1968: Latin American Bishops at Medellin

Following the model of Gaudium et Spes, the Conference of Latin American Bishops (CELAM) meeting at Medellin, Colombia, in September 1968, also followed the See Judge Act in their document on justice, peace and poverty.

Conference of Latin American Bishops
Medellín, Colombia

Excerpts on justicepeace and poverty
from final document
6 September 1968


 I. Pertinent facts  

1. There are many studies of the Latin American people.[1] All of these studies describe the misery that besets large masses of human beings in all of our countries. That misery, as a collective fact, expresses itself as injustice which cries to the heavens.[2]

What has perhaps not been sufficiently said is that in general the efforts which have been made have not been able to assure that justice be honored and realized in every sector of the respective national communities. Often families do not find concrete possibilities for the education of their children. The young demand their right to enter universities or centers of higher learning for both intellectual and technical training; women demand their right to a legitimate equality with men; peasants demand better conditions of life; or if they are workers, they demand better prices and security in buying and selling; the growing middle class feels frustrated by the lack of expectations. Professionals and technicians have begun an exodus to more developed countries; small businessmen and industrialists are pressed by more powerful interests and many large Latin American industrialists are gradually coming to be dependent on international business enterprises. We cannot ignore this phenomenon of almost universal frustration of legitimate aspirations which creates the climate of collective anguish in which we are already living.

2. The lack of socio-cultural integration, in the majority of our countries, has given rise to the superimposition of cultures. In the economic sphere, systems have flourished which consider solely the potential of groups with great earning power. This lack of adaptation to the characteristics and to the potentials of all of our people, in turn, gives rise to frequent political instability and the consolidation of purely formal institutions. To all of this must be added the lack of solidarity which, on the individual and social levels, leads to the committing of serious sins, evident in the unjust structures which characterize the Latin American situation.

II. Doctrinal Bases

3. The Latin American church has a message for all people on this continent who “hunger and thirst after justice.” The very God who creates us in his image and likeness, creates the “earth and all that is in it for the use of all people and all nations, in such a way that created goods can reach all in a more just manner,”[3] and gives them power to transform and perfect the world in solidarity.[4] It is the same God who, in the fullness of time, sends his Son in the flesh, so that he might come to liberate everyone from the slavery to which sin has subjected them[5] : hunger, misery, all oppression and ignorance, in a word, that injustice and hatred which have their origin in human selfishness.

Thus, for our authentic liberation, all of us need a profound conversion so that “the kingdom of justice, love and peace,” might come to us. The origin of all disdain for humankind, of all injustice, should be sought in the internal imbalance of human liberty, which will always need to be rectified in history. The uniqueness of the Christian message does not so much consist in the affirmation of the necessity for structural change, as it does in an insistence on the conversion of men and women which will in turn bring about this change. We will not have a new continent without new and reformed structures, but, above all, there will be no new continent without new people, who know how to be truly free and responsible according to the light of the Gospel.

4. Only by the light of Christ is the human mystery made clear. In the economy of salvation the divine work is an action of integral human development and liberation, which has love for its sole motive. Human beings are “created in Christ Jesus,”[6] fashioned in him as a “new creature.”[7] By faith and baptism they are transformed, filled with the gift of the Spirit, with a new dynamism, not of selfishness, but of love which compels them to seek out a new, more profound relationship with God, their fellow humans, and created things.

Love, “the fundamental law of human perfection, and therefore of the transformation of the world,”[8] is not only the greatest commandment of the Lord; it is also the dynamism which ought to motivate Christians to realize justice in the world, having truth as a foundation and liberty as their sign.

5. This is how the church desires to serve the world, radiating over it a light and life which heals and elevates the dignity of the human person,[9] which consolidates the unity of society[10] and gives a more profound reason and meaning to all human activity.

Doubtless, for the Church, the fullness and perfection of the human vocation will be accomplished with the definitive inclusion of each person in the Passover or Triumph of Christ, but the hope of such a definitive realization, rather then lull, ought to “vivify the concern to perfect this earth. For here grows the body of the new human family, a body which even now is able to give some kind of foreshadowing of the new age.”[11] We do not confuse temporal progress and the Kingdom of Christ; nevertheless, the former, “to the extent that it can contribute to the better ordering of human society, is of vital concern to the Kingdom of God.”[12]

The Christian quest for justice is a demand arising from biblical teaching. All people are merely humble stewards of material goods. In the search for salvation we must avoid the dualism which separates temporal tasks from the work of sanctification. Although we are encompassed with imperfections, we are people of hope. We have faith that our love for Christ and our brothers and sisters will not only be the great force liberating us from injustice and oppression, but also the inspiration for social justice, understood as a whole of life and as an impulse toward the integral growth of our countries.

III. Projections for Social Pastoral Planning

6. Our pastoral mission is essentially a service of encouraging and educating the conscience of believers, to help them to perceive the responsibilities of their faith in their personal life and in their social life. This Second Episcopal Conference wishes to point out the most important demands, taking into account the value judgment which the latest documents of the Magisterium of the Church have already made concerning the economic and social situation of the world of today and which applies fully to the Latin American continent.


