The Hebrew greeting of “Shalom” – the word used by Christ – means much more than the absence of conflict implied by “Peace be with you”.
It implies a righteous alignment with the plans of the Creator, something for which the Greek and Latin tongues have no simple translation. Hence the phrase “Justice and Peace” is used to more completely convey what Christ said.
The “Six Ps” indicate the scope of our concerns, guided by the Bible and the Social Teaching of the Church: Prayer, Peace, Prisoners, Persecution, Poverty, Pollution.
Biblical references to the word “justice” mean “to make right.” Justice is, first and foremost, a relational term: people living in right relationship with God, one another, and the natural creation. Justice means loving our neighbour as we love ourselves: just as God is just and loving, so we are called to do justice and live in love.
Social justice is less about what and more about who we are called to prioritise. It is often easy to disagree about what because social justice deals with issues like budgets, taxation, labour laws, social protection, safety nets, and other topics beloved by politicians.
Striking suggestions from more recent centuries include:
“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” (Well-known saying derived from a USA book of ca. 1885.)
"When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.” (Dom Hélder Câmara, 1909-99 – Archbishop of Olinda and Recife.)
“How I would like a Church that understands the poor, a Church that works for the poor and a Church that is poor with the poor!” (Pope Francis.)
From the Early Years of the Church
Although made up of various strands that were first brought together and codified in the 19th century, Christian concern for Social Justice is not a modern invention, as some quotations illustrate:
“When a man strips another of his clothes, he is called a thief. Should not someone who has power to clothe the naked but does not do so be called the same? The bread in your larder belongs to the hungry. The cloak in your wardrobe belongs to the naked. The shoes you allow to rot belong to the barefoot. The money in your vaults belongs to the destitute. You do injustice to everyone whom you could help but do not.” - St Basil, 4th century
“Various peoples incite the passions of war by martial music. Christians employ only the Word of God, the instrument of peace.” - St Clement of Alexandria, (220 AD)
“I am a soldier of Christ, I cannot fight.” - St Martin of Tours (397 AD)
The early Fathers drew upon pronouncements of the Jewish prophets, such as:
“Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the stranger, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.” - Malachi 3:5
There are also numerous lessons to be drawn from numerous pronouncements of Christ. For example, what did the Good Samaritan do when he found a despised foreigner in need (Luke, Ch.10)? Did he ask why he was there, how much money he had, was he seeking work, was he fleeing war, did he have the requisite visas and identity documents? No: he saw a fellow human being who was in need and provided humanitarian aid for as long as it was needed.
What we value
The injustice and violence in the world may seem just too big for one person or a small group to do anything about; but we can all do something.
Group work is rewarding, allowing each person to contribute their skills and knowledge.
Apart from study and prayer, groups can be involved in:
raising awareness .. displays .. study days .. discussion groups .. prayer.. vigils .. services .. letter writing .. online petitions .. lobbying .. practical help .. food banks .. energy-saving projects....fair trade …refugee support …. asylum seekers... human rights .. the arms trade … justice in the workplace … religious freedom … prisons and prisoners … just investments … housing and homelessness … world debt ….. credit unions … people trafficking and modern slavery … international peace and reconciliation …. environmental issues … racial justice … and many more concerns.
As a consequence, they become aware of the reality of injustice, suffering and violence in our world and can seeking to understand the structures and attitudes that create and perpetuate situations of injustice, conflict and environmental destruction. Action results after reflecting on this in the light of the Gospel and the Church’s teachings.
Why we are concerned
We love our brothers and sisters, whether nearby or far away, responding to God‘s love for us. In this way we can work for justice, peace and the care of creation on our doorsteps and overseas, live out our faith and promote action.
Unlike single-focus organisations, Justice and Peace covers the whole spectrum, helping us see how these issues are closely connected.
Each of us is called to act justly and peaceably in our own lives within our families, our work and our community. We also have a responsibility to get involved in supporting justice for all God’s people, particularly the poor, and to be good stewards of creation. As a church, we need to get involved in a whole range of human life issues: from those campaigns against abortion and beginning of life matters, through campaigns to do with childhood and old age, the care of animals, justice, peace and reconciliation in our own society and overseas, plus concerns with environmental resources, bioethical matters and end of life care.
Following the Second Vatican Council, various bodies were established in the Curia - the Vatican's "Civil Service". One of these was the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and bishops, organised their national staff and diocesan bodies to better liaise. The Pontifical Council produced numerous influential documents and, among other things, advised Vatican diplomats, including those working with the United Nations and other inter-governmental organisations.
Since 2017 the Council has become part of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, which brings together a number of bodies with related missions including Caritas Internationalis and the Migrants and Refugees section.
Please note that the JPIC Office is not responsible for the content of external websites. The views expressed in them must not be taken to represent our views and policies Organisations that are outside the Roman Catholic Church, may not always fully agree to Catholic Social Teaching. However, we do work with them when we find common ground and aims.