Christians have a special place in their hearts for the poor and vulnerable because Jesus had a special place in his heart for them. The Gospels are filled with stories of how he helped those in need. Some of the most famous - the Beatitudes, the Last Judgment and the Good Samaritan - summarize the importance of Christian service to the marginalized of society.
Catholic Social Teaching
Pope Benedict XVI wrote the encyclical Deus Caritas Est in 2005 about God’s love for humanity. In a world where the name of God is sometimes associated with vengeance or even hatred, Benedict seeks to speak of the limitless love that God lavishes on humanity.
The encyclical is divided into two parts. The first section discusses God’s love and the reality of human love. In the second part, Benedict focuses on the commandment to love one’s neighbor especially the laities role in creating a just society.
Many scholars trace the beginning of modern Catholic social teaching to the 1891 publication of Rerum Novarum (Of New Things). Reacting to the abuse of workers during the Industrial Revolution, Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical focused on the application of the Gospel message to an industrial society.
Pope Leo XIII wrote the encyclical Rerum Novarum as the industrial revolution and political change swept across Europe. The relationship between employers and employees was changing dramatically. Individuals had become wealthy, but most remained poor even though they worked hard. Pope Leo XIII's encyclical spoke of the condition of the working classes during a time when many advocated revolution.
Quadragesimo Anno was written by Pope Pius XI in 1931 forty years after Pope Leo XIII's Rerun Novarum on the Condition of Workers. He wrote this encyclical to address the ethical challenges facing workers, employers, the Church and the state as a result of end of the industrial revolution and the onset of the Great Depression.
Pope John XXII, 1961
Pope John XXIII wrote this encyclical in 1961 to continue the tradition of Rerum Novarum (1891) and Quadragesimo Anno (1931). The world had changed considerably in the previous 30 years both politically and economically. The Great Depression and World War II had ended, the cold war had begun, and technology allowed for increased productivity, but vast poverty remained across the globe.
Pope John XXIII wrote the encyclical Pacem in Terris in April of 1963 to address a world deeply engaged in the Cold War. The Berlin Wall had just gone up and the Cuban Missile Crisis frightened millions as nuclear weapons began to proliferate.
At a time in world history marked by powerful new weapons, rivalry, and fear His Holiness sought to reassure not only the Catholic World, but also all people, that peace on earth is possible through the divinely established order.
Gaudium et Spes was issued when the Second Vatican Council ended in 1965. The document summarizes the council and gives an outline of the Church’s social teachings in a changing world.
The world has seen enormous development and progress that has amazed humanity, he says, but it has also caused many to worry about the social implications of a quickly changing society as advances in technology and power threaten people. Never before has there been so much wealth simultaneous with so much hunger and poverty.