The Vatican’s office for integral human development is rethinking its work in light of the implementation of Pope Francis’ curial reform, its prefect and secretary said Thursday.
Following the publication of the constitution Praedicate evangelium, the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development has “reorganized” competencies within the office, and “there has been some turnover,” Sister Alessandra Smerilli, the dicastery’s secretary, said at a press conference Sept. 29.
Prefect Cardinal Michael Czerny said the dicastery’s mission is “to help the Church to promote integral human development,” that “development, that growth, that flourishing of each person in the different dimensions of their existence.”
“A few of us,” he added, “cannot be happily or integrally developed if others of us are underdeveloped or mal-developed or simply totally left out.”
The process in the dicastery, the cardinal said, is to think about the issues people are suffering from, “the key injustices that need to be addressed if people are going to be able to flourish,” to reflect on the response and to see its connection to other issues, and to create an effective proposal for action by the local Church.
“The concerns can come in many forms,” he said, naming human rights, health, injustice, the legal system, the prison system, armaments, violence, economy and labor, the environment, and humanitarian emergencies.
“And so on and so on, et cetera, et cetera. We don’t have a closed list. We don’t have a preferred list. We would like to listen and through that to establish the priorities that we need to address,” Czerny said.
What does the word “integral” mean in the context of the dicastery? Czerny told CNA during a press conference the word, applied to “human development,” means authentic and evangelical, and is the opposite of fake, narrow, and exploitative.
“The word integral is ... a hard word for saying what Pope Francis often says much more clearly and simply,” he said, that “everything and everyone is connected. That’s at least one of the important meanings of ‘integral.’”
The cardinal said human beings have the tendency to fixate on things that are important to them while forgetting the needs of others.
“I can become, yes, I would say, obsessed with my personal fulfillment, without realizing that I cannot really be fulfilled, and certainly not from a faith point of view, if it is at the cost of others,” the cardinal said. “If others are deprived in order for me to prosper, then there is something intrinsically and morally wrong with my prosperity. And that is contained, or implicit, in the idea of ‘integral.’”
Following its reorganization, the dicastery describes its workflow as a three-part process: listening-dialogue, research-reflection, and communication-restitution.
The idea behind using the word “restitution,” Czerny told CNA in a brief one-on-one interview, “is an element of justice.”
Restitution “is to restore something that was given,” though not something that was taken away, he emphasized.
There are, he said, “so many situations in which the poor have given their concerns, have shared their concerns with people, and the people have said, oh, that’s too bad, and then they’ve gone away.”
“We feel that … if we ask them what are their anxieties, what are their fears, what are their challenges, that we owe them an answer.”
The role of the dicastery, Czerny said during the press conference, “is not advocacy itself,” nor does the office directly evangelize — an important focus of the new constitution.
“We are ready to help accompany, we are ready to help repair, we are ready to help reflect,” he said.
The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development plays a supporting role to the local Churches, “the primary agents of evangelization,” Czerny told CNA after the presser.
“We think that promoting integral human development is a very effective and often wordless way of evangelizing, and we hope to help the Church to do that.”
The cardinal said he sees a complementarity with the work of the Dicastery for Evangelization, which merged the former Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
On the topic of practical help for local Churches in need, the dicastery’s secretary, Sister Smerilli, said that if nuncios — the pope’s ambassadors — get in touch, the dicastery can act as a go-between to connect them to aid.
The dicastery exists to support the bishops’ conferences and other local Catholic organizations, the office’s leaders said.
Relationships with multilateral bodies such as the United Nations fall under the purview of the secretariat of state.
“But Praedicate evangelium asks us to collaborate with the secretariat of state,” Smerilli explained, “and what we can bring is the experience on the ground, the voice of the local churches, to be able to make these voices also matter” to those who work in the diplomatic or political spheres.