|“On the paths of hope”
Pastoral letter of the Honduran Bishops’ Conference
to Honduran political leaders, political parties and all members of civil society
about the social situation of the nation
Tegucigalpa, March 1, 2006
Dear brothers and sisters,
1. We, bishops of the Catholic Church, conscious of our mission to announce the Gospel in this special period of the history of our country, wish to share with all our sisters and brothers, and especially with the new political authorities, some reflections on the direction/course of our country; [and we wish] to show our solidarity with the worries, problems, and anxieties of the people and to offer our assistance to all those who dedicate their time, talents and efforts to achieve a human development that is integral and sustainable, which is the achievement and the promise of a civilization of love.
2. There are many disillusions/disappointments which are incubating in the soul of our people; [this is] a very difficult situation because they gradually escalate the individual and collective frustrations which impede a true solution of problems by peaceful roads and generate violent reactions. On our part we take it upon ourselves as a commitment to continue accompanying our people with words of consolation, raising up hope, and carrying out works of liberating love.
3. Our condition as disciples representing Christ demands that we live the Gospel of Jesus without detaching ourselves from the reality in which we are immersed. “We cannot feel tranquil or satisfied in the face of the chaotic and disconcerting situation which is right before our eyes: nations, sectors of the population, families and individuals ever more rich and privileged in the face of people, families, and a multitude of persons immersed in poverty, victims of hunger and sickness, lacking decent housing, sanitation, and access to culture. All this is an eloquent testimony to a real disorder and an institutionalized injustice.”1 These are the feelings that urge us to share our reflections with political leaders, political parties, and with all the people of Honduras.
4. Our exhortation in the area of human realities does not have a political character nor does it share technical criteria, but imparts a pastoral vision illuminated by the Gospel of Life. We offer what is ours – Jesus Christ, the Savior, whose words have eternal value and whose program for life has the motivation and guidance necessary to gradually construct a Honduras which is truly just, peaceful, and living in solidarity.
5. We urge the new government to truly take seriously the concerns, the principles, and the course of action expressed in this pastoral letter, so that its administrative task is inspired by the ethics of the common good to raise up this country and make of it a nation that is respectable, just, and equitable.
6. We hope that the political parties feel motivated by our words to exercise their roles within society as a service of the common good and do not seek their own interested or those of small groups of power.
7. Likewise, we trust that reading and reflecting on this document can serve to inspire and help movements and organizations in the civil society in their initiatives and efforts for a social harmony which is freer, more just, and more participative, “in which the various groups of citizens join together and mobilize/work together to develop and express their orientations to confront their fundamental needs and to defend their legitimate interests.” 2
II. A REALITY THAT CAUSES US PAIN AND RAISES QUESTIONS
1. A look at our history
8. This pastoral letter, “On the ways to hope,” invites us to look attentively at our history. We must learn from the good choices and from the errors of the past to recognize out social sins which have been committed in the course of history so that we don’t repeat them. To not recognize ourselves as the heirs of the past condemns us to continually commit the same mistakes. Good politics does not fail to recognize history or forget it but, from its common inheritance, puts all its efforts into the construction of the country which it dreams of and which it desires.
2. A look at our present situation
9. The new leaders of our country cannot construct a just nation it they are not capable first of all of taking a profound look at the present reality of our people. In our daily experience we gradually recognize the cries and longing for justice, work, food, education and health for the poor. When we go through the barrios, the villages and the mountains we verify the depth of this situation of poverty and misery. The stability of the macro-economy cannot make us forget nor hide this reality which several international institutions and the government itself express and show with alarming statistics.
3. Critical points about our reality
10. The elimination of poverty and the development of our people face obstacles which appear insolvable, including:
Inequality in the generation and distribution of wealth;
The low quality and insufficient coverage in education;
The lack of attention to health services;
Irrational exploitation of our natural resources and illegal utilization (taking advantage) of these resources;
Theft of the goods of the State;
Forgetting the common good, justice, and solidarity and loss of the sacred value of human life.
All these not only cause a continuous impoverishment of our people but they also produce a constant flow of Honduras out of the country in search of better living conditions.
4. A society with weak institutions.
11. The construction of a strong nation demands the strengthening of State institutions. They are weakened by the populism and the politicization of these very institutions; by the high incidence of corruption which brings about in the population disbelief and lack of confidence in institutions and those who lead them; by the impunity which weakens the state of law, putting the law at the service of private interests and laying aside its principal function of guaranteeing and assuring harmony in the local, regional and national community; by physical violence which increases insecurity among the people and demonstrates that life is not valued or respected.
