Louison Emerick Bissila Mbila, CSSp
John Paul II and Globalization


Globalization is now what almost everybody is talking about. What is the Church's stand on this component of modernity or post-modernity? According to the Dominican theologian Ignace Berten, the churches are facing three temptations vis-à-vis the process of globalization. The first, he says, is indifference: globalization is marginal and without important significance for the Church and her mission. The second temptation is enthusiasm or canonization, that is, globalization from the economic viewpoint means the coming of new growth and universal development. In addition, globalization is seen as anticipating in a certain manner the universality of humankind willed by the catholicity of the Church. The last temptation is the one of condemnation or diabolization: globalization is a machiavellian system created by the powers of capital leading to the destruction of societies, particularly Third World countries.

More than a decade now that the discourse on globalization has been popularized, is the Church's attitude on the issue at hand falling into these inducements, or at least into one of them? There is no ready-made answer to that question insofar as the context in which the Church finds herself differs from one country or continent to the other.

Thus it is quite impossible to provide a complete account of the teaching of the Church on globalization. However, the least we can do for the sake of the readers of this magazine is to single out some key positions of the Church's teaching as reflected in the magisterium of Pope John Paul II. Why the Roman Pontiff? This is simply because not only he is the supreme authority in the Catholic Church, but also it is under his pontificate that the discourse on globalization as such came into being.


Introductory remarks


Up to the moment these lines are being put under press, John Paul II has not yet published any specific encyclical letter on globalization. I may be victim of the digital divide, but to the best of my knowledge, none of the world most powerful media I am daily tuned on has announced anything in that sense, not even Vatican radio! This statement, however, should not be understood as implying that the Pope is very indifferent to the globalization process, nor that he sees that phenomenon as a marginal issue without consequences for the mission of the Church today.

Also, it is out of question here to mean that globalization so took John Paul II by surprise that he found himself ill-equipped to respond to its challenges. Perhaps, one may say, there is even no need for a special encyclical insofar as his magisterium is full of documents and speeches that are already tools for Christians and all people of good will to address confidently the issue at stake. John Paul's view of globalization is discussed here under six sub-headings: globalization as a subject of concern, the rich potentialities of globalization, the dangers of globalization, globalization as an ambiguous reality, the globalization of solidarity, and, lastly, some guidelines to build an inclusive globalization according to the Pope.

1. Globalization as a subject of concern


That the pope is not indifferent to the process of globalization is clearly testified by his numerous declarations on the issue. Right from the beginning, and unambiguously, he recognises the reality of the phenomenon of globalization. John Paul II does not speculate on whether globalization is a mirage or a component of our modernity. In his Message for the XXXI World Day for Peace, perhaps one of his most authoritative earliest statements on the reality of globalization, he writes:

"The vast geopolitical changes which have taken place since 1989, have been accompanied by veritable revolutions in the social and economic fields. The globalization of the economy and of finance is now a reality, and we are realising more and more clearly the effects of the rapid progress related to information technologies. We are on the threshold of a new era which is the bearer of great hopes and disturbing questions".

Globalization, therefore, in the Pope's eyes not only is real but above all a subject of great concern for the whole church, especially her magisterium: it bears great hopes and disturbing questions. Most probably, that is the reason why the bishop of Rome has given the example by dedicating much of his attention to the globalization process. How does he go about it? John Paul II, first of all, considers the positive aspects of the ongoing phenomenon.

2. Rich Potentialities of Globalization


Those who usually see the Catholic Church as the merciless judge of modernity will be very disappointed with John Paul II's optimistic view, so to say, of globalization. As a matter of fact, the leader of the Catholic Church readily accepts the rich potentialities and great hopes of the current process.

Unlike so many anti-globalization activists for whom globalization is merely unethical, and who desperately try to speak on behalf of the Church's social teaching, the Pope holds firmly that globalization is not in itself ethically negative. Globalization processes, he stresses, do not in themselves have a negative connotation.

For the Pontiff, the phenomenon of globalization has great possibilities for growth and the production of wealth. This, moreover, goes back to what he already taught in his encyclical letter Centesimus Annus about the market. In paragraph 34 of that document, in effect, he asserts that "it would appear that, on the level of individual nations and of international relations, the free market is the most efficient instrument for utilizing resources and effectively responding to needs". Later, in paragraph 40, he adds, "certainly the mechanisms of the market offer secure advantages: they help to utilize resources better; they promote the exchange of products; above all they give central place to the person's desires and preferences, which, in a contract, meet the desires and preferences of another person".

