The cry for justice of the poor and voiceless has a new dimension, a new power and a new urgency. It has a new authentic global champion. This time a global superstar with a radical difference. He's a man (“well, you can't win them all” whispers the feminist in me) who has none of the normal trappings and who, in fact, has systematically avoided them. His idea of a good time is not the usual lavish ostentation, it's to kneel down humbly and wash the feet of a prisoner. 

Now, this humble and influential man Pope Francis has spoken out on a new sustainable future. 

He has used his authenticity. He has brought together the voice of the powerless and the poor, the voice of science and the voice of radical economics, all drawn together from the spiritual moral standpoint of faith in a way that is not exclusive to Catholic beliefs, but that reaches out to respect the dignity of each individual and of all peoples from the indigenous of the amazon to the Moslem, Jew or Buddhist and even to the ultra-secular capitalist in Wall St.  He calls his radical document Laudato Si. 

People Powered Development and Laudato Si

Laudato Si is music to Progressio ears and so in keeping with our People Powered Development, There is just one vital ingredient that is missing in my view.  Cardinal Turkson, the Pope’s right hand man on this work, acknowledged this addition graciously when I raised it as a challenge and Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and climate justice leader, focused on it at a fantastic conference in the Vatican which Progressio was privileged to attend in July 2015.  

But more about that ingredient later.  First what is so significant about it? 

The radical new dimension

The new dimension lies in the recognition of and imperative for systemic change.  There is a bold cry of the poor and of the planet to us all to stop the abuse of our fellow citizens and of our planet.

This requires building our global economy in a new way: firstly from the bottom up, focused on poor and marginalised people an economy to serve everyone not a top down economy to serve the powerful top 1% wealthiest people and secondly a global economy that protects our planet building on the sustainable solutions that already exist. 

It requires a new economic order, a re-modelling of where power lies. That requirement is profoundly challenging and so right. And it is win win. It’s sustainable. It creates more jobs that our young adults so urgently need and it creates growth where it is needed, in the way it is needed - among the poor and excluded, the small family farmers, fisher folk and indigenous peoples who are natural guardians of our land, oceans and forests. It means cuts for fossil fuels and for the extreme wealthy and cuts in our over-consumption, especially in our profligate throw away culture and habits. And it means respecting the dignity and human rights of everyone and ridding the world of extreme poverty. But that’s no hardship is it?

Moreover the proposals in Laudato Si make business sense as well as moral sense because, for example, recent technological advances prove clean energy is lower cost than fossil fuel energy when taking account of the environmental and health costs (despite what the powerful and vested big business interests tell us). 

It’s about supporting those with least power and least wealth to challenge and change unfair power structures. This is also known as People Powered Development, and it’s at the heart of Progressio’s work. As Ms Suad Abdi, the Somalilander who was a founder of the nation’s women’s organisation and is now Progressio country manager put it, “My number one priority is women’s political representation.  If women are not represented who will raise social issues. What about maternal mortality? What about the problems with water?” Somaliland women suffer the 4th worst maternal mortality rates in the world, more than 50 times worse than in the Western world.

All we have to do now is work together - all of us - to implement Laudato Si.  Pope Francis put it far more eloquently “I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home.”

The vital extra ingredient 

Progressio wants to see one vital ingredient added though. Cardinal Turkson agreed and said he would like in an immediate second re-draft that values the contribution of women more fully to achieve gender justice. Because there can be no sustainable planet and no eradication of poverty without equity of power, of roles and of opportunities for girls and women. 

To use the language of radical catholic social teaching, I suggest it is time for ‘a preferential option for women’ valuing women’s contribution instead of ignoring it, respecting their dignity and rights and ceasing violence and abuse of women.  Achieving that includes guaranteeing support for courageous women leaders and women’s movements to empower themselves, the kind of work that Progressio prioritises in its international policy work and on the ground in Yemen, Somaliland, Zimbabwe and Malawi where women face some of the toughest challenges on the planet.  

But I suggest it also needs men to change too. We must re-define our masculinity. Progressio pioneered ‘masculinities’ approaches in the 1990s in Central America and is now planning to support a new programme in Zimbabwe.  As one Central American put it after he’d been on the Progressio led masculinities training: “I am feeling motivated to become the man that I want to be, a man that is responsible for his actions and behaviours...” 

Definitely worth a read, there's more on Laudato Si here. And PLEASE consider supporting Progressio’s work at whatever level you can afford here.

Mark Lister, Chief Executive