5. The chronic evil of our society is the fruit of our sins.
12. Where does all this evil, this poverty, this misery come from? Clearly it is not because God wishes this but because groups of economic and political power have been enthroned (assumed control) in our society which, in conjunction with the fatalistic attitude and chronic indolence of many and with the pressure exerted by international economic interests, brings about a scandalous misery in our country. As our brother bishops said well in Pueblo, “There is a mechanism which, being found impregnated not with an authentic humanism but with materialism, produces at the international level more and more rich at the price of more and more poor.” 3 There is not only a social debt but also a collective responsibility for the continuation of these conditions of life, the major responsibility for which lies in those who have assumed public responsibilities for many years.
13. A careful look at the past and the present of our country will show us the course we need to follow to achieve a development which is human, integral, and sustainable. This contemplation, realistic and hopeful, is known to be illuminated and comforted by God, who is love, the guarantee and goal of the future of humanity, who teaches us to look the facts in the face, to know and understand them to discern and to interpret and to seek the best responses to the challenges which he presents us. 4
III. ETHICAL CRITERIA FOR A JUST AND PEACEFUL SOCIETY
14. We consider that our nation, in addition to the judicial frameworks, ought to cultivate and practice the fundamental principles which are the base of all political harmony, the lines oriented toward development, and the criteria of good government, Such principles are: the common good, the dignity of the human person, justice, truth, freedom, solidarity, and subsidiarity.
1. The Common Good
15. The common good is the principal imperative for the construction of our society; all the efforts of government employees and of public policies ought to be directed toward it. This principle ought to be the paradigm that orients the actions of any political leader who would be consistent and of whatever member of society who lives responsibility in society. “A politics for the person and for society finds its basic criterion in the attainment of the common good as the good of every human being and of the whole human being.” 5 When this spirit animates social relations. economic, political, and social inequalities will disappear.
16. For us, pastors of the pilgrim Church in Honduras, the common good is the coming together of the conditions of social life with which men, women, families or associations can achieve their personal and communal fulfillment more completely and easily. It is not a matter of achieving the minimum or only the basic necessities, rather what it seeks is the achievement of the perfection of the entire society by the full exercise of every human right and duty. 6
17. “Every human living together should be based in the common good, consisting in the realization, every time more fraternal, of common dignity, which demands that we don’t use some in favor of others and are disposed even to dispense with particular goods.” 7 This commits public powers to recognize, guard, and promote human rights and facilitate the fulfillment of the respective duties connected with then.
18. The search for the common good is the responsibility of all citizens and a demand of faith for all Christians, since it has its foundation in the new commandment of love (John 13: 34; 1 John 3:11). This is the commitment which we, the Christians of Honduras, take on ourselves just as the whole church of the American continent does.
2. The dignity of the human person
19. The dignity of the human person is the source and foundation of all the other principles and the reason of being of the common good and of respect for human rights. In the construction of a new society, “the principle, the subject and end of all social institutions is and ought to be the human person,”8 the image of God, a being unique and unrepeatable, open to transcendence, in communion with other and with one’s own life project.
20. It is the common teaching of the church that “human rights are born from the dignity of the human person as child of God. For this reason, every trampling on the dignity of the human is a trampling on God himself, of which the human is the image.”9
21. Respect for human life, in all phases of its existence is a natural right, inviolable and universal, and thus prior to and superior to civil society and the State. “The service of charity to life ought to be profoundly unitary … for it is a question of being responsible for all life and for the life of all.”10 This is the root of a coherent ethic of life which says no to abortion, no to euthanasia, no to war, no to the death penalty, and no to poverty and its consequences.
22. The state cannot deny, abolish or impede the exercise of the fundamental rights of the person but has the obligation to respect them, to promote them and to guarantee their juridical effect.11 The backbone of every effort to construct this country ought to start with seeing that human rights are fully in effect and ought to be expressed in respect for all rights and for all persons and so in the decisive rejection of all the various violations of these.
23. Justice leads us to recognize others as subjects of rights and duties and to create appropriate economic, social, and political conditions so the our world guarantees with greater equity the right to live in accord with the dignity of persons which god himself has conceded to us.
