Contemporary Issue: Developing World


CST has much to say on development, and tackles this subject at several levels of scope. For a comprehensive examination of what Integral Development is and what it means for us in general, you’ll find a wealth of teaching on this page.

Here, we will analyze CST with regards to the Developing World.

Even with all of the advancements and technology in our in our modern era, many people do not have the means or the prerequisite infrastructure within their respective state governments to enable them to participate in the global market economy in an effective and dignified way. They are marginalized.

"Allured by the dazzle of an opulence which is beyond their reach, and at the same time driven by necessity... people crowd the cities of the Third World where they are often without cultural roots, and where they are exposed to situations of violent uncertainty, without the possibility of becoming integrated. Their dignity is not acknowledged in any real way..." (CA, 33)

At the same time, many Third World nations cling to the most surface byproducts of the free market in order to stay competitive, or to even have a stake in global trade, by dealing in materials and commodities so often produced at sheer expense of human dignity.

What is CST's prescription to address this?

Presaging the eventual global discussion, in 1991 Pope Saint John Paul II stated that poor countries that did develop did so through taking part in international trade. 

“…countries which experienced development were those which succeeded in taking part in the general interrelated economic activities at the international level.” (CA, 33) 

So, one key ‘need’ according to CST,

.."is that of gaining fair access to the international market, based not on the unilateral principle of the exploitation of the natural resources of these countries but on the proper use of human resources.'(CA, 33)

This means removing trade barriers, while at the same time, creating an equitable framework for global trade, in order to mitigate the growing inequality between nations that Saint John Paul described in Laborem Exercens:

"[H]ighly industrialized countries, and even more the businesses that direct on a large scale the means of industrial production (the companies referred to as multinational or transnational), fix the highest possible prices for their products, while trying at the same time to fix the lowest possible prices for raw materials or semi-manufactured goods. This is one of the causes of an ever increasing disproportion between national incomes. The gap between most of the richest countries and the poorest ones is not diminishing or being stabilized but is increasing more and more, to the detriment, obviously, of the poor countries." (LE, 17)

Following tremendous increases in global trade volumes during the 1990’s and 2000’s, the economic crisis which began in September 2008 was no friend to the global market.[1]

Yet, as a global recovery proceeds, trade volumes are up dramatically and protectionist measures are abating. Indeed, according to the International Monetary Fund, global trade is up 49% through 2013, since the summer of 2009.[2]

Taking the above sources' data into account, it appears that CST’s call for trade as a key way to reduce poverty and human suffering has proven prescient. The United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals Report 2012 “highlighted several milestones” which “represent a tremendous reduction in human suffering”[3]. A separate UN report, the UNDP 2013 Human Development Report states, “Never in history have the living conditions and prospects of so many people changed so dramatically and so fast”.[4]

What is the reason for this? 

“Underpinning this poverty reduction was developing countries increasing share of global trade”[5] which grew from 25% in 1980 to 47% in 2010. According to the 2013 Human Development Report, “The [countries of the] South as a whole [are] driving global economic growth and societal change for the first time in centuries”.[6]

The UN report highlights the amazing strides which have been made in the past 20+ years and thus confirms the wisdom of Pope Saint John Paul’s 1991 call.

Pope Saint John Paul identified additional prescriptions for development:

“In Third World contexts, certain objectives stated by Rerum novarum remain valid, and, in some cases, still constitute a goal yet to be reached, if man's work and his very being are not to be reduced to the level of a mere commodity. These objectives include a sufficient wage for the support of the family, social insurance for old age and unemployment, and adequate protection for the conditions of employment.” (CA, 34)

Pope Saint John Paul also mentioned here that it remains the role of unions to defend workers’ rights. However, these forces do not exist to struggle against any “economic system”, per se. Remember, Saint John Paul’s papacy spanned the tail end of a cultural shift away from socialist forms of government in general, and the Soviet Bloc in particular. In Centesimus Annus, he strongly exhorts that it is “right to struggle” against economic systems such as State capitalism and the socialist system, but this is not the unions' and workers organizations' primary activity. He maintains that their purpose is to protect their workers’ interests within the framework of 

“…rather, a society of free work, of enterprise and of participation.”(CA, 35)

The requirements of charity and solidarity remain.

