Populorum Progressio – On Development


Pope Paul VI issued the social encyclical Populorum Progressio in 1967. It is also known by the English title On the Progress of Peoples. As the 1960s progressed the hopes of former colonies for freedom and economic development met many obstacles. Conflicts, poverty and inequality seemed to be growing.

Major Issues

In Populorum Progressio, Paul VI expresses concern at continuing disparities in wealth between countries despite the process of decolonisation. Like John XXIII, he treats social justice as an international question. Thus he calls on wealthy nations to show solidarity and help others (n 45 – 55). Because poverty and economic inequality cause so many conflicts, he declares that development is the ‘new name for peace’ (n 76 – 80).

Paul VI criticises unrestrained liberal economics (n 26, 56 – 65), calling for an equitable distribution of the world’s resources (n 22 – 24). However his understanding of development goes beyond the material or economic. Development has a spiritual dimension too and includes openness to the transcendent. He proposes an integral vision of development (n 14 – 21) introducing the term integral human development into Catholic Social Teaching. Integral human development means development of the whole person for every person and for all peoples.


Scholars say that the transcendental humanism of Jacques Maritain influenced Populorum Progressio’s methodology more than the methodology of Gaudium et Spes did. Nonetheless, Populorum Progressio was more inductive than pre Vatican II teachings. For example, it starts from ‘the data of the problem’. It was also more open to an historically conscious ethical methodology than pre Vatican II teachings.

Contribution to Catholic Social Teaching

As we noted, Populorum Progressio introduced the language of integral human development into Catholic Social Teaching. It was also the first social encyclical devoted entirely to international development.

In his social encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Benedict XVI compares the importance of Populorum Progressio within the body of Catholic Social Teaching to that of Rerum Novarum. He sees Populorum Progressio as a landmark document because in it Paul VI makes an important shift, placing development, rather than work, at the centre of efforts for justice and peace. From Rerum Novarum until Populorum Progressio, Catholic Social Teaching saw work as the key to addressing ‘the social question’. In other words, it saw fairness in work relationships and a just wage as central to creating a just society. Placing integral human development at the centre was a major paradigm shift.

This helps us to understand why, apart from Rerum Novarum, it is the only social encyclical to be commemorated by anniversary encyclicals. Sollicitudo res Socialis celebrates its twentieth anniversary and Caritas in Veritate was meant to celebrate its fortieth. Benedict XVI delayed publication of Cartias in Veritate so that he could respond to the the Global Financial Crisis that was developing during its drafting.

Read Populorum Progressio

The official English translation of the full text is available here.

About the author: Sandie

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