Saturday, October 3, 2020
“The light of the Gospel is the guide for anyone who places him/herself at the service of a civilization of love, where the Beatitudes have a social resonance, where there is true inclusion of the least” (Pope Francis). [
See attachment]


Table of Contents



Today it is often stated that the world is marked by ongoing change and deeply impacting societal transformations. Climate change is understood as a life endangering reality, neo-liberal economies are said to have reached the end of their promise to improve the well-being of the global population and social cohesion, community development and solidarity are gradually marked by individualism and materialism. The present global balance is seen as uncertain because of shifting political powers and democracies are now questioned by new majorities that put the very principle of democracy at risk. While progress is still in some sense measurable, there is a growing understanding of a limit to the promises of the past and to the ways of thinking that have contributed to it. Confronted with an emerging number of major issues with increasing complexity, people around the world experience a new sense of vulnerability as well as a deeper quest for morality and responsibility.

Two core logics seem to be prevalent in considering possible ways to move forward. The first attempts to prolong the present order and its predominately profitdriven vision. The second moves toward changes at deeper and more fundamental levels by renewing dynamics of global relationships based on a new conceptual outlook. The first leads to defensive and protective attitudes and behaviors, which then call for more complete and further developed control mechanisms. The second strives to be “person-centered” and aims at better defining the shared responsibilities and the development of new, yet uncertain dynamics. The debates and interactions between both logics are further colored by growing concerns for security, which in turn yield distrust in the future and in the true commitment of national and international communities.

Change is often looked upon as some sort of external factor that affects individuals and communities. However, change can also be seen as an integral part of human experience with an opportunity for people and communities to consider both progress and improvement. In the search for improving one’s life and one’s community, often characterized by trial and error, we understand the call for change, even if only implicitly. In this sense, we see today that it is often the lack of a clear perspective on societal development that generates social protest and a call for change. The lack of an overall vision and dialogue to effectively reduce poverty, marginalization and exclusion are major causes for today’s growing number of protests and polarizing reactions. The basic human needs for recognition, respect, access to growth and to full community participation all call out in assertive ways for more fundamental changes.

The exponential growth of the global population, now reaching over seven and a half billion people, is a change in its own right. The rapidly increasing global population calls for a global approach in finding better ways of organization to ensure justice, equity and solidarity. Nearly twenty years into the new millennium, it is reported that nearly half of the global population subsists on less than 5,50 USD a day and that poverty levels are increasing in parts of the world. [See, for example, World Bank, Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2018: Piecing Together the Poverty Puzzle (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2018), 81].

We seem to be stuck at a crossroads. On the one hand, there is no real globally shared vision and/or practical consensus on how to address the concerns of the poor in a predominately profit-oriented vision of the world. On the other hand, there is no clear vision on how to move away from a vision that places “profit over person” towards developing a more person-centered approach. Efforts in this respect often unravel and remain at the level of good intentions. They are then written in non-binding documents, which are left without adequate implementation and appropriate follow-up. The effectiveness of multilateral efforts can thus be questioned when they remain insufficiently developed or simply ignored at national implementation levels.

National and international priorities are heavily influenced by historical modes of thinking based on the logics of territorial boundaries, private economic interests and political power mechanisms. The call to preserve and develop the common good may well be heard in the many international debates but the common ground to facilitate this process seems difficult to attain. Without the solid basis of common ground, the common good becomes less and less “common,” thus actually losing its very conceptual value. Hindered by antiquated thinking and structures, and also by the uncertainty and complexity of conceptual solutions, even the strongest aspirations and hopes of millions can find themselves held to a standstill by overly defensive thinking. Yet history shows that increased safety and protection are genuinely better guaranteed through organized dialogue, shared responsibility and the subsequent efficient commitment toward a “common good.”

The progress of humanity has, and will always, depend upon a process of change and renewal. If the evolution of global society, shifting demographic outlook and political tensions call for new solutions, then these new solutions will need to be based in new ways of thinking. Responses will need to be built with a common vision, open dialogue and shared responsibilities in order to effectuate renewed social capital and cohesion.