7. The Latin American church encourages the formation of national communities that reflect a global organization, where all of the peoples but more especially the lower classes have, by means of territorial and functional structures, an active and receptive, creative and decisive participation in the construction of a new society. Those intermediary structures–between the person and the state–should be freely organized, without any unwarranted interference from authority or from dominant groups, in view of their development and concrete participation in the accomplishment of the total common good. They constitute the vital network of society. They are also the true expression of the citizens’ liberty and unity.

a) The Family

8. Without ignoring that unique character of the family, as the natural unit of society, we are considering it here as an intermediary structure, inasmuch as the families as a group ought to take up their function in the process of social change. Latin American families ought to organize their economic and cultural potential so that their legitimate needs and hopes be taken into account, on the levels where fundamental decisions are made, which can help or hinder them. In this way they will assume a role of effective representation and participation in the life of the total community.

Besides the dynamism which is generated in each country by the union of families, it is necessary that governments draw up legislation and a healthy up-to-date policy governing the family.

b) Professional Organization

9. The Second Latin American Episcopal Conference addresses itself to all those who, with daily effort, create the goods and services which favor the existence and development of human life. We refer especially to the millions of Latin American men and women who make up the peasant and working class. They, for the most part, suffer, long for and struggle for a change that will humanize and dignify their work. Without ignoring the totalities of the significance of human work, here we refer to it as an intermediary structure, inasmuch as it constitutes the function which gives rise to professional organization in the field of production.

c) Business Enterprises and the Economy

10. In today’s world, production finds its concrete expression in business enterprises, the industrial as well as the rural; they constitute the dynamic and fundamental base of the integral economic process. The system of Latin American business enterprises, and through it the current economy, responds to an erroneous conception concerning the right of ownership of the means of production and the very goals of the economy. A business, in an authentically human economy, does not identify itself with the owners of capital, because it is fundamentally a community of persons and a unit of work, which is in need of capital to produce goods. A person or group of persons cannot be the properties of an individual, of a society, or of the state.

The system of liberal capitalism and the temptation of the Marxist system would appear to exhaust the possibilities of transforming the economic structures of our continent. Both systems militate against the dignity of the human person. One takes for granted the primacy of capital, its power and its discriminatory utilization in the function of profit-making. The other, although it ideologically supports a kind of humanism, is more concerned with collective humanity and in practice becomes a totalitarian concentration of state power. We must denounce the fact that Latin America sees itself caught between these two options and remains dependent on one or other of the centers of power which control its economy.

Therefore, on behalf of Latin America, we make an urgent appeal to the owners and managers of businesses, to their organizations and to the political authorities so that they might radically modify the evaluation, the attitudes and the means regarding the goal, organization and functioning of business. All those financiers deserve encouragement who, individually or through their organizations, make an effort to conduct their business according to the guidelines supplied by the social teaching of the Church. That the social and economic change in Latin America be channeled towards a truly human economy will depend fundamentally on this.

11. On the other hand this change will be essential in order to liberate the authentic process of Latin American development and integration. Many of our workers, although they gradually become conscious of the necessity for this change, simultaneously experience a situation of dependence on inhuman economic systems and institutions: a situation which, for many of them, borders on slavery, not only physical but also professional, cultural, civic and spiritual.

With the clarity which arises from the knowledge of human beings and of their hopes, we must reiterate that neither the combined value of capital nor the establishment of the most modern techniques of production, nor economic plans will serve us efficiently if the workers, the “necessary unity of direction” having been safeguarded, are not incorporated with all of the thrust of their humanity, by means of “the active participation of all in the running of the enterprise, according to ways which will have to be determined with care and on a macro-economic level, decisive nationally and internationally.”[13]

d) Organization of the Workers

12. Therefore, in the intermediary professional structure the peasants’ and workers’ unions, to which the workers have a right, should acquire sufficient strength and power. Their associations will have a unified and responsible strength, to exercise the right of representation and participation on the levels of production and of national, continental and international trade. They ought to exercise their right of being represented, also, on the social, economic, and political levels, where decisions are made which touch upon the common good. Therefore, the unions ought to use every means at their disposal to train those who are to carry out these responsibilities in moral, economic, and especially in technical matters.

e) Unity of Action

13. Socialization understood and as a socio-cultural process of personalization and communal growth, leads us to think that all of the sectors of society, but in this case, principally the social-economic sphere, should, because of justice and brotherhood, transcend antagonisms in order to become agents of national and continental development. Without this unity, Latin America will not be able to succeed in liberating itself from the neo-colonialism to which it is bound, nor will Latin America be able to realize itself in freedom, with its own cultural, socio-political and economic characteristics.

f) Rural Transformation

14. The Second Episcopal Conference wishes to voice its pastoral concern for the extensive peasant class, which, although included in the above remarks, deserves urgent attention because of its special characteristics. If it is true that one ought to consider the diversity of circumstances and resources in the different countries, there is no doubt that there is a common denominator in all of them: the need for the human promotion of the peasants and Indians. This uplifting will not be viable without an authentic and urgent reform of agrarian structures and policies. This structural change and its political implications go beyond a simple distribution of land. It is indispensable to make and adjudication of such lands, under detailed conditions which legitimize their occupation and insure their productivity for the benefit of the families and the national economy. This will entail, aside from juridical and technical aspects not within our competence, the organization of the peasants into effective intermediate structures, principally in the form of cooperatives; and motivation towards the creation of urban centers in rural areas, which would afford the peasant population the benefits of culture, health, recreation, spiritual growth, participation in local decisions and in those which have to do with the economy and national politics. This uplifting of the rural areas will contribute to the necessary process of industrialization and to participation in the advantages of urban civilization.

