Pope Francis offers a new vision for social and environmental justice

“We need to reject a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that the problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals… Finance overwhelms the real economy. The lessons of the global financial crisis have not been assimilated, and we are learning all too slowly the lessons of environmental deterioration.”

“We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.”

“Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years… The earth’s resources are also being plundered because of short-sighted approaches to the economy, commerce and production.”

– excerpts from the Papal Encyclical of Pope Francis

And so we have the outlines of a new, very powerful analysis and vision for social and environmental justice strongly delivered in the new Papal Encyclical of Pope Francis. It is very rare for a document calling for such fundamental change to put people and the earth before profits and the powerful-especially from the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion people.

It would be an awful tragedy for those of us who’ve struggled for justice against the most terrible forces of greed and evil to discount this Encyclical, because we have our own criticisms of the Catholic Church or even Pope Francis.

Rather it is crucial that we see the Pope’s words as evidence, vindication, and powerful assistance in a building struggle or movement across the world.

We will not defeat the forces of greed and evil, which continue to force their will on our common home and our common good and our common humanity just by being right or correct. This fight in which we are engaged must be won with power from average people leveraged by moral authority.

Isn’t that the ultimate lesson to left us by Dr. King, Mahatma Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela?

So we read this wonderful Encyclical as an extremely important ally joining our struggle for justice.

And some of us read this letter as evidence of an inexorably growing movement for justice and common humanity.

“[The] common good calls for social peace, the stability and security provided by a certain order which cannot be achieved without particular concern for distributive justice; whenever this is violated, violence always ensues. Society as a whole, and the state in particular, are obliged to defend and promote the common good.”

There is much, much more.

Photo: Children pass by posters with messages for Pope Francis as they carry plastics for recycling at the garbage dumpsite at suburban Quezon city northeast of Manila, Philippines. Pope Francis called for a bold cultural revolution to correct what he calls the “structurally perverse” economic system of the rich exploiting the poor that is turning Earth into an “immense pile of filth.” (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)



Stewart Acuff
Stewart Acuff

Stewart Acuff is Organizing Director of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees 1199 in Philadelphia.