The importance of civil society and Catholic organizations as agents of change

Civil society plays a major role in establishing and contributing to such dialogue, with organizations serving society in many and various ways. Organizations, in their most general sense, offer structure at the broader levels of society. They provide various services, social and otherwise, at the local, national and international levels. The respective scopes of action and impacts of organizations, from the grassroots all the way to the academic levels, have seen tremendous growth over the past decades, which serves to highlight and evidence the increased organizational dynamics of individuals and groups of people in a “globalized” world. Organizations at every level of civil society are increasingly seen as agents implementing social policies and development programs, illustrating their great capacity to effectively fuel social cohesion.

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) arose in the aftermath of World War II to offer needed assistance and relief efforts at the local, national and international levels. The scope of their work gradually broadened in the ensuing decades, now operating in a vast and growing field of international networks. The increased scope of their work found larger audiences and greater financial support, such that the influence allows for strong positioning and advocacy.

Arising from the grassroots level and in solidarity with the broader local communities, NGOs have contributed greatly to the promotion of social justice. Though it is difficult to comprehensively assess the economic value of NGOs, the overall operating expenditures of non-profit institutions was estimated to be over 2.2 trillion USD in 2010. [Lester M. Salamon, “Putting the Civil Society Sector on the Economic Map of the World,” Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics 81, no. 2 (June 2010): 187].

In 2018 there were an estimated 10 million Non-Governmental institutions in the world of which some 5,161 NGOs enjoyed active consultative status with ECOSOC. [See, for example, United Nations Economic and Social Council, List of Non-Governmental Organizations in Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council as of 1 September 2018, E/2018/INF/5 (October 31, 2018), note by the Secretary-General].

When taken as a whole, this constitutes a major economic profile that has gained the fuller attention of governments. While these numbers are impressive, they do not reveal what may be NGOs’ most important quality: NGOs display a tremendous capacity to effectively contribute to social harmony, heal fractures in social development and contribute to the implementation of democratic principles.

Owing to their grassroot beginnings, NGOs gradually developed a mode of analysis and expertise at the ground level that continues to be both unique and necessary. This “ground up” approach and expertise allow for fundamental questions to be raised, new debates to be opened and many “real world” consequences of policies to be discussed. Many concepts within the fields of human rights and development, for example, continue to be refined based on the input from NGOs and civil society as a whole. The strong social presence of NGOs and their evergrowing number of services now touch nearly all layers of society. NGOs continue to “do more with less,” yet their expertise remains insufficiently integrated into decision-making processes.

In this vast landscape, Catholic organizations present in civil society do not seek to be considered as a separate group. They rather seek to be an active partner contributing to the many efforts to defend human rights and promote social justice. A person-centered vision is at the heart of their activity, which therefore explains their search for the full recognition and respect of all human beings and the promotion of the integral development and the well-being of all. [“The commitment of Christians will also be translated in an effort of cultural reflection aimed at a discernment of the cultural models of economic and social development.” John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, par. 41].

This translates into a three-pronged rationale with respect to their decision to work at the level of intergovernmental and national institutions:

  1. There is the understanding that present social and economic structures are still inadequate to meet the needs of global populations.
  2. There is a perceived convergence with the initial goals of the intergovernmental bodies, which were created to “reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.” [United Nations, Charter of the United Nations, 1 U.N.T.S. XVI (June 26, 1945), preamble].
  3. There is the Social Teaching of the Church and its promotion of a personcentered vision and the value of community.

The work of Catholic inspired organizations thus goes beyond a merely temporal vision. Their action is inspired and supported by convictions that go beyond the individual and that continuously explore the values of transcendence and transformation. Active and reactive modes of thinking and action are embraced, which are imbued with a core moral dimension. [“The tasks accompanying responsibilities in social and political institutions demand a strict and articulated commitment that is able to demonstrate clearly the absolute necessity of the moral dimension in social and political life through thoughtful contributions to the political debate, planning and chosen actions.” Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2004), par. 566].

In this way, differences with nonfaith based organizations are not to be primarily understood as simply owing to a possible diversity in programs or advocacy positions. These differences are more properly understood in light of the mission of Catholic organizations to work for the affirmation of human dignity and flourishing of human nature. Catholic organizations act as leaven in society and strive for solutions to ensure a more fully human society. [Paul VI, Populorum Progressio, par. 20-21, 40].

Five major tools to promote a culture of care

In order to build solutions, both reference points and tools are necessary. Initial reference points for Catholic organizations are, of course, the Gospel and the Social Teaching of the Church. Catholic inspired organizations then opt for a set of tools consistent with these initial reference points that give equal attention to the process as to the desired final result to be achieved. In the vast collection of tools, the following five are part of the core identity of Catholic inspired NGO’s in their ongoing efforts to promote a culture of care.