g) Industrialization

15. There is no doubt that the process of industrialization is irreversible and is a necessary preparation for an independent economy and integration into the modern world-wide economy. Industrialization will be a decisive factor in raising the standard of living of our countries and affording them better conditions for an integral development. Therefore it is indispensable to revise plans and reorganize national macro-economies, preserving the legitimate autonomy of our nation, and allowing for just grievances of the poorer nations and for the desired economic integration of the continent, respecting always the inalienable rights of the person and of intermediary structures, as protagonists of this process.


16. Faced with the need for a total change of Latin American structures, we believe that change has political reform as its prerequisite.

The exercise of political authority and its decisions have as their only end the common good. In Latin America such authority and decision-making frequently seem to support systems which militate against the common good or which favor privileged groups. By means of legal norms, authority ought effectively and permanently to assure the rights and inalienable liberties of the citizens and the free functioning of intermediary structures.

Public authority has the duty of facilitating and supporting the creation of means of participation and legitimate representation of the people, or if necessary the creation of new ways to achieve it. We want to insist on the necessity of vitalizing and strengthening the municipal and communal organization, as a beginning of organizational efforts at the departmental, provincial, regional and national levels.

The lack of political consciousness in our countries makes the educational activity of the Church absolutely essential, for the purpose of bringing Christians to consider their participation in the political life of the nation as a matter of conscience and as the practice of charity in its most noble and meaningful sense for the life of the community.


17. We wish to confirm that it is indispensable to form a social conscience and a realistic perception of the problems of the community and of social structures. We must awaken the social conscience and communal customs in all strata of society and professional groups regarding such values as dialogue and community living within the same group and relations with wider social groups (workers, peasants, professionals, clergy, religious, administrators, etc.).

This task of “concientización” and social education ought to be integrated into joint Pastoral Action at various levels.

18. The sense of service and realism demands of today’s hierarchy a greater social sensitivity and objectivity. In that regard their is a need for direct contact with the different social-professional groups in meetings which provide all with a more complete vision of social dynamics. Such encounters are to be regarded as instruments which can facilitate a collegial action on the part of the bishops, guaranteeing harmony of thought and activities in the midst of a changing society.

The National Episcopal Conference will implement the organization of courses, meetings, etc., as a means of integrating those responsible for social activities related to pastoral plans. Besides priests and interested religious and laymen, invitations could be extended to heads of national and international development programs within the country. In like manner the institutes organized to prepare foreign apostolic personnel will coordinate their activities of a pastoral-social nature with corresponding national groups; moreover, opportunities will be sought for promoting study weeks devoted to social issues in order to articulate social doctrine applying to all our problems. This will allow all of us to affect public opinion.

19. “Key men and women” deserve special attention; we refer to those persons at a decision-making level whose actions effect changes in the basic structures of national and international life. The Episcopal Conference, therefore, through its Commission on Social Action or Pastoral Service, will support, together with other interested groups, the organization of courses of study for technicians, politicians, labor leaders, peasants, managers and educated people of all levels of society.

It is necessary that small basic communities be developed in order to establish a balance with minority groups, which are the groups in power. This is only possible through vitalization of these very communities by means of the natural innate elements in their environment.

The Church–the People of God–will lend its support to the downtrodden of every social class so that they might come to know their rights and how to make use of them. To this end the Church will utilize its moral strength and will seek to collaborate with competent professionals and institutions.

21. The Commission of Justice and Peace should be supported in all our countries at least that the national level. It should be composed of persons of a high moral caliber, professionally qualified and representative of different social classes; it should be capable of establishing an effective dialogue with persons and institutions more directly responsible for the decisions which favor the common good and detect everything that can wound justice and endanger the internal and external peace of the national and international communities; it should help to find concrete means to obtain adequate solutions for each situation.

22. For the implementation of their pastoral mission, the Episcopal Conferences will create Commissions of Social Action or Pastoral Service to develop doctrine and to take the initiative, presenting the Church as a catalyst in the temporal realm in an authentic attitude of service. The same applies to the diocesan level.

Furthermore, the Episcopal Conferences and Catholic organizations will encourage collaboration on the national and continental scene with non-Catholic Christian churches and institutions, dedicated to the task of restoring justice in human relations.

“Caritas” which is a Church organization[14] integrated into the joint Pastoral Plan, will not be solely a welfare institution, but rather will become operational in the developmental process of Latin America, as an institution authentically dedicated to its growth.

23. The Church recognizes that these institutions of temporal activity correspond to the specific sphere of civic society, even though they are established and stimulated by Christians. In actual concrete situations this Second General Conference of Latin American bishops feels it its duty to offer special encouragement to those organizations which have as their purpose human development and the carrying out of justice. The moral force of the Church will be concentrated, above all, to stimulate them, not acting except in a supplementary capacity and in situations that admit no delay.