“It is the strict duty of justice and truth not to allow fundamental human needs to remain unsatisfied...”(CA, 34) 

We must help underdeveloped nations and their people to acquire the skills and capabilities to increase their

“…possibility to survive and, at the same time, to make an active contribution to the common good and humanity”. (CA, 34)

Finally, CST recognizes the burden that those countries on the road to true development must shoulder for themselves. Developing nations “must learn to use these opportunities by making the necessary efforts and sacrifices” by guaranteeing basic needs and creating an environment conducive to development, including:

  • Political and economic stability
  • The certainty of better prospects for the future
  • Improvement of workers’ skills
  • Training of competent business leaders who are conscious of their responsibilities

Here, again, CST presaged eventual secular responses, concerning creating environments conducive to development, as per the following:

Regarding development from an economic standpoint, the World Bank Study World Development Report 2005, showed evidence that, if developing countries took action to reduce internal corruption and cronyism, they could improve their investment climate; this in turn could invigorate economic growth, and ostensibly reduce poverty. The report recognized that  

“Too often, governments pursue regulatory approaches that fail to meet the intended social objectives, yet harm the investment climate by imposing unnecessary costs and delays, inviting corruption, increasing uncertainty and risk, and creating unjustified barriers to competition.”[7]

In general, the report acknowledges actions that developing countries can take to improve investment climate, including:

  • Reducing red tape by mitigating rent-seeking by firms, officials, and other interests
  • Making regulation more predictable by considering local conditions and not transplanting regulatory systems without regards to the local economic climate (this requires diligence, both from within the developing nation in question, as well as the external entities –either governmental or corporate– that come to bear upon it with regards to trade agreements)
  • Creating a stable political environment
  • Improving the security of property rights and facilitate contract enforcement
  • Providing adequate infrastructure


Other secular insight on development includes a 2013 IMF report which found “that 8 of the 12 fastest-growing economies in Africa in recent years did not rely on natural resources.”[8] Focusing on six of these[9], and based on World Bank indicators, these countries were found to be “less corrupt, have better bureaucracies, enjoy more stable politics and are better regulated than their African peers”.[10]

It is important to note that even after their growth spurt, none of these countries have an average income per head above USD $1,500 a year.[11]

A (Large) Caveat

While novel systems of philanthropy like those of Bill and Melinda Gates provide evidence that capitalism in support of economic empowerment can indeed operate as the greatest poverty relief program the world has ever known[12], this is no reason for triumphalism.

As of 2013, 1.2 billion people still live in extreme poverty, living on less than USD $1.25 a day. More than 2.5 billion people lack improved sanitation facilities, of which one billion continue to practice open defecation.[13]

As Pope Saint John Paul the Great reminded us:

"...too many people live, not in the prosperity of the Western world, but in the poverty of the developing countries amid conditions which are still 'a yoke little better than that of slavery itself' ...[the Church] has felt and continues to feel obliged to denounce this fact with absolute clarity and frankness, although she knows that her call will not always win favour with everyone." (CA, 61)

Certainly Pope Francis has taken up the Church's call to address where the facts actually lie, with "absolute clarity and frankness", undeterred by the mere winning of "favor" with the public:

“…some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.” (Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 24 November 2013, 54)

Why? Among other reasons:

“In many countries globalization has meant a hastened deterioration of their own cultural roots and the invasion of ways of thinking and acting proper to other cultures which are economically advanced but ethically debilitated.” (Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 24 November 2013, 62)

Indeed, “this time of crisis” (i.e., the post global finance melt-down of 2008/9), while still manifesting itself in economic ways, is really 

“a human crisis: it is the human person that is in crisis! Man himself is in danger of being destroyed!” (Pope Francis, Address in Saint Peter's Square, 18 May 2013)

As his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI said, 

“man needs to be liberated from material oppressions, but more profoundly he must be saved from the evils that afflict the spirit.” (Benedict XVI, Homily, Mass in Bruno, Czech Republic, 27 September 2009)

Integral Development

To avoid and prevent man’s destruction, CST insists that development must be integral – involving all aspects of our humanity, not just economic and political. Human development must transcend the material world.

In Centesimus Annus, Pope Saint John Paul II underscored that

"...the person and society need not only material goods but spiritual and religious values as well." (CA, 61)

His successor, Pope Benedict XVI elaborated upon this truth at length in Caritas in Veritate, where he wrote:

“[A]uthentic human development concerns the whole of the person in every single dimension.” (CIV, 11)

Pope Benedict made the point that

“[P]rogress of a merely economic and technological kind is insufficient. Development needs above all to be true and integral” (CIV, 23) 
“The question of development is closely bound up with our understanding of the human soul…Development must include not just material growth but also spiritual growth”. (CIV, 76)

Today, Pope Francis is also quite clear that developing nations need more than just ‘technical’ help: 

“[W]ithout fraternity it is impossible to build a just society and a solid and lasting peace”. (Message for the World Day of Peace, 1 January 2014, 1)

His Holiness calls for “A lively awareness of our relatedness”. An awareness which

“entails weaving a fabric of fraternal relationships marked by reciprocity, forgiveness and complete self-giving, according to the breadth and the depth of the love of God offered to humanity in the One who, crucified and risen, draws all to himself”. (Message for the World Day of Peace, 1 January 2014, 10)

To achieve economic and development goals, the Church is calling us to a radical Solidarity where,

“Truth and justice must stand above my comfort and physical well-being or else my life itself becomes a lie.” (SS, 38)

Current Problems Result From Our Ethical/Cultural Order

We need to be clear that the Church does not blame capitalism for current problems - in either our cultural or economic spheres. Why? Because, as Pope Saint John Paul said, 