24. In Sacred Scripture, justice is related to God’s fidelity, his mercy and compassionate love of the poor. It is he who “does justice to the oppressed and gives bread to the hungry’ (Psalm 146: 7), “throws down the mighty from their and raises up the humble” (Luke 1: 52). It is he who vividly exhorts us to practice justice and right, to defend the poor and oppressed (Isaiah 5: 8-10, 23) and proclaims blessed those who hunger and thirst for justice, because they will be filled (Matthew 5:6)
25. According to the Christian tradition, brought together in the Social Doctrine of the Church, social justice includes these dimensions:
- At the individual level, all persons should have access to the means to satisfy their basic needs (work, education, property, health care) and that no one be excluded from social goods and achievements.
- At the collective level, agreements and exchanges between individuals, groups, and nations should be done equitably and honestly and not from the domination and imposition of the stronger.
- At the public level, all persons should have the possibility to participate in the construction of a society whose members lead a life which is truly human. Therefore, governments have to guarantee a social order that permits and assures such participation.
26. Therefore, everything that is an affront against justice in relations between persons, betweens persons and the community, and communities and nations among themselves is a social sin.
27. Truth is one of the pillars to construct a different society in an orderly and peaceful form. The Church professes that the full truth about God and the truth about the human person has been manifested in Jesus Christ. whoever believes in Him does not remain in the darkness of error and of lies but knows the truth and walks in the truth.
28. All of us persons, in as much as we are gifted with intelligence and free will and therefore with personal responsibility, feel ourselves motivated to seek the truth and we are obliged to adhere to it once we have known it and to order our lives according to its demands.12
29. The demands of truth in social life include transparency at every level, impartiality in the application of justice, honesty in information, respect for personal reputations, political proposals which are not mere demagoguery, and the fulfillment of promises that were made.
30.When truth underlies social relationships, credibility in institutions arises, transparency and confidence in the State and in governmental officials appears, citizens feel proud of their country and dedicate their energy to increase its fame. On the other hand, when the people feel deceived, made fun of, and used, as frequently happens, they become distrustful of public persons and institutions. This explains, in some way, the high level of absenteeism in the polls and sparse civic participation.
5. Liberty [Freedom]
31 – Liberty is a profound aptitude to orient our acts toward good. It makes it possible for every human to develop the capacities which aid them to increase in humanity and consequently to develop themselves as persons “Christ has freed us to be free; keep yourselves firm them and don’t submit again to the yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1)
32. – We perceive the Spirit of God animating from within humanity, since every day there are more people who refuse to be treated like objects and who wish to be active subjects, individually and in organized ways, of their personal and collective history, of the directions and decisions that affect them, of the model of society which is being constructed. Therefore, they demand a new conception of society, of the State, and of authority. The old models of political leaders, presidentialism and nepotism ought to give way to the presence of a civil society, which seeks its place and wishes to make its own decisions.
33. – Liberty is not complete without liberation from all that offends and oppresses the dignity of the human person. Consequently, participation of everyone in the construction of the human social life implies the commitment to liberation from every form of social exclusion, from injustice, from exploitation and from violence in order to reach/achieve the integral development of every person and of everyone.
34. – Solidarity is the indispensable condition for achieving the common good. According to the teaching of the Church “solidarity helps us see the other – person, people, or nation – not as some sort of an instrument in order to exploit at little cost its capacity to work and physical stamina, abandoning it when it’s of no use, but as one like us.” 13
35. In the Bible, solidarity refers above all to the relation of God with humans. The history of salvation is the progressive revelation which God makes of Himself to humans as a God in solidarity, who enters in their lives even to the point of sharing it fully in Jesus of Nazareth (John 1: 14). The experience of communion with God which believers have is what impels them to live in solidarity with their brothers and sisters, to have with others the same sentiments and conduct that God has with them. 14
36. The parable of Lazarus and the rich man shows profoundly and clearly God’s will (Luke 16: 19-31). God does not what us to live in poverty, nor does he condemns riches in themselves but he rejects the lack of solidarity and of social sense in the use of the goods of creation. The table of creation is a common table for all humanity. No one can hoard it ignoring the situation of the poor. The abyss created between one sector [of society] which swims in riches and the other which lives in misery, without possibilities of establishing bridges of solidarity is a sin which cries up to heaven. 15
37. Despite the fact that today solidarity is spoken of so often, the humiliated and excluded continues being innumerable and every day we are witnesses of the accelerated increase of egoism in persons, groups, and nations. “Our major response, from the Gospel, to this dramatic situation is the promotion of solidarity and peace, which effectively make justice a reality.” 16 In the face of the globalization of the market we propose, with Pope John Paul II, “the globalization of solidarity,’ understood “not as a superficial sentiment for the evils facing so many people near and far, but as the firm and persevering determination to work together for the common good.” 17
38. – In the present circumstances there are various trends in regard to the concept of the State. In some cases the claim is to reduce the State to the minimum, leaving everything to private initiative. In other cases, the tendency is to strengthen the State so that it protects groups in power; there are even those who wish that the State total responsibility for the well-bring of the population, overruling the initiative of people and of diverse groups and associations which make up the society.
