by Gerald Darring
Pope John Paul I was bishop of Rome for only 34 days in August-September 1978. In that short span he issued no major statements contributing to the development of the tradition of Catholic social teaching. He did manage, however, to catch the world’s imagination with his warm smile, and had he lived long enough, he undoubtedly would have placed his own mark on the church’s social teaching. In tribute to this “smiling Pope,” we present some quotes from his talks, passages which affirm his interest in a world of justice and peace.
First radio message to the world, 27 August 1978. “We all have the duty of working to make the world a place of greater justice, more stable peace, more sincere cooperation. Therefore, We ask and beseech all, beginning with the lowest classes of society, which form as it were the connecting tissue of nations, and moving up the ladder to those who govern each people with authority, to make themselves effective, responsible instruments of a new, more just and more sincere social order.”
Address to diplomats accredited to the Vatican, 31 August 1978. “Our activity at the service of the international community is also–we would say, chiefly–situated on another level, one that could be more specifically called pastoral and which belongs properly to the church. It is a matter of contributing, through documents and commitments of the Apostolic See and of our collaborators throughout the church, to forming consciences–chiefly the consciences of Christians but also those of men and women of good will, and through these forming a wider public opinion–regarding the fundamental principles that guarantee authentic civilization and real brotherhood between peoples. These principles are respect for one’s neighbor, for his life and for his dignity, care for his spiritual and social progress, patience and the desire for reconciliation in the fragile building up of peace, in short all the rights and duties of life in society and international life as they have been set forth in the council’s constitution Gaudium et Spes and in so many messages by the late Pope Paul VI.”
General audience, 20 September 1978. “The Church’s main task is to divinize but this does not excuse her from the task of humanizing. I also voted for Gaudium et Spes. I was moved and enthusiastic when Populorum Progressio was published. I think that the Church’s magisterium can never do too much to present and urge the solutions to the great problems of freedom, justice, peace and development, and the Catholic laity can never fight too hard to solve these problems.”
Homily, 23 September 1978. “A few minutes ago, Mr. Argan, the mayor of Rome, addressed courteous words of greeting and good wishes to me. Part of what he said reminded me of one of the prayers I used to say with my mother when I was a child. It ran this way: ‘The sins which cry out for vengeance in the sight of God are … to oppress the poor, to defraud the workers of their just wage.'”
Reflection before the Angelus, 24 September 1978. “People sometimes say: ‘We are living in a totally corrupt and dishonest society.’ That is not true! There are still so many good people, so many honest people! We should rather ask: What can we do to improve society?”
General audience, 27 September 1978. “The catechism translates this and other passages of the Bible into the two lists of works of mercy, seven corporal and seven spiritual. The lists are not complete and would have to be updated. Among the hungry, for example, there is question today not only of this or that individual but of entire peoples. We all remember the great words of Pope Paul VI: ‘The hungry nations of the world cry out to the peoples blessed with abundance. And the Church, cut to the quick by this cry, asks each and every person to respond to his brother’s plea and answer it lovingly.’ Here justice must be joined to charity, for, as Paul VI goes on to say, ‘the right to private property is not absolute and unconditional. No one may appropriate surplus goods solely for his own use when others lack the basic necessities of life.’ Consequently, ‘we cannot approve a debilitating arms race.’ In the light of these strong statements we can see how far, as individuals and as peoples, we still are from loving others ‘as ourselves,’ which is what Jesus commands.”