Finally, this Second Conference is fully aware that the process of socialization, hastened by the techniques and media of mass communication, makes these means a necessary and proper instrument for social education and for a “concientización” ordered to changing the structures and the observance of justice. For the same reason this Conference urges all, but especially laymen, to make full use of mass media in their work of human promotion.


I. The Latin American Situation and Peace

1. If “development is the new name for peace,”[15] Latin American under-development with its own characteristics in the different countries is an unjust situation which promotes tensions that conspire against peace.

We can divide these tensions into three major groups, selected, in each of these, those variables which constitute a positive menace to the peace of our countries by manifesting an unjust situation.

When speaking of injustice, we refer to those realities that constitute a sinful situation; this does not mean however, that we are overlooking the fact that at times the misery in our countries can have natural causes which are difficult to overcome.

In making this analysis, we do not ignore or fail to give credit to the positive efforts made at every level to build a more just society. We do not include this here because our purpose is to call attention to those aspects which constitute a menace or negation of peace.


2. Different forms of marginality: socio-economic, cultural, political, racial, religious, in urban as well as the rural sectors;

3. Extreme inequality among social classes: especially, though not exclusively, in those countries which are characterized by a marked bi-classism, where a few have much (culture, wealth, power, prestige) while the majority has very little. The Holy Father describes this situation when directing himself to the Colombian rural workers; “. . . social and economic development has not been equitable in the great continent of Latin America; and while it has favored those who helped establish it in the beginning, it has neglected the masses of native population, which are almost always left at a subsistence level and at times or mistreated and exploited harshly.”[16]

4. Growing frustrations: The universal phenomenon of rising expectations assumes a particularly aggressive dimension in Latin America. The reason is obvious: excessive inequalities systematically prevent the satisfaction of the legitimate aspirations of the ignored sectors, and breed increasing frustrations.

The same low morale is obtained in those middle classes which, when confronting grave crises, enter into a process of disintegration and proletarization.

5. Forms of oppression of dominant groups and sectors: Without excluding the eventuality of willful oppression, these forms manifest themselves most frequently in a lamentable insensitivity of the privileged sectors to the misery of the marginated sectors. Thus the words of the Pope to the leaders: “That your ears and heart be sensitive to the voices of those who ask for bread, concern, justice …”[17]

It is not unusual to find that these groups, with the exception of some enlightened minorities, characterize as subversive activities all attempts to change the social system which favors the permanence of their privileges.

6. Power unjustly exercised by certain dominant sectors: As a natural consequence of the above-mentioned attitudes, some members of the dominant sectors occasionally resort to the use of force to repress drastically any attempt at opposition. It is easy for them to find apparent ideological justifications (anti-communism) or practical ones (keeping “order”) to give their action an honest appearance.

7. Growing awareness of the oppressed sectors: All the above results are even more intolerable as the oppressed sectors become increasingly aware of their situation. The Holy Father referred to them when he said to the rural workers: “But to date the problem has worsened because you have become more aware of your needs and suffering, and you cannot tolerate the persistence of these conditions without applying a careful remedy.”[18]

The static picture described in the above paragraphs is worsened when it is projected into the future: basic education will increase awareness and the demographic explosion will multiply problems and tensions. One must not forget the existence of movements of all types interested in taking advantage of and irritating these tensions. Therefore, if today peace seems seriously endangered, the automatic aggravation of the problems will produce explosive consequences.


8. We refer here, particularly, to the implications for all countries of dependence on a center of economic power, around which they gravitate. For this reason, our nations frequently do not own their goods, or have a say in economic decisions affecting them. It is obvious that this will not fail to have political consequences given the interdependence of these two fields.

We are interested in emphasizing two aspects of this phenomenon.

9. Economic aspect: We only analyze those factors having greater influence on the global and relative impoverishment of our countries, and which constitute a source of internal and external tensions.

a) Growing distortion of international commerce: Because of the relative depreciation of the terms of exchange, the value of raw materials is increasingly less in relation to the cost of manufactured products. This means that the countries which produce raw materials–especially if they are dependent upon one major export-always remain poor, while the industrialized countries enrich themselves. This injustice, clearly denounced by The Development of Peoples,[19] nullifies the eventual positive effect of external aid and constitutes a permanent menace against peace, because our countries sense that “one hand takes away what the other hand gives.”[20]

b) Rapid flight of economic and human capital: The search for security and individual gain leads many members of the more comfortable sectors of our countries to invest their money in foreign countries. The injustice of such procedures has already been denounced categorically by the encyclical The Development of Peoples.[21] To this can be added the loss of technicians and competent personnel, which is at least as serious and perhaps more so than the loss of capital, because of the high cost of training these people and because of their ability to teach others.

c) Tax evasion and loss of gains and dividends: Some foreign companies working in our country (also some national firms) often evade the established tax system by subterfuge. We all are also aware that at times they send their profits and dividends abroad, without contributing adequate reinvestments to the progressive development of our countries.

d) Progressive debt: It is not surprising to find that in the system of international credits, the true needs and capabilities of our countries are not taken into account. We thus run the risk of encumbering ourselves with debts whose payment absorbs the greater part of our profits.[22]

e) International monopolies and international imperialism of money: We wish to emphasize that the principal guilt for economic dependence of our countries rests with powers, inspired by uncontrolled desire for gains, which leads to economic dictatorship and the “international imperialism of money”[23] condemned by Pope Pius XI in The Reconstruction of the Social Order and by Pope Paul VI in The Development of Peoples.

