Bruce Duncan shows how strongly the Church insists that concern for social justice is a core element of Christian faith, as is evident in the Scriptures and the life of Jesus. He then traces how the Church promotes social justice in our modern world, confronted by new problems, from climate change to economic crises. He sketches the history and key elements of social justice thinking.
Throughout the narrative powerful quotes encapsulate key themes, and the author sketches pen pictures of some of the champions of social justice, including key lay men and women. For even the popes did not develop their social encyclicals alone, but in response to the pioneering efforts of Christian activists. Frederick Ozanam, founder of the St Vincent de Paul Society, was also a leading social reformer in 19th century France. A married couple, Jacques and Raissa Maritain, helped modernise Catholic thinking on social justice, and strongly influenced Pope Paul VI and the Second Vatican Council. Two other lay Catholic women were also influential in shaping Catholic social thinking during and after the Vatican Council. The prominent economist, Barbara Ward, pressed Church leaders to mobilise believers to overcome hunger and global poverty. She helped inspire Pope Paul’s famous 1967 encyclical, Development of Peoples. The Australian, Rosemary Goldie, a member of the lay association, the Grail, promoted new visions for laity.
Duncan also profiles leading clergy social justice advocates, Archbishop Helder Camara from Brazil, and Archbishop Romero, assassinated for his defence of human rights in San Salvador in 1980. Another major influence was Canon Joseph Cardijn, founder of the Young Christian Workers Movement, which had such strong influence in Australia. Teachers will find particularly useful the critique of capitalism and what this has meant in Australia, along with a summary of Catholic responses to current global economic problems. Social Justice concludes with issues of special concern to Australia: the continuing struggle for the rights of our Indigenous peoples – as instanced in the life of the remarkable Sydney Aboriginal woman, "Mum Shirl". Duncan also sketches how the Church advocates for peace and reconciliation among peoples, and helped develop the just war tradition to constrain violence and war.
Lastly the book summarises moral issues in Australia’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. Social justice is not some kind of optional extra for Christians. All are called to a loving relationship with God which, as Jesus taught, is demonstrated by care for the most vulnerable in society. One of the strengths in this book is the focus on the fact that human well being, care for the earth, peace, reconciliation, and social justice are so interwoven in human experience as to be inseparable.
Social Justice: Fuller Life in a Fairer World offers an excellent coverage of the rich Biblical and Catholic traditions in regard to social justice. Providing both historical and contemporary perspectives, it is a valuable resource for senior school students. It also constitutes a rich resource for practitioners seeking to anchor their commitment in the outstanding Catholic social justice tradition.
Therese D’Orsa Conjoint Professor, University of Newcastle and the Broken Bay Institute
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