The Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat of the Jesuit Curia in Rome


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Promotion of Justice or Struggle for Justice?
Juan Hernández Pico, S.J.

The 32nd General Congregation was held thirty years ago. Some months after, in 1975, the documents arrived and we held a meeting of the Central American CIAS, situated in zone 5 in Guatemala, an area overflowing with enthusiasm. There was a deep harmony between the updating of the Society’s mission, the new expression of a Jesuit’s identity, what we were trying to do, and above all, our life in the social apostolate. Knowledge of the miserable situation of the indigenous peoples, especially in Guatemala and Panama, of the peasants and farm labourers in El Salvador and Nicaragua, or of those who lived in marginal urban slums, filled us with indignation. Our analysis led us to believe that this was the result of exploitation, domination and discrimination over centuries; and from a theological perspective, we saw in it a sin of structural violence which we had to help eradicate. We devoted the skills acquired in our studies of theology and the social sciences to a rigorous investigation of this situation, slicing through it as with a knife, condemning it in our publications and making it a guide for our social action. We found our sense of sin echoed in the powerful phrases of GC 32: “It is becoming more and more clear that despite the opportunities offered by an ever more serviceable technology, we are simply not willing to pay the price of a more just and more human society;” and again, “It is now within human power to make the world more just, but we do not really want to.” We then recorded our own position:

“When we looked attentively at our peoples with truly Christian hearts we discovered millions of real faces, white, mestizo, Indian, coloured – people longing for peace and a life of dignity but deprived of the most basic needs. We have shared the life of peasants, farm workers, rural emigrants, unemployed and seasonal workers; we have lived with workers and labourers in suburbs and slums, with immense numbers of the marginalized. We felt these faces were challenging us, belonging as they did to the least of Jesus’s brethren (Mt 25, 40), and needing our help”.

These words, which we wrote in 1979 for the Puebla meeting, and which in large part found their way into its final document, explain clearly our outlook and the basis of our work in the 70s. This is why we identified so much with that passage in Decree 2: “What is it to be a companion of Jesus today? It is to engage, under the standard of the Cross, in the crucial struggle of our time: the struggle for faith and that struggle for justice which it includes” – words which seemed to us more expressive of the truth at stake than those others of Decree 4, “the service of faith and the promotion of justice.” Father Kolvenbach has just repeated the same 29 years later in the last Congregation of Procurators. ‘Promotion’ seems suitable to describe the development work of an NGO and doesn’t express what is felt when one seeks to do justice from the perspective of faith: the tremendous resistance that has to be overcome in the attachment to and worship of the god of money which justifies any crime and the death of many just people.

And today, thirty years later? There has been progress, especially through incorporating in our mission a commitment to culture and to dialogue with other religions. We understand better that social change is not only economic and political but is rooted in cultural values and attitudes. We have also progressed in the call to form communities of solidarity and to work from there. We have opened ourselves to the formation of global networks. And we have qualified justice, understanding it as “justice of the Kingdom of God,” “evangelical,” “desired by God,” or “God’s justice in the world.” All this has led to a deeper understanding that our mission to struggle for justice as an expression of our faith cannot be based solely on indignation but must find its source in the compassionate heart of God, in a God who is love, a love that enables the happiness, and comfort of the poor and redeems their dignity. All this, the fruit of GC 34, was already prophetically present in GC 32, in Decree 4, n.50: to walk patiently with the poor in order to learn from them and accompany them in owning their history; only through this way of announcing Jesus Christ in their midst, does it become an essential complement to struggle on their behalf and for them.

But in spite of disillusion and disappointment in actual projects (in Central America we have been involved in many that seemed so promising to us!), the great danger today is to lose the charism in an unending debate of qualifications, to extinguish the spirit in a never-ending discernment, to turn the flame which should burn anew in our hearts into smouldering ashes. The struggle for faith and for justice continues to be the crucial struggle of our time.

This struggle comes in an inculturated manner, in a dialogue between different cultural values, from the riches of religious pluralism and its multiple social action, and from various attempts at a theological understanding of the world and the signs of the times. But the struggle also continues without losing sight of the fact that people who hunger have a right to the agricultural and livestock surpluses of people with plenty; that international trade cannot be free or competitive for poor countries unless the enormous government subsidies to workers in wealthy countries are disallowed; that tens and hundreds of millions of unemployed in developing countries have the right to migrate and look for reputable work in the developed nations because the world belongs to the whole of humanity and frontiers are no more than artificial and surmountable barriers; that Latin American, African and Asian peoples have the right to investment in research, development and state-of-the art technology; that the environmental reserves of Latin America should be protected and patented in Latin America itself; that children, young people and women have the right to understand the world in their own way, complementing the understanding of men and replacing that of antiquated traditions. All this means a struggle because it means saving a world God created with love and in which he accompanies our human adventure with great tenderness. He watches and saves us from all its enemies, from all the structures and people who worship the god of money and the god of power, the god of arms and of war – all the forces that keep this wealth in the hands of a few, thus destroying the humanity of the human race. Not to be engaged in this crucial struggle of our time is tantamount to deepening the present crisis of religious life that besets the Society today.

Original Spanish
Translation by Michael Campbell-Johnston S.J.


Juan Hernández Pico S.J.
Apartado 87—Quetzaltenango