A first major tool is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. “The movement towards the identification and proclamation of human rights is one of the most significant attempts to respond effectively to the inescapable demands of human dignity.” [Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, par. 152].

This statement from the Compendium of Catholic Social Teaching not only synthesizes the many references made to emphasize the universal, inviolable and inalienable value of this Declaration but also highlights the need to respect its moral value. In providing a shared vision and mission, common ground was presented for all nations, communities and individuals in the hope that there would be a responsible translation of this vision into sound policies.

The identification of rights started from a solid understanding of human nature and aimed at the fulfilment of all humans individually and collectively. The rights identified were therefore universal in their conceptual value and in their practice. It is therefore worrying to witness how this universal vision is being abandoned and eroded by lack of consideration for the moral value inherent in these rights.

Former Permanent Representative of the Holy See to the UN in Geneva, H.E. Silvano Tomasi stated that “when human rights are neglected a systemic exclusion of the vulnerable comes about.” [Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, Statement to the United Nations at the 3rd Forum on Business and Human Rights: “Highlevel discussion on strengthening the links between the global economic architecture and the business and human rights agenda,” December 3, 2014].

If we wish to ensure that human rights remain a solid reference point for further global development, there is an urgent need to rethink and return to their initial perspective and purpose, which is at times far from many of today’s polarizing debates.

The further development of international collaboration is a second important tool to serve humanity. Dialogue remains the world’s great hope and it can only be wished that all people realize that global challenges necessitate global dialogue with globally shared responsibility. Sufficient space must be left for nations and cultures to define what will prove to be the most effective paths toward global harmony, but without allowing the ultimate goals to be obstructed. The choices ahead of nations are therefore of major importance. When solely national interests prevail, the capacity for dialogue is lessened. When profit-oriented thinking remains a priority to the detriment of the human person, solutions will not serve all of humanity.

The principle of the common good is a third tool in building new global paths. With varying definitions, the “common good” encompasses a concept that “stems from the dignity, unity and equality of all people” [Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, par. 164] and serves as a reference point in responsible decision-making processes. It is “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals to reach their fulfilment more fully and more easily. [Ibid.] It therefore embraces all societal areas and disciplines, highlighting the need to prioritize morality above temporal values. The common good has therefore a truly inclusive dimension. It recognizes the need for all to be integrated in society and that all share in the responsibility to protect and ensure further growth. Better integrating the concept of the “common good” in global relations would avoid many of the present power games and reduce the potential for conflicts.

Subsidiarity is a fourth essential tool in shaping a new social landscape. As a principle, subsidiarity ensures the broader inclusion of all while providing a structural mechanism of distribution. With regard to equal access of opportunities in society, subsidiarity proves to be an important dynamic in the promotion of solidarity and fraternity. It serves to strengthen social cohesion and contributes to inclusion of the poor and social justice. Renewed emphasis upon social entrepreneurship, just working conditions and the promotion of intergenerational values are all paths towards achieving a better distribution that is respectful of all.

Adequate appreciation of the human person as a social being is a fifth tool. The human person is not a solitary being and depends upon a vast network of relationships to ensure integral development and the fulfillment of his or her destiny. Catholic inspired organizations therefore share a common mission to promote a society in which the well-being, fulfillment and participation of all persons is valued. Inclusion is a powerful dynamic in reconsidering the social landscape from a perspective that avoids marginalization and which offers space for all to participate.

These tools are essentially person-centered and refer to the many social dimensions and dynamics present in society, politics and international relations. Human rights, peace, the common good, subsidiarity and solidarity are all served by the principle of inclusion and its contribution to a culture of care. This document offers a glimpse as to how these elements characterize the mission and activity of Catholic inspired organizations.

Leaving no one behind

The recent Sustainable Development Goals illustrate the determination of all nations “to foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies which are free from fear and violence.” [United Nations General Assembly, Resolution 70/1, Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, A/RES/70/1 (October 21, 2015), preamble].

The global mission expressed in the 17 goals and the 169 targets outlines the shared commitment of all nations to “shift the world on to a sustainable and resilient path.” [Ibid.]. The commitment to “leave no one behind” provides new dynamics to existing institutions and economies in calling for a true spirit of social service, increased global solidarity and the development of the common good. “Leave no one behind” has become a policy priority discussed at the highest levels. The golden thread seems to be the priority interest in the integral well-being of peoples rather than a solely profit-oriented approach. The market economy is invited to make more space for social entrepreneurship, reciprocity is to become a reference point in global relations and the many forms of inequities need to be given full priority on the global political agenda.

