The sharing of natural resources, the just distribution of profits, a sound reaction against the excesses of consumption are some of the priority tasks incumbent upon public authorities.

The United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro last June, tried to pave the way. Now it is necessary to go beyond good intentions. Involving citizens in society’s projects gives them confidence in those who govern them and in the nation to which they belong: these are the bases on which the harmonious life of human societies rests. Very often, phenomena such as street protests or an atmosphere of suspicion which the print and broadcast media report are simply a manifestation of dissatisfaction and helplessness due to the frustration of basic needs: not seeing legitimate rights guaranteed; not feeling that one is regarded as a partner in political and social planning; not discovering the beginning of a solution to difficulties that have lasted for years.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.