Sunday, December 4, 2011

Human Rights Sunday

The second week of Advent is Human Rights Sunday, followed by a week of teaching on the Social Gospel of the Church. Writing in the Catholic Times, the director of the Bishops Office on Justice and Peace delves into history to remind us of why we have a Human Rights Sunday.
18th century Europe saw the beginning of the Industrial Revolution that brought into the lives of workers many unwelcomed changes: unsanitary and dangerous working conditions, low pay, long hours, crammed back to back shoddy housing near the factories, which led to the spread of disease.
The Catholic Church, in the middle of the 1800s, began to take an interest in the plight of these workers, first in Germany and then in England and the United States. To address the issue, Pope Leo XIII, in 1891 wrote the encyclical Rerum Novarum (New Conditions). This was the first encyclical dealing with social doctrine. It focused on the dignity of the workers, their right to organize and receive a just salary, the duty of the government to protect workers as well as to protect private property, and to ensure the harmony between the different classes in society.
Catholic social doctrine has also influenced the Church of Korea. In 1960 we had the labor movement; in the 70s and 80s, the opposition to the military dictatorship and the movement for democracy. Cardinal Kim's influential support for human dignity and freedom were instrumental in receiving for the Church much good will from society. In the 90s, however, outside of abortion and culture of life issues, the Church has been rather hesitant in promoting human rights issues.

This is changing; with the lead of the bishops, we have seen Church-backed opposition to the 4-River Project, the naval base in Cheju-do and the nuclear power plant.
These issues have added to the polarization of the progressive and conservative groups in society.Some Catholics choose to ignore the bishops' directions, and prefer to  hold on to the beliefs of the social strata they belong to, and the benefits that come with it. The Church is not interested in the partisan concerns of society but in truth, love, justice and peace--goals that should motivate all Catholics.
The Bishops Justice and Peace director hopes that Catholics will become better informed on the teachings of the social doctrine, enabling them to become the salt and light of society. If Catholics are only interested in comfort and material blessings the Church will have a difficult time in being true to the mission it has received from Christ.

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