Pope Paul VI spelled out an appealing and rather creative vision of genuine and integral development in 1967.[1] Addressing divisions between developed and underdeveloped nations, Pope Paul promoted a demanding concept of integral development that invited the reader to imagine two foci of progress:  the whole person and every person. Before we can ever hope to detect social progress on a national or even global level, development must first engage each person in the work of self-fulfillment.

For all people, authentic development must move “from less human conditions to those which are more human”: from material deprivation, selfishness, and oppressive social structures to possession of necessities, knowledge, culture, respect for others’ dignity, cooperation, a desire for peace, and spiritual values.[2] Paul stressed development “at the service of humanity”,[3] including not just sharing earth’s goods, industrialization, and productive work, but also literacy, family life, and pluralism. He urged respect for culture, the arts, intellectual life, and religion.

Paul challenged the injustice of unfettered free trade, the imposition of self-serving trade restrictions, development aid, and support for poorer nations. A just economic order must be built, not upon the rigid ideological principles of free market capitalism, but upon solidarity with the poor, dialogue, universal charity, and structural changes that promote economic security for all within the context of a prudently regulated and well-ordered market economy.

Development and Peace

The second part of Paul’s vision was even more expansive, insisting that, “the complete development of the individual must be joined with that of the human race and must be accomplished by mutual effort”.[4] He recognized a new “moral fact”[5]—interdependence connecting every person to the problems of unequal distribution. He called it a “duty of solidarity” for individuals and nations[6]—and for advanced nations a serious obligation to assist developing ones.

This obligation included sharing wealth, ending the “scandalous and intolerable crime” of the arms race,[7] debt relief, trade equity, eliminating nationalism and racism, and multilateral, international collaboration. “World unity … should allow all peoples to become the artisans of their destiny”.[8] Excessive economic, social, and cultural inequalities among nations arouse conflicts and endanger peace, which can be built only upon justice achieved by constant effort.[9]  The pope concluded that “development is the new name for peace”.[10]

A Moral Framework

In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI furthered Pope Paul’s development work in his social encyclical Charity in Truth.[11] The world had become more rapidly and pervasively globalized yet marked by the “scandal of glaring inequalities”[12] reflected in the reality of the persistence of so many severely underdeveloped nations in contrast to the “super-development” of other privileged nations, not to mention the proliferation of certain extraordinarily wealthy people within underdeveloped nations. “The risk for our time is that the de facto interdependence of people and nations is not matched by ethical interaction of consciences and minds that would give rise to truly human development”.[13] This theme of a badly needed but largely absent moral framework for development runs throughout the encyclical.

Benedict maintained that “authentic human development concerns the whole of the person in every single dimension”.[14]  Thus, “progress of a merely economic and technological kind is insufficient”.[15] True development requires a number of attributes and requisites that are enumerated in the middle paragraphs of this challenging encyclical. They include: action by public authorities;[16] social security systems;[17] trade unionism;[18] labor protections in a mobile world economy;[19] the importance of culture;[20] ending hunger;[21] religious freedom vis-a-vis fundamentalism and atheism;[22] inter-disciplinary and multi-level analyses and responses,[23] including the interaction of faith, theology, metaphysics, and science;[24] access to steady employment;[25] eliminating high tariffs on exports of poorer nations;[26] and ending all forms of colonialism.[27] This is an ambitious list proposed by Benedict, but each item within this agenda emerges as a crucial component of true global justice.

Addressing inequality, Benedict wrote that appearances of being connected globally must be transformed into true communion and that development depends “on a recognition that the human race is a single family … not simply a group of subjects who happen to live side by side”.[28] A globalized society “makes us neighbors, but does not make us brothers”.[29] Pope Francis, in his October 3, 2020 social encyclical Fratelli Tutti, further emphasizes the virtue of solidarity as an absolutely necessary precondition to social progress and peace. The intentions of the Jesuit pope to transmit such a message are communicated in the very title of the teaching document (it may be translated into English as “We Are All Brothers and Sisters”) as well as its subtitle (rendered as “On Fraternity and Social Friendship”).

Francis took the further step of reorganizing and renaming the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, which (after January 1, 2017) is now known as the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. Highlighting this phrase made popular by his predecessors is just one way that Francis has thrown his weight behind this pivotal concept. At stake is the realization of the vision of integral human development as it has unfolded since the Second Vatican Council. Thus, the Catholic community, under the prophetic leadership of Paul, Benedict, and Francis (and really every pope of recent decades), continues to challenge each member of humankind to acknowledge our basic unity and enact our shared destiny in a spirit of solidarity and mutuality.


[1] Pope Paul VI. (1967). Populorum Progressio: The Development of Peoples, 24.

[2] Ibid. Paragraph 21.

[3] Ibid. Paragraph 34.

[4] Ibid. Paragraph 43.

[5]. Pope John Paul II. (1987). Sollicitudo Rei Socialis: On the Church’s Social Concern, 9.

[6] Populorum Progressio, Paragraph 48.

[7] Ibid. Paragraph 53.

[8] Ibid. Paragraph 65.

[9] Ibid. Paragraph 76.

[10] Ibid. Paragraph 76.

[11] Pope Benedict XVI. (2009). Caritas in Veritate: Charity in Truth.

[12] Ibid. 22.

[13] Ibid. 9.

[14] Ibid. 11.

[15] Ibid. 23.

[16] Ibid. 24.

[17] Ibid. 25.

[18] Ibid. 25.

[19] Ibid. 25.

[20] Ibid. 26.

[21] Ibid. 27.

[22] Ibid. 29.

[23] Ibid. 30.

[24] Ibid. 31.

[25] Ibid. 32.

[26] Ibid. 33.

[27] Ibid. 33.

[28] Ibid. 53.

[29] Ibid. 19.