Such vision and agenda call for profound transformation. Global relations will need to be reconfigured, economic reference points modified and social relations reconsidered. Today’s shrinking multilateral space, paralleled with a growing claim for national identity and the ever louder voice of extremist movements, will challenge the effective and adequate implementation of these goals. Tensions are present between globalization and purely national interests. It is clear, however, that growth can no longer solely be measured in terms of financial means and the challenge remains to build a society that is truly inclusive for all.

These efforts will require many actors at various levels. In this respect, it is encouraging to note that the signatories of the 2030 SDG document formally acknowledged the need for collaboration with civil society. The road ahead may still be long, but it seems to be opening toward better dialogue and understanding of the shared responsibility necessary to achieve the common good. Future policies will no longer be built by politicians and technocrats alone, but by a consortium including the expertise of those at the grassroots level.

The convergence of Catholic inspired NGO’s in moving towards a more inclusive society

The many and diverse paths followed by organizations toward social justice and solidarity are now converging. Challenges today are increasingly interconnected: solutions that serve one area or discipline need to be developed in light of their impact on other areas. There is thus a point of convergence simply in the growing understanding that solely one dimensional, specialized approaches are no longer possible. It no longer makes sense to think of solutions for migration without better exploring the options and consequences on development, without considering their impact on economies and education, or without thinking in terms of social cohesion. The need to develop more transversal or interacting synergies has become increasingly important.

Catholic inspired organizations therefore chose to develop a dedicated space of collaboration. Building on the specific knowledge and diverse areas of expertise of each participating organization, a forum was created as a space to discuss existing challenges and potential opportunities in a horizontal and nonhierarchical way. [See].

In building this collaboration, Forum International aims to enhance the interaction of the organizations, their grassroots expertise, the application of the Social Teaching of the Church, academic analysis and business skills of other civil society partners of Catholic inspiration. Over one hundred Catholic inspired organizations with members and partners over the globe committed to participate in this round table so as to discuss and strengthen their advocacy in the international arena. Collaborators each retain their own complete autonomy at the organizational and operational levels. The Forum serves as a space and conduit for shared expertise and deepened analysis to be placed at the service of all.

Thematic groups then emerged to dialogue upon issues of relevance in the respective fields of Human Rights, Development and Environment, Migration, Education, Family, Health and Youth. Each group has its own facilitator who then interacted with other thematic group facilitators in dedicated meetings to open new and interconnected proposals and solutions.

For the past two years, the theme “Moving toward a more inclusive society” has served as a point of reflection in the various thematic groups. The theme offers a connecting point to global policies, is rooted in the Social Teaching of the Church, and above all, builds on the expertise and the analysis of all Forum participants.

The ideas and the views integrated in the present document reflect what the participants from the various Catholic inspired organizations have highlighted throughout their meetings during this two-year process.

It should be emphasized that the present document is not an attempt to provide a comprehensive academic analysis on the theme of inclusion. It is much more to serve as a starting point for a forward looking dialogue upon some of today’s major concerns. As such, the document paints a picture that invites further discussion and refining. The input therein shows, in reading the signs of the times, how much inclusion is a continuously evolving process to ensure that no one is left behind. The document is organized in thematic chapters reflecting the outcomes of the work carried out in the respective thematic groups. Each chapter contains “Keys to the concept,” “Challenges” and “Positions taken” corresponding to the core ideas expressed regarding inclusion. While the document is organized by theme, the collaborative process clearly revealed how the many efforts of Catholic inspired organizations are interconnected, share common motivations and benefit from continued interrelation and content-driven cohesion.

It is hoped that this work serves to further develop this platform. We want to thank Geoffrey Strickland for bringing these thoughts together, for his continuous interaction with the various collaborators in completing and editing the ideas, for seeking useful links in exploring further interactions and for helping to clarify the complexity of the many issues that were highlighted. As the Holy Father reminds us that “politics are not the art of improvisation,” let us all take this recommendation as a guideline and further strive for improved quality and vision. [Francis, Address to the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, October 28, 2017.]
Johan Ketelers
October 2019