Encyclical Letter by Pope John Paul II
SOLLICITUDO REI SOCIALIS
On Social Concern
December 30, 1987
24….If to all this we add the tremendous and universally acknowledged danger
represented by atomic weapons stockpiled on an incredible scale, the logical
conclusion seems to be this: in today's world, including the world of economics,
the prevailing picture is one destined to lead us more quickly towards death
rather than one of concern for true development which would lead all towards a
"more human" life, as envisaged by the Encyclical Populorum Progressio.
The consequences of this state of affairs are to be seen in the festering of
a wound which typifies and reveals the imbalances and conflicts of the modern
world: the millions of refugees whom war, natural calamities, persecution and
discrimination of every kind have deprived of home, employment, family and
homeland. The tragedy of these multitudes is reflected in the hopeless faces of
men, women and children who can no longer find a home in a divided and
Nor may we close our eyes to another painful wound in today's world: the
phenomenon of terrorism, understood as the intention to kill people and destroy
property indiscriminately, and to create a climate of terror and insecurity,
often including the taking of hostages. Even when some ideology or the desire to
create a better society is adduced as the motivation for this inhuman behavior,
acts of terrorism are never justifiable. Even less so when, as happens today,
such decisions and such actions, which at times lead to real massacres, and to
the abduction of innocent people who have nothing to do with the conflicts,
claim to have a propaganda purpose for furthering a cause. It is still worse
when they are an end in themselves, so that murder is committed merely for the
sake of killing. In the face of such horror and suffering, the words I spoke
some years ago are still true, and I wish to repeat them again: "What
Christianity forbids is to seek solutions...by the ways of hatred, by the
murdering of defenseless people, by the methods of terrorism."
25. At this point something must be said about the demographic problem and
the way it is spoken of today, following what Paul VI said in his Encyclicals
and what I myself stated at length in the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris
One cannot deny the existence, especially in the southern hemisphere, of a
demographic problem which creates difficulties for development.
One must immediately add that in the northern hemisphere the nature of this
problem is reversed: here, the cause for concern is the drop in the birthrate,
with repercussions on the aging of the population, unable even to renew itself
biologically. In itself, this is a phenomenon capable of hindering development.
Just as it is incorrect to say that such difficulties stem solely from
demographic growth, neither is it proved that all demographic growth is
incompatible with orderly development.
On the other hand, it is very alarming to see governments in many countries
launching systematic campaigns against birth, contrary not only to the cultural
and religious identity of the countries themselves but also contrary to the
nature of true development. It often happens that these campaigns are the result
of pressure and financing coming from abroad, and in some cases they are made a
condition for the granting of financial and economic aid and assistance. In any
event, there is an absolute lack of respect for the freedom of choice of the
parties involved, men and women often subjected to intolerable pressures,
including economic ones, in order to force them to submit to this new form of
oppression. It is the poorest populations which suffer such mistreatment, and
this sometimes leads to a tendency towards a form of racism, or the promotion of
certain equally racist forms of eugenics.
This fact too, which deserves the most forceful condemnation, is a sign of an
erroneous and perverse idea of true human development.
26. This mainly negative overview of the actual situation of development in
the contemporary world would be incomplete without a mention of the coexistence
of positive aspects.
The first positive note is the full awareness among large numbers of men and
women of their own dignity and of that of every human being. This awareness is
expressed, for example, in the more lively concern that human rights should be
respected, and in the more vigorous rejection of their violation. One sign of
this is the number of recently established private associations, some worldwide
in membership, almost all of them devoted to monitoring with great care and
commendable objectivity what is happening internationally in this sensitive
At this level one must acknowledge the influence exercised by the Declaration
of Human Rights, promulgated some forty years ago by the United Nations
Organization. Its very existence and gradual acceptance by the international
community are signs of a growing awareness. The same is to be said, still in the
field of human rights, of other juridical instruments issued by the United
Nations Organization or other international organizations.
The awareness under discussion applies not only to individuals but also to
nations and peoples, which, as entities having a specific cultural identity, are
particularly sensitive to the preservation, free exercise and promotion of their
At the same time, in a world divided and beset by every type of conflict, the
conviction is growing of a radical interdependence and consequently of the need
for a solidarity which will take up interdependence and transfer it to the moral
plane. Today perhaps more than in the past, people are realizing that they are
linked together by a common destiny, which is to be constructed together, if
catastrophe for all is to be avoided. From the depth of anguish, fear and
escapist phenomena like drugs, typical of the contemporary world, the idea is
slowly emerging that the good to which we are all called and the happiness to
which we aspire cannot be obtained without an effort and commitment on the part
of all, nobody excluded, and the consequent renouncing of personal selfishness.
Also to be mentioned here, as a sign of respect for life -- despite all the
temptations to destroy it by abortion and euthanasia -- is a concomitant
concern for peace, together with an awareness that peace is indivisible. It is
either for all or for none. It demands an ever greater degree of rigorous
respect for justice and consequently a fair distribution of the results of true
Among today's positive signs we must also mention a greater realization of
the limits of available resources, and of the need to respect the integrity and
the cycles of nature and to take them into account when planning for
development, rather than sacrificing them to certain demagogic ideas about the
latter. Today this is called ecological concern.
It is also right to acknowledge the generous commitment of statesmen,
politicians, economists, trade unionists, people of science and international
officials -- many of them inspired by religious faith -- who at no small
personal sacrifice try to resolve the world's ills and who give of themselves in
every way so as to ensure that an ever increasing number of people may enjoy the
benefits of peace and a quality of life worthy of the name.
The great international organizations, and a number of the regional
organizations, contribute to this in no small measure. Their united efforts make
possible more effective action.
It is also through these contributions that some Third World countries,
despite the burden of many negative factors, have succeeded in reaching a
certain self-sufficiency in food, or a degree of industrialization which makes
it possible to survive with dignity and to guarantee sources of employment for
the active population.
Thus, all is not negative in the contemporary world, nor could it be, for the
Heavenly Father's providence lovingly watches over even our daily cares (cf. Mt
6:25-32; 10:23-31; Lk 12:6-7, 22- 30). Indeed, the positive values which we have
mentioned testify to a new moral concern, particularly with respect to the great
human problems such as development and peace.
Other Teachings of the