10. Political aspect: We here denounce the imperialism of any ideological bias that is exercised in Latin America either indirectly or through direct intervention.


11. We here denounce the particular phenomenon of historico-political origin that continues to disturb cordial relations among some countries and impedes truly constructive collaboration. Nevertheless, the integration process, well understood, presents itself as a commanding necessity for Latin America. Without pretending to set norms of a truly complex, technical nature governing integration, we deem it opportune to point out its multi-dimensional character. Integration, in effect, is not solely an economic process; it has a broader dimension reflected in the way in which it embraces man in his total situation: social, political, cultural, religious, racial.

Among the factors that increase the tensions among our countries we underline:

12. An exacerbated nationalism in some countries: The Holy Father [24] has already denounced the unwholesomeness of this attitude, especially on a matter where the weakness of the national economies requires a union of efforts.

13. Armaments: In certain countries an arms race is under way that surpasses the limits of reason. It frequently stems from a fictitious need to respond to diverse interests rather than to a true need of the national community. In that respect, a phrase of The Development of Peoples is particularly pertinent: “When so many communities are hungry, when so many homes suffer misery, when so many men lived submerged in ignorance. . . any arms race becomes an intolerable scandal.”[25]

II. Doctrinal reflection


14. The above mentioned Christian viewpoint on peace adds up to a negation of peace such as Christian tradition understands it.

Three factors characterize the Christian concept of peace:

a) Peace is, above all, a work of justice.[26] It presupposes and requires the establishment of a just order [27] in which men can fulfill themselves as men, where their dignity is respected, their legitimate aspirations satisfied, their access to truth recognized, their personal freedom guaranteed; an order where a man is not an object, but an agent of his own history. Therefore there will be attempts against peace where unjust inequalities among men and nations prevail.[28]

Peace in Latin America, therefore, is not the simple absence of violence and bloodshed. Oppression by the power groups may give the impression of maintaining peace and order, but in truth it is nothing but the “continuous and inevitable seed of rebellion and war.”[29]

“Peace can only be obtained by creating a new order which carries with it a more perfect justice among men.”[30] It is in this sense that the integral development of a man, the path to more human conditions, becomes the symbol of peace.

b) Secondly, peace is a permanent task.[31] A community becomes a reality in time and is subject to a movement that implies constant change in structures, transformation of attitudes, and conversion of hearts.

The “tranquility of order,” according to the Augustinian definition of peace, is neither passivity nor conformity. It is not something that is acquired once and for all. It is the result of continuous effort and adaptation to new circumstances, to new demands and challenges of a changing history. A static and apparent peace may be obtained with the use of force; an authentic peace implies struggle, creative abilities and permanent conquest.[32]

Peace is not found, it is built. The Christian man is the artisan of peace.[33] This task, given the above circumstances, has a special character in our continent; thus, the People of God in Latin America, following the example of Christ, must resist personal and collective injustice with unselfish courage and fearlessness.

c) Finally, peace is the fruit of love.[34] It is the expression of true fraternity among men, a fraternity given by Christ, Prince of Peace, in reconciling all men with the Father. Human solidarity cannot truly take effect unless it is done in Christ, who gives Peace that the world cannot give.[35] Love it is the soul of justice. The Christian who works for social justice should always cultivate peace and love in his heart.

Peace with God is the basic foundation of internal and social peace. Therefore, where this social peace does not exist there will we find social, political, economic and cultural inequalities, there will we find the rejection of the peace of the Lord, and a rejection of the Lord Himself.[36]


15. Violence constitutes one of the greatest problems in Latin America. A decision on which the future of the countries of the continent will depend should not be left to the impulses of emotion and passion. We would be failing in our pastoral duty if we were not to remind the conscience, caught in this dramatic dilemma, of the criteria derived from the Christian doctrine of evangelical love.

No one should be surprised if we forcefully reaffirm our faith in the productiveness of peace. This is our Christian ideal. “Violence is neither Christian nor evangelical.”[37] The Christian man is peaceful and not ashamed of it. He is not simply a pacifist, for he can fight,[38] but he prefers peace to war. He knows that “violent changes in structures would be fallacious, ineffectual in themselves and not conforming to the dignity of man, which demands that the necessary changes take place from within, that is to say, through a fitting awakening of conscience, adequate preparation and effective participation of all, which the ignorance and often inhuman conditions of life make it impossible to assure at this time.”[39]

16. As the Christian believes in the productiveness of peace in order to achieve justice, he also believes that justice is a prerequisite for peace. He recognizes that in many instances Latin America finds itself faced with a situation of injustice that can be called institutionalized violence, when, because of a structural deficiency of industry and agriculture, of national and international economy, of cultural and political life, “whole towns lack necessities, live in such dependence as hinders all initiative and responsibility as well as every possibility for cultural promotion and participation in social and political life,”[40] thus violating fundamental rights. This situation demands all-embracing, courageous, urgent and profoundly renovating transformations. We should not be surprised therefore, that the “temptation to violence” is surfacing in Latin America. One should not abuse the patience of a people that for years has borne a situation that would not be acceptable to anyone with any degree of awareness of human rights.

