In Misericordiae Vultus, the bull of indiction or official decree for the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy this 2016, Pope Francis reaffirms the central value of mercy for the Church. “Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers; nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy. The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love” (MV 10). Further, He asked that the 2016 Jubilee Year be a time to reflect upon and live out both the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.
In light of this mandate, the recently concluded Diocesan Anti-Poverty Summit – the culmination of the Year of the Poor in the Diocese of Legazpi – framed our Local Church’s anti-poverty development agenda according to the so-called Seven Developmental Works of Mercy. These are the following:
Goal 1: Improve health-seeking behavior and access to quality healthcare among the poor
Goal 2: Strengthen initiatives to improve quality of life through education
Goal 3: Provide opportunities for socio-economic development for the poor
Goal 4: Protect the rights and dignity of women, children, the unborn, and other vulnerable sectors
Goal 5: Promote genuine people’s participation in good governance
Goal 6: Care for our common home and build safe and resilient communities
Goal 7: Strengthen institutions that care for the poor and foster collaboration for development
Why developmental? Development refers to the transformation of societies and people’s quality of life, taking into account complex and intersecting realities, and often involving long-term goals. When development puts the protection of natural ecosystems as a priority so that providing for the needs of the present would not be at the expense of future generations, it is called “sustainable development”. In the language of the Church, when development pertains to the growth of human persons and communities in all aspects of life – physical, social, economic, moral, spiritual, etc. – it is called “integral development”.
In Pope Benedict XVI’s social encyclical Caritatis in Veritate, he devotes an entire section to expound on Pope Paul VI’s body of social teachings on the Church’s engagement in the work of development. For Pope Benedict XVI, “testimony to Christ's charity, through works of justice, peace and development, is part and parcel of evangelization, because Jesus Christ, who loves us, is concerned with the whole person. These important teachings form the basis for the missionary aspect of the Church's social doctrine, which is an essential element of evangelization” (CV 15).
The Seven Developmental Works of Mercy is a local initiative. It does not cover the entirety of the Church’s varied and vast social apostolate. Rather, it is based on a reflection of the diocese’s current programs and capacity for development work, and more importantly, on the needs of poor and marginalized people within its jurisdiction. It may sound like a recent innovation, but it is actually situated well within the Church’s tradition of social teaching and action.
Next steps after the summit are the following: organize clusters of collaboration around each developmental work of mercy, and build the capacities of institutions and partnerships in order to realize their respective goals; define further key result areas, social indicators, and viable targets; and craft needed policies and an overall action plan. Once finished this will take the form of a Diocesan Anti-Poverty Development Action Plan until 2021. These processes will take place in 2016 and within the context of the Second Diocesan Pastoral Assembly (DPA 2) – the second wave of diocesan-wide consultation, reflection, and planning to come up with a pastoral strategic plan for the period of 2017 to 2021.
However, these necessarily technical processes should not overwhelm the essence of the developmental works of mercy: that is, the Local Church practicing what it preaches about the Gospel demand to take care of the least, the last, and the lost, and becoming the Church of the Poor.
As always, the words of Pope Francis inspires our efforts. “In this Holy Year, we look forward to the experience of opening our hearts to those living on the outermost fringes of society: fringes which modern society itself creates. How many uncertain and painful situations there are in the world today! How many are the wounds borne by the flesh of those who have no voice because their cry is muffled and drowned out by the indifference of the rich! During this Jubilee, the Church will be called even more to heal these wounds, to assuage them with the oil of consolation, to bind them with mercy and cure them with solidarity and vigilant care. Let us not fall into humiliating indifference or a monotonous routine that prevents us from discovering what is new! Let us ward off destructive cynicism! Let us open our eyes and see the misery of the world, the wounds of our brothers and sisters who are denied their dignity, and let us recognize that we are compelled to heed their cry for help! May we reach out to them and support them so they can feel the warmth of our presence, our friendship, and our fraternity! May their cry become our own, and together may we break down the barriers of indifference that too often reign supreme and mask our hypocrisy and egoism!” (MV 15).