39. – To avoid these excesses, the Social Doctrine of the Church has constantly developed the principle of subsidiarity, according to which. “a social structure of a higher order should not interfere in the life of a social group of a lower order, depriving it of its competencies but rather ought to support it in case of need and help it coordinate its action with those of the other social components, looking toward the common good.”18
40. – This principle is in contrast to the forms of centralism, bureaucracy, and welfare on the part of the State and forms of indifference, dependency, and abdication of responsibilities in the social life on the part of citizens.
41. – “To realize the principle of subsidiarity corresponds: the respect and effective promotion of the primacy of the person and the family; the valuing of associations and intermediate organizations; impulses offered to private initiative in order that each social organism remains, with its own peculiarities, at the service of the common good; decentralization of bureaucracies and administration; the balance between the public and private spheres with the ensuing recognition of the social function of the private sector; an adequate taking of responsibility by citizens to be an active part of the political and social reality of the country.” 19
IV. PRIORITIES FOR A DIFFERENT FUTURE
42. – To acknowledge our past, to look clearly at the present and to assimilate new principles qualifies us and animates us to propose new lines of action for a different future. We invite all the actors in society – the government, armed forces, political parties, professionals, unions, businessmen, workers, campesinos, women, the indigenous, non-governmental organizations and especially the young – so that in a respectful and truthful dialogue we unite and establish the foundations to build a different country, taking up the following priorities:
1. To eradicate poverty
43. – The country ought to ask for and support the eradication of poverty as a political priority of the State. Politics and social investment ought to work together so that the population has access to basic services: housing, health, education, and above all work. Social investment ought to be a concrete way of redistributing the national wealth, sustained by just and equitable taxes. We cannot tolerate that those who have more are those who less support the national treasury; nor can we continue accepting as normal that our people are living in conditions of poverty and even
2. To stimulate a social economy
44. – It is the State’s role to establish policies and undertake precise actions to strengthen an economy of solidarity, a true alternative to diminish unemployment, to improve the level of earnings and to guarantee that basic needs are covered. This has been and continues to be a true form of overcoming poverty in the poor and humble population. So this is demonstrated with various experiences of micro-businesses, cooperatives, solidarity networks, etc. Therefore, a program of incentives in this area is needed accompanied with technical, credit and technological assistance.
3. To resolve the question of agriculture
45. – In this order it is urgent to bring the agricultural question up again, to rescue the rural world as a generator of employment, of food, of life, of dignity for all persons. This implies again a look at the use and ownership of land and at agricultural politics to stimulate processes of agricultural development. The countryside ought to be one of the principal sources of wealth. There we find most of the people, but also the greatest poverty and neglect. Without productive investment, without technological knowledge, without security of land ownership or guarantees for commercialization, we will only with great difficulty achieve the eradication of poverty and avoid migration from the countryside to the city and even outside the country.
4. To achieve an equitable economic development
46. – Promoting equitable economic development is one of the State’s responsibilities. It’s up to the State to animate, stimulate, coordinate, and, if necessary, to make up for the free economic initiative not only of citizens but also of intermediate bodies for sake of the common good. It is the State’s obligation to guarantee legal security, to establish clear rules for investment, so that those who work and produce can enjoy the fruits of their work and thus feel stimulated to fulfill their work efficiently and honestly. Also, just commercial relations with all countries ought to be established – relations that can generate economic growth and development for all residents.
5. To overcome the educational deficit
27. – The question of education is a first order task in the struggle against poverty. We cannot put off attaining quality and efficiency in our educational system, educating for responsibility, service, and work well done, developing attitudes of solidarity and dispositions for the common good, and elevating self-esteem and analytical and critical abilities. The purpose of education is the formation of the human person at the service of one’s ultimate end and the good of the societies of which the human person is a member and whose responsibilities one will participate when one becomes an adult. The parents of the family, the State, and teachers are those primarily responsible to achieve satisfactory results.