Facing a situation which works so seriously against the dignity of man and against peace, we address ourselves, as pastors, to all the members of the Christian community and asking them to assume their responsibility in the promotion of peace in Latin America.

17. We would like to direct our call in the first place to those who have a greater share of wealth, culture and power. We know that there are leaders in Latin America who are sensitive to the needs of the people and try to remedy them. They recognize that the privileged many times join together, and with all the means at their disposal pressure those who govern, thus obstructing necessary changes. In some instances, this pressure takes on drastic proportions which result in the destruction of life and property.

Therefore, we urge them not to take advantage of the pacifist position of the Church in order to oppose, either actively or passively, the profound transformations that are so necessary. If they jealously retain their privileges and defend them through violence they are responsible to history for provoking “explosive revolutions of despair.”[41] The peaceful future of the countries of Latin America depends to a large extent on their attitude.

18. Also responsible for injustice are those who remain passive for fear of the sacrifice and personal risk implied by any courageous and effective action. Justice, and therefore peace, conquer by means of a dynamic action of awakening (concientization) and organization of the popular sectors, which are capable of pressing public officials who are often impotent in their social projects without popular support.

19. We address ourselves finally to those who, in the face of injustice and illegitimate resistance to change, put their hopes in violence. With Paul VI we realize that their attitude “frequently finds its ultimate motivation in noble impulses of justice and solidarity.”[42] Let us not speak here of empty words which do not imply a personal responsibility and which isolate from the fruitful nonviolent actions that are immediately possible.

If it is true that revolutionary insurrection can be legitimate in the case of evident and prolonged “tyranny that seriously works against the fundamental rights of man and which damages the common good of the country,”[43] whether it proceeds from one person or from clearly unjust structures, it is also certain that violence or “armed revolution” generally “generates new injustices, introduces new imbalances and causes new disasters; one cannot combat a real evil at the price of a greater evil.”[44]

If we consider then, the totalities of the circumstances of our countries and if we take into account the Christian preference for peace, the enormous difficulty of a civil war, the logic of violence, the atrocities it engenders, the risk of provoking foreign intervention, illegitimate as it may be, the difficulty of building a regime of justice and freedom while participating in a process of violence, we earnestly desire that the dynamism of the awakened and organized community be put to the service of justice and peace.

Finally we would like to make ours the words of our Holy Father to the newly ordained priests and deacons in Bogota, when he referred to all the suffering and said to them: “We will be able to understand their afflictions and change them, not into hate and violence, but into the strong and peaceful energy of constructive works.”[45]

III. Pastoral Conclusions

20. In the face of the tensions which conspire against peace, and even present the temptation of violence; in the face of the Christian concept of peace which has been described, we believe that the Latin American Episcopate cannot avoid assuming very concrete responsibilities; because to create a just social order, without which peace is illusory, is an eminently Christian task.

To us, the Pastors of the Church, belongs the duty to educate the Christian conscience, to inspire, stimulate and help orient all of the initiatives that contribute to the formation of man. It is also up to us to denounce everything which, opposing justice, destroys peace. In this spirit we feel it opportune to bring the following pastoral points:

21. To awaken in individuals and communities, principally through mass media, a living awareness of justice, infusing in them a dynamic sense of responsibility and solidarity.

22. To defend the rights of the poor and oppressed according to the Gospel commandment, urging our governments and the upper classes to eliminate anything which might destroy social peace: injustice, inertia, venality, insensibility.

23. To favor integration, energetically denouncing the abuses and unjust consequences of the excessive inequalities between poor and rich, weak and powerful.

24. To be certain that our preaching, liturgy and catechesis take into account the social and community dimensions of Christianity, forming men committed to world peace.

25. To achieve in our schools, seminaries and universities a healthy critical sense of the social situation and foster the vocation of service. We also consider very efficacious the diocesan and national campaigns that mobilize the faithful and social organizations, leading them to a similar reflection.

26. To invite various Christian and non-Christian communities to collaborate in this fundamental task of our times.

27. To encourage and favor the efforts of the people to create and develop their own grassroots organizations for the redress and consolidation of their rights and the search for true justice.

28. To request the perfecting of the administration of justice, whose deficiencies often cause serious ills.

29. To urge a halt and revision in many of our countries of the arms race that at times constitutes a burden excessively disproportionate to the legitimate demands of the common good, to the detriment of desperate social necessities. The struggle against misery is the true war that our nations should face.

30. To invite the bishops, the leaders of different churches and all men of goodwill of the developed nations to promote in their respective spheres of influence, especially among the political and financial leaders, a consciousness of greater solidarity facing our underdeveloped nations, obtaining among other things, just prices for our raw materials.

31. On the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the solemn declaration of Human Rights, to interest universities in Latin America to undertake investigations verifying the degree of its implementation in our countries.

32. To denounce the unjust action of world powers that works against self-determination of weaker nations who must suffer the bloody consequences of war and invasion, and to ask competent international organizations for effective and decisive procedures.

33. To encourage and praise the initiatives and works of all those who in the diverse areas of action contribute to the creation of a new order which will assure peace in our midst.

Poverty of the Church

I. Latin American Scene

1. The Latin American bishops cannot remain indifferent in the face of the tremendous social injustices existent in Latin America, which keep the majority of our peoples in dismal poverty, which in many cases becomes inhuman wretchedness.

