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On the anniversary of the publication one year ago of a statement signed by the editors of nine Catholic publications, the Houston Catholic Worker here publishes that statement, “A Civilization of Love: The Pope’s Call to the West” and adds its endorsement to it.

Some were surprised, most were moved to respect, when Pope John Paul II recently spoke to the United Nations and emphasized responding to the needs of the poor and the immigrant, when so many have lost interest in them.

He called for rich nations to help poorer nations. His words reflect his frequently expressed concern about a world economy that oppresses workers to a point of inhuman conditions.

The Pope clearly rejected communism and played a significant role in its downfall. But he also clearly rejects materialistic capitalism and consumerism.

With the fall of communism there was the hope that the tremendous energy of the Cold War could be invested economically for the betterment of the Third World and for peace. Unfortunately, this is not happening.

The demon of communism that has been exorcised from the world has apparently returned with seven more demons. The abuse that communism was supposedly trying to halt has multiplied geometrically–the profit motive reigns supreme.

We encounter every day at Casa Juan Diego the economic devastation that besieges the Third World.

We are grateful that communism no longer terrorizes people in many countries. It was responsible for millions of deaths of innocent people.

While the threat of communism has receded, the threat of economic oppression has emerged as a giant to terrorize the poor. Communism forced the First World to be concerned about the needs of the poor. That force is no longer present for the promotion of human rights among
working people.

With the publication of this statement David Schindler reminded us in Communio that “Western (economic) liberalism is pernicious in a way that Communism is not, because liberalism fills culture with its vision so imperceptibly and invisibly. Cultures embrace Western freedom, only to discover–too late?–that they’ve been made unfree by Western consumerism. People know they’ve lost their freedom when they’ve been run over by a tank. They are not so quick to notice the loss of freedom that comes from enervation of the soul and slavery to appetite.”

The encyclical Centesimus Annus strongly points out, contrary to the comments made by some neo-conservative theologians, the serious reservations about problems created by capitalism and asks for a responsible capitalism with moral decision-making. The encyclical has many references to “human needs which find no place on the market,” (CA, n.34), and alerts us to the dangers of consumerism, making it clear that this is linked to ecological destruction and social alienation (CA, nn.36, 37, 41).

We publish this joint statement, of which the signatories include editors of publications which represent varying points of view, to continue to encourage a dialogue and discernment among Catholics and other Christians about our responsibility for the economic situation in our world and for the implications of the Pope’s call to holiness for each of our daily lives and life styles.


The collapse of international communism has destroyed one of the most obvious enemies of human freedom, but it has left the starving of the Third World in their misery, even while the moral anarchy of a mass popular culture prevails in the affluent West–destroying those “common things” (G. K. Chesterton) that lie at the root of social order and organic community. In the long run, communism itself may have had less power to destroy traditional morality and historic cultures than the disintegrative consumerism of the West.

And so, when Pope John Paul II criticizes the complacency of the developed nations, and looks to them to make “important changes in established life-styles, in order to limit the waste of environmental resources,” (Centesimus Annus, n. 52), this is no mere “vestigial rhetorical fragment that somehow wandered into the text…notable chiefly for its incongruity with the argument that the Pope is otherwise making” (as one leading neo-conservative theologian has asserted). The Pope is setting out one of the most fundamental requirements of the new

The universal call to holiness, made concrete in the promotion of justice and leading towards a civilization of love, demands nothing less than a change of life-styles. The pope goes so far as to question the “models of production and consumption” that dominate present-day
economic theory, and even “the established structures of power which today govern societies” (CA, n. 58). The need to respond to this call could not be more urgent. “Everyone should put his hand to the work which falls to his share, and that at once and straightaway, lest the
evil which is already so great become through delay absolutely beyond remedy” (CA, n. 56, citing Rerum Novarum).

Signed (affiliations given for identification only):

Jennifer Belisle (The Catholic Worker)
Fr. Ian Boyd, CSB (The Chesterton Review)
Fr. Daniel Callam, CSB (The Canadian Catholic Review)
Stratford Caldecott (The Chesterton Review)
Fr. David M. Denny (Desert Call/Forefront)
Frank Donovan (The Catholic Worker)
James Hanink (The New Oxford Review)
Maclin Horton (Caelum et Terra)
Fr. William McNamara, OCD (Desert Call/Forefront)
Robert Moynihan (Inside the Vatican)
Michael O’Brien (Nazareth)
Daniel Nichols (Caelum et Terra)
David L. Schindler (Communio)
David D. Spesia (Communio)
Dale Vree (New Oxford Review)
Mark and Louise Zwick (Houston Catholic WorkerD)

Houston Catholic Worker, November 1995