Promoting Sustainable Integral Human Development

Today the term “development” is widely used, but often from a philanthropic or ideological perspective. That is why it is important to talk about integral sustainable development from a Catholic perspective. Doing so, on the monthly anniversary of the Salesian Missionary Expedition, is General Councillor for Missions Fr Alfred Maravilla.

‘Development’ is a term that has several implications. NGOs, foundations, and countless organisations are involved in development projects. Development models that are merely economic and technological are insufficient. Indeed, development is neither only the reduction of poverty and inequality nor only the accumulation of wealth and greater availability of goods and services. A technocratic development model considers nature as the infinite source of energy and natural resources, falsely claiming that the negative effects of over-exploitation of natural resources, of intensive use of fossil fuels and unprecedented destruction of ecosystems could be easily renewed (Laudato Si, 23, 24, 106; Caritas in Veritate 23).

Similarly, development models that ideologically reject God or are animated by an atheism of indifference, become oblivious to the Creator and risk becoming equally oblivious to human values. They deprive people of spiritual and moral strength that is indispensable for attaining integral human development. “The human being develops when he grows in the spirit, when his soul comes to know itself and the truths that God has implanted deep within, when he enters into dialogue with himself and his Creator” (CV 76). A development model without God ends up working for development exclusively at a human level, which easily falls into the trap of thinking one can bring about one’s own salvation and ends up promoting a dehumanised form of development.

Development needs to be ‘true,’ ‘integral’ and ‘sustainable’ in the sense that it considers the economic, social, political, cultural, and spiritual dimensions of the human person who has to care for creation for the succeeding generations. ‘Sustainable integral human development’ is a holistic vision of development which is rooted in Catholic social teaching but is also shared by other religious and faith traditions, as well as philosophical and wisdom traditions.

It promotes the good of every person and the whole person in the light of the Gospel, which is the cultural, economic, political, social, spiritual, religious belonging, relational, environmental, and ecological aspects to help every human person to be more rather than simply have more.

Openness to God makes one to be open towards others and to an understanding of life as a joyful task to be accomplished in a spirit of solidarity. Thus, at the centre of ‘sustainable integral human development’ lies respect for and openness to life because these strengthen peoples’ moral fibre and make people better understand the needs of the poor (CV  11, 28, 29, 78, 79). This is why the Church “devotes herself to an evangelisation which promotes the whole human being” (Centesimus Annus 55).

Sustainable integral human development is built on three principles: Human Dignity, Solidarity and Subsidiarity. Human Dignity is rooted in the conviction that the human person is created in God’s image and likeness (Gen 1:26), thus conferring upon each individual an incomparable dignity. Human dignity is the basis of the unity of the human family and our inviolable human rights. It is the prime principle of Catholic social doctrine (CCC 1700).

Solidarity is rooted in the recognition that we are the heirs of earlier generations, that we reap benefits from the efforts of those before us as well as from the efforts of our contemporaries and that we are called to care for creation for the succeeding generations. Thus, we cannot disregard the welfare of the generations that will come after us as well as that of the present generation. We are under obligation to all. Solidarity flows from faith; it implies a firm commitment to the common good and fosters personal responsibility as a bedrock of individual liberty (Popolorum Progressio 17).

Subsidiary, the key principle of the Church’s social teachings, is the assistance provided by the higher level to the lower order through appropriate means. Inversely, it implies that the higher level does not make decisions meant for the lower competent level, depriving the latter of its functions (CCC 1883). Subsidiarity is a prescriptive principle in decision-making which allows authentic freedom, participation, personal responsibility and which respects the dignity of the human person who is always capable of giving something to others (CV 57).

Don Bosco, aware of the social implications of his work, sought to form the young to be upright citizens and good Christians. Today as Educative Pastoral Communities we educate and evangelise the young to bring them to full maturity by being open to truth, developing their responsible freedom, fostering their commitment to justice, peace, and care for creation (Const 31-33).

For Reflection and Sharing

1. What is my model of development?

2. How can we foster the sustainable integral development of those entrusted to our care?

This article was originally published by ANS.