2. A deafening cry pours from the throats of millions of men, asking their pastors for a liberation that reaches them from nowhere else. “Now you are listening to us in silence, but we hear the shout which arises from your suffering,” the Pope told the ‘campesinos’ in Columbia.[46]

And complaints that the hierarchy, the clergy, the religious, are rich and allied with the rich also come to us. On this point we must make it clear that appearance is often confused with reality. Many causes have contributed to create this impression of a rich hierarchical church. The great buildings, the rectories and religious houses that are better than those of the neighbors, the often luxurious vehicles, the attire, inherited from other eras, have been some of those causes.

The system of taxes and tuition to support clergy and maintain educational endeavors has become discredited and has led to the formation of erroneous opinions about the amount of money received.

To this has been added the exaggerated secrecy in which the finances of high schools, parishes, and dioceses have been shrouded, favoring a mysterious atmosphere which magnifies shadows to gigantic proportions and helps to create fictions. Besides, isolated cases of reprehensible opulence have been generalized.

All this has helped substantiate the argument that the Latin American church is rich.

3. The reality of the very great number of parishes and dioceses that are extremely poor, and the exceeding number of bishops, priests, and religious in complete deprivation and give themselves with great abnegation to the service of the poor, generally escapes the appreciation of many and does not succeed in dissipating the prevailing distorted image.

Within the context of the poverty and even of the wretchedness in which the great majority of the Latin American people live, we, bishops, priests and religious, have the necessities of life and a certain security while the poor lack that which is indispensable and struggle between anguish and uncertainty. And incidents are not lacking in which the poor feel that their bishops, or pastors and religious, do not really identify themselves with them, with their problems and afflictions, that they do not always support those that work with them or plead their cause.

II. Doctrinal Motivation

4. We must distinguish:

a) Poverty, as a lack of the goods of this world necessary to live worthily as men, is in itself evil. The prophets denounce it as contrary to the will of the Lord and most of the time as the fruit of the injustice and sin of man.

b) Spiritual poverty is the theme of the poor of Yahweh.[47] Spiritual poverty is the attitude of opening up to God, the ready disposition of one who hopes for everything from the Lord.[48] Although he values the goods of this world, he does not become attached to them and he recognizes the higher value of the riches of the Kingdom.[49]

c) Poverty as a commitment, through which one assumes voluntarily and lovingly the conditions of the needy of this world in order to bear witness to the evil which it represents and to spiritual liberty in the face of material goods, follows the example of Christ who took to himself all the consequences of men’s sinful condition [50] and who “being rich became poor”[51] in order to redeem us.

5. In this context a poor church:

  • Denounces the unjust lack of this world’s goods and the sin that begets it;
  • Preaches and lives in spiritual poverty, as an attitude of spiritual childhood and openness to the Lord;
  • Is herself bound to material poverty. The poverty of the church is, in effect, a constant factor in the history of salvation.

6. All members of the church are called to live in evangelical poverty, but not all in the same way, as there are diverse vocations to this poverty, that tolerate diverse styles of life and various modes of acting. Among religious themselves, although they all have a special mission to witness within the church, there will be differences according to personal charisms.

7. Against this background, it will be necessary to reemphasize strongly that the example and teaching of Jesus, the anguished condition of millions of poor people in Latin America, the urgent exhortations of the Pope and of the Council, place before the Latin American Church a challenge and a mission that she cannot sidestep and to which she must respond with a speed and boldness adequate to the urgency of the times.

Christ, our Savior, not only loved the poor, but rather “being rich he became poor,” he lived in poverty. His mission centered on advising the poor of their liberation and he founded his Church as the sign of that poverty among men.

The church itself has always tried to fulfill that vocation, notwithstanding “very great weaknesses and flaws in the past.”[52] The Latin American Church, given the continent’s conditions of poverty and underdevelopment, experiences the urgency of translating that spirit of poverty into actions, attitudes and norms that make it a more lucid and authentic sign of its Lord. The poverty of so many brothers cries out for justice, solidarity, open witness, commitment, strength, and exertion directed to the fulfillment of the redeeming mission to which it is committed by Christ.

The present situation, then, demands from bishops, priests, religious and laymen the spirit of poverty which, “breaking the bonds of the egotistical possession of temporal goods, stimulates the Christian to order organically the power and the finances in favor of the common good.”[53]

The poverty of the church and of its members in Latin America ought to be a sign and a commitment–a sign of the inestimable value of the poor in the eyes of God, an obligation of solidarity with those who suffer.

III. Pastoral Orientations

8. Because of the foregoing we wish the Latin American Church to be the evangelizer of the poor and one with them, a witness to the value of the riches of the Kingdom, and the humble servant of all our people. Its pastors and the other members of the People of God have to correlate their life and words, their attitudes and actions to the demands of the Gospel and the necessities of the men of Latin America.


9. The Lord’s distinct commandment to “evangelize the poor” ought to bring us to a distribution of resources and apostolic personnel that effectively gives preference to the poorest and most needy sectors and to those segregated for any cause whatsoever, animating and accelerating the initiatives and studies that or already being made with that goal in mind.

We, the bishops, wish to come closer to the poor in sincerity and brotherhood, making ourselves accessible to them.