Furthermore, the Pope admits that globalization offers the advantage of bringing peoples and cultures closer together, it does make available an infinite number of messages . A passage from his Message for the Celebration of World Day of Peace, given on 1 January 2000, is worth mentioning: "Globalization, states the Pope, for all its risks, also offers exceptional and promising opportunities, precisely with a view to enabling humanity to become a single family, built on the values of justice, equity and solidarity". Most importantly, John Paul II does not overlook the Internet, which is rightly described as the prime engine of technological globalization. The best thing to do here is to recommend the reader to go through his recent Message for the 36th World Day Communications Day. The World Wide Web is portrayed therein as a new forum for proclaiming the Gospel. The following is an excerpt of that message:

The Church approaches this new medium with realism and confidence. Like other communications media, it is a means, not an end in itself. The Internet can offer magnificent opportunities for evangelization if used with competence and a clear awareness of its strengths and weaknesses. Above all, by providing information and stirring interest it makes possible an initial encounter with the Christian message, especially among the young who increasingly turn to the world of cyberspace as a window on the world. It is important, therefore, that the Christian community think of very practical ways of helping those who first make contact through the Internet to move from the virtual world of cyberspace to the real world of Christian community.

One can already notice how the Pope's language is well measured, even when he acknowledges the positive side of globalization. This leads us straight to the next point, namely the dangers of globalization according to the Holy Father.

3. The Dangers of Globalization


That John Paul II recognizes the advantages of globalization does not, however, blind him on the side effects of this phenomenon. In point of fact, he is not a praise-singer of globalization that sees in the advent of the global market and the fast development of information technologies the advent of the paradise for humanity. In other words, acknowledgement of 'potential good for humanity' in globalization is not, in the Pope's eyes, synonymous of a 'canonization' of globalization. With particular lucidity he does not fail to point out that the system is also working badly. To the best of my knowledge, such a critical vision of globalization is found in all his addresses on the issue.

3. 1. Economic Globalization

He, first of all, criticizes the current global economy:

" It does not in itself guarantee a fair distribution of goods among the citizens of different countries. What happens is that the wealth produced is often concentrated in the hands of a small group of persons, that bring about a further weakening of the sovereignty of national states".

In many cases, the Pope points out, the decisions concerning the future of the whole planet are taken solely by a small group of nations. Other nations either succeed to concord those decisions with the interests of their citizens, or, as it happens with the weakest countries, they try painfully to cope with the situation.

In addition, John Paul II admits that economic globalization has also worked to the detriment of the poor, tending to push poorer countries to the margin of international economic and political relations. In reality, the wealth produced often leads up to a global system governed by a few centres in the hands of private individuals. And many nations from the Southern Hemisphere are not strong enough to hold their own in a global marked economy.

3. 2. Cultural Globalization

At the cultural level, it has been noted the intrusive, even invasive, character of the logic of the market, which reduces progressively the area available to mankind for voluntarily and public action. Here the pope is trying to single out the issue of economism which globalization is spreading worldwide at an unimaginable speed. "The market, he says, imposes its way of thinking and acting, and stamps its scale of values upon behaviour". In the post-synodal exhortation Ecclesia in Asia, he particularly stresses that cultural globalization made possible by the modern communications media, is quickly drawing Asian societies into a secularist and materialistic global culture. As a result, it has been noted an eroding of traditional family and social values which had given them direction in life.


3.3. At the Moral Level


Concerning morality, the Holy Father consents that the current globalization does not favour a process of discernment and mature synthesis, but fosters a relativist attitude which makes it more difficult to accept Christ as the way, the truth and the life for everyone. There is, in fact, a great danger for globalization to be just another name for absolute relativization of values and the homogenization of lifestyles and cultures . The Internet, as an illustration, being a forum in which practically everything is acceptable and almost nothing is lasting, favours a relativistic way of thinking and sometimes feeds the flight from personal responsibility and commitment.


4. Globalization as an ambivalent phenomenon


From what has been said so far, it transpires that Pope John Paul II neither blesses nor curses globalization. He is not too optimistic about it just as he is not pessimistic or somebody to be identified with the anti-globalization movement. The Pontiff evaluates globalization the way it appears to him. And in his view it can be compared to a double-edged sword: "a closer scrutiny makes globalization appear as a basically ambivalent phenomenon, which could be considered as both a kind of potential good for humanity and yet also a possible social disaster of staggering proportions".