“an economic system does not possess criteria for correctly distinguishing new and higher forms of satisfying human needs”. (CA, 36)

Pope Benedict endorsed this view when he invited everyone, in reference to the current global economic crisis,

“to look to the deeper causes of this situation: In the last analysis, they are to be found in a current self-centered and materialistic way of thinking that fails to acknowledge the limitations inherent in every creature”. (Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the Vatican Diplomatic Corps, 11 January 2010)

In Summary 

The Church has much to offer mankind on the ‘realities’ of development. Indeed,

“The full gravity of the current economic crisis…should be understood. This crisis has numerous causes and is a strong reminder of the need for a profound revision of the model of global economic development.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus, 14 November 2010)

However, these “details” are not the Church’s most important offering on the topic of “development”. Pope Benedict’s insistence on integral human development is clear and compelling:

“[T]he human person must indeed work and be involved in domestic and professional occupations, but first and foremost needs God, who is the inner light of Love and Truth. Without love, even the most important activities lose their value and give no joy. Without a profound meaning, all our activities are reduced to sterile and unorganised activism.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus, 18 July 2010)

Henceforth, while continuing to address the structures of society, (our political and economic milieu – development, etc.) CST also requires that we focus on true, integral development – not leaving out the spiritual and cultural elements which greatly impact on us.



[1] Global trade volume dropped 26% in the twelve months following the Lehman Brothers collapse of September 2008. (John Authers, "Why Capitalism Remains in Rude Health" The Long View, Financial Times, 16/17 March 2013: n. page. 16)

[2] Op. cit., The Long View, Financial Times

[3] United Nations, The Millennium Development Goals Report 2012, New York. Among the items the report identifies are: 1. Extreme poverty is falling in every region. For the first time since poverty trends began to be monitored, the number of people living in extreme poverty fell in every developing region—including in sub-Saharan Africa, where rates are highest; 2. Preliminary estimates indicate that the global poverty rate at $1.25 a day fell in 2010 to less than half the 1990 rate (43% to 22%); 3. The world has met the target of halving the proportion of people without access to improved sources of water; 4. Improvements in the lives of 200 million slum dwellers exceeded the slum target. More than 200 million gained access to either improved water sources, improved sanitation facilities, or durable or less crowded housing; 5. The world has achieved parity in primary education between girls and boys; 6. Despite population growth, the number of under-five deaths worldwide fell from more than 12.0 million in 1990 to 7.6 million in 2010. Sub-Saharan Africa—the region with the highest level of under-five mortality—has doubled its average rate of reduction; 7. Tuberculosis incidence rates have been falling since 2002, and projections suggest the 1990 death rate from the disease will be halved by 2015; 8. Global malaria deaths have declined by 25 per cent since 2000. Reported malaria cases fell by more than 50 per cent between 2000 and 2010 in 43 countries.

[4] UNDP, 2013 Human Development Report, New York. Page 11

[5] Thomson, Adam. "Poverty Decreases Sharply in Developing World." Financial Times 15 March 2013: n. page. 4

[6] UNDP, 2013 Human Development Report. Page 135

[7] World Bank Study, World Development Report 2005, New York.

[8]  “Free exchange: No need to dig”. The Economist. November 2nd 2013. Page 82

[9] Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda; “Free exchange: No need to dig”. The Economist. November 2nd 2013. Page 82

[10] Op. cit., The Economist. November 2nd 2013. Page 82

[11] Op. cit., The Economist. November 2nd 2013. Page 82

[12] “In our lifetimes, the global picture of poverty has been completely redrawn. Per-person incomes in Turkey and Chile are where the U.S. was in 1960. China’s real income per person has gone up eight-fold. India’s had quadrupled, Brazil’s has almost quintupled, and tiny Botswana…has seen a 30-fold increase. A new class of middle-income nations that barely existed 50 years ago now includes more than half the world’s population…Income per person in Africa has climbed by two-thirds since 1998…Seven of the 10 fastest-growing economies of the past half-decade are in Africa…Here’s our prediction: By 2035, there will be almost no poor countries left in the world.” (Gates, Bill and Melinda, (2014, 18-19 January). Three Myths About the World’s Poor, The Wall Street Journal, p. C3)

[13] United Nations, The Millennium Goals Development Report 2013, New York. Pages 3,7

Related Thoughts on Developing World

"Leaving an inhabitable planet to future generations is, first and foremost, up to us."(Pope Francis, Laudato Si', par. 161) Taken from "Pope Francis and the United Nations on the Environment"
Catholic Social Teaching is a set of values for us to internalize, to evaluate the framework of modern society, and to provide criteria for prudential judgement and direction for current policy and action. Taken from "Precisely, What is Catholic Social Teaching? (Audio)"
Solidarity helps us transcend cultural, political, social and geographic boundaries to embrace the other as thyself. Indeed, Solidarity is Radical (But not in a Political or Ideological Sense). The principle of solidarity is truly radical. Taken from "Solidarity Flows From Faith!"

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