Ethically speaking, according to the Pope globalization is a priori neutral. In his famous address to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, of 27 April 2002, he gives the official position of the magisterium of the Church on the issue of globalization:

"globalization a priori is neither good or bad. It will be what people make of it. No system is an end in itself, and it is necessary to insist that globalization, like any other system, must be at the service of the human person; it must serve solidarity and the common good".


5. Globalization of Solidarity


John Paul II's dealing with globalization does not end with the affirmation of its reality and its assessment as an ambivalent phenomenon. What has already been singled out as his (moderate) optimistic view of globalization now comes into the scene. First and foremost, the Pope is not fatalistic as far as the globalization process is concerned. For him, globalization is driven by human beings. That is why he strongly believes that it can be guided in such a way that all peoples, and not simply a tiny minority, will benefit from it.

Further, he proposes an alternative to the current globalization, which some authors have described as 'competitive globalization'. He then advocates a globalization without marginalization, or what he is fond of calling 'globalization of solidarity'. Globalization will only truly serve humanity if it becomes a process of inclusion:

"If the term 'global' is to be understood logically, it must include everyone. Thus it forces the nations to eliminate poverty pocket that result from groups that are socially, economically and politically marginalized".

Globalization with inclusion can only be realized by a conscious effort at solidarity. "The challenge", says John Paul II, "is to ensure a globalization in solidarity, a globalization without marginalization". The principle of solidarity, in effect, affirms that the more individuals are defenseless within a given society, the more they require the care and concern of others. But how can men and women make this possible?


6. Some Guidelines to Build an Inclusive Globalization


The Holy Father is not content at leaving the economists and political leaders alone the task of building the globalization of solidarity, which for him is the only genuine globalization. He does propose some concrete steps to be taken here and now in order to reach such a goal. In that perspective, "what is needed without delay is a renewal of international law and international institutions, a renewal whose starting-point and basic organizing principle should be the primacy of the good of humanity and of the human person over every other consideration". This is a complete shift of paradigm: it is no longer the well-being of any political, racial or cultural community that must have the last word as we too often see it happening today, but rather the good of humanity as a whole.

Secondly, the pope always stresses the globalization of human rights. Recalling the concluding words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, he insists that the document must be observed thoroughly, in both its spirit and letter. One could interpret this emphasis as a reaction against the attempt by certain countries (China?), which, under the pretext to contextualize or de-Westernalize the Declaration, were in a subtle way rejecting it, thus given room to further violations of human rights.

Thirdly, John Paul II joins his voice to those of so many people today who have expressed the need for a 'global code of ethics'. Such idea has almost become a leitmotiv for him: "As humanity embarks upon the process of globalization, it can no longer do without a common code of ethics ". Since the idea is susceptible of various interpretations, he then clarifies his position: "This does not mean a single dominant socio-economic system or culture which would impose its values and its criteria on ethical reasoning. It is within man as such, within universal humanity sprung from the Creator's hand, that the norms of social life are to be sought. In all the variety of cultural forms, universal human values exist, and they must be brought out and emphasized as the guiding force of all development and progress".

Fourthly, the Roman Pontiff thinks of the necessity to ally politics and economy, in order to launch specific projects to safeguard the potential victims of globalization processes. More specifically, he points out the heavy burden of foreign debt of developing countries as well as the legislation against child labour.

Last but not least, the surest way to give positive bearings to developing globalization in John Paul II's vision lies in following the basic principles of the Social Doctrine of the Church. He particularly emphasizes two inseparable principles that must always guide the Church and all people of good will in their ethical evaluation in the context of globalization.

The first one is the inalienable value of the human person, source of all human rights and every social order. The second principle is the value of human cultures, which no external power has the right to vandalize: "Globalization must not be a new version of colonialism. It must respect the diversity of cultures which, within the universal harmony of peoples, are life's interpretative keys". In short, the right questions to be dealt with could be formulated as follows:

"What will be the effect of the changes taking place? Will everyone be able to take advantage of a global market? Will everyone at least have a chance to enjoy peace? Will relations between States become more equitable, or will economic competition and rivalries between peoples and nations towards a situation of even greater instability?".

Ref.: Text from the Author.