10. We ought to sharpen the awareness of our duty of solidarity with the poor, to which charity leads us. This solidarity means that we make ours their problems and their struggles, that we know how to speak with them.

This has to be concretized in criticism of injustice and oppression, in the struggle against the intolerable situation which a poor person often has to tolerate, in the willingness to dialogue with the groups responsible for that situation in order to make them understand their obligations.

11. We express our desire to be very close always to those who work in the self-denying apostolate with the poor in order that they will always feel our encouragement and know that we will not listen to parties interested in distorting their work.

Human advancement has to be the goal of our action on behalf of the poor man and it must be carried out in such a manner that we respect his personal dignity and teach him to help himself. With that end in mind we recognize the necessity of the rational structuring of all our pastoral action and the integration of all our efforts with those of other entities.


12. We wish our houses and style of life to be modest, our clothing simple, our works and institutions functional, without show or ostentation.

We asked priests and faithful to treat us in conformity with our mission as fathers and pastors, for we desire to renounce honorable titles belonging to another era.

13. With the help of all the People of God we hope to overcome the system of fees, replacing it with other forms of financial cooperation not linked to the administration of the sacraments.

The administration of diocesan or parish properties has to be entrusted to competent laymen and put to better use for the welfare of the whole community.[54]

14. In our pastoral work we will trust above all in the strength of God’s Word; when we have to employ a technical means we will seek those most adequate to the environment in which they will be used and will put them at the disposal of the community.[55]

15. We exhort the priests also to give testimony of poverty and detachment from material goods, as so many do, particularly in rural areas and poorer neighborhoods. With great diligence we will procure for them a just though modest sustenance and the necessary social security. To this end we will seek to establish a common fund among all of the parishes and the diocese itself; also among the dioceses of the same country.[56]

We encourage those who feel themselves called to share the lot of the poor, living with them and even working with their hands, in accord with the Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests.[57]

16. The religious communities by virtue of their special vocation ought to witness to the poverty of Christ. We encourage those who feel themselves called to form from among their members small communities, truly incarnated in the poor environment,; they will be a continual call to evangelical poverty for all the People of God.

We hope also that they (the religious communities) will be able more and more to effect the sharing of their goods with others, especially with the most needy, dividing among them not only superfluities, but also necessities, and disposed to put at the disposal of the human community the buildings and instruments of their work.[58]

The distinction between what belongs to the community and what to pertains to the worker will facilitate this distribution. It will likewise permit the searching for new forms to accomplish those works, in whose administration or ownership other members of the Christian community will participate.

17. These authentic examples of detachment and freedom of spirit will make the other members of the People of God give a similar witness to poverty. A sincere conversion has to change the individualistic mentality into another one of social awareness and concern for the common good. The education of children and youth at all levels, beginning in the home, ought to include this fundamental aspect of the Christian life.

This feeling of love of neighbor is evinced when one studies and works above all with the intention of performing a service for the community; when one organizes power and wealth for the benefit of the community.


18. No earthly ambition impels the Church, only her wish to be the humble servant of all men.[59]

We need to stress this spirit in Latin America.

We want our Latin American church to be free from temporalities, from intrigues and from a doubtful reputation; to be “free in spirit as regards the chains of wealth,”[60] so that her mission of service will be stronger and clearer. We want her to be present in life and in secular works, reflecting the light of Christ, present in the construction of the world.

We want to recognize all the value and legitimate autonomy of temporal works; aiding them we do not wish to take away their substance nor divert them from their distinctive ends.[61] We desire sincerely to respect all men and listen to them in order to serve them in their problems and afflictions.[62] Thus, the Church, carrying on the work of Christ, “who made himself poor for us, being rich in order to enrich us with his poverty,”[63] will present before the world a clear and unmistakable sign of the poverty of her Lord.


[1] See synthesis of this situation in the Work Paper of the Second Conference of Latin American Bishops, 1-9.
[2] Paul VI, The Development of Peoples, 30.
[3] Vatican Council II, Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 69.

[4] Genesis 1:26; Vatican Council II, Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 34.

[5] John 8:32-35.

[6] Ephesians 2:10.

[7] 2 Corinthians 5:17.

[8] Vatican Council II, Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 38.

[9] Vatican Council II, Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 41.

[10] Vatican Council II, Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 42.

[11] Vatican Council II, Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 39.

[12] Vatican Council II, Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 39.

[13] Vatican Council II, Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 68.

[14] Paul VI, The Development of Peoples, 46.

[15] Paul VI, The Development of Peoples, 87.

[16] Paul VI, Address to the peasants, Mosquera, Colombia, August 23, 1968.

[17] Paul VI, Homily of the Mass on Development Day, Bogota, August 23, 1968.

[18] Paul VI, Address to the peasants, Mosquera, Colombia, August 23, 1968.

[19] Paul VI, The Development of Peoples, 56-61.

[20] Ibid., 56.

[21] Ibid., 24.

[22] Ibid., 54.

[23] Ibid., 26.

[24] Ibid., 62.

[25] Ibid., 53.

[26] Vatican II, Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 78.

[27] John XXIII, Peace on Earth, 167 and Paul VI, The Development of Peoples, 76.

[28] Paul VI, message of January 1, 1968.

[29] Paul VI, message of January 1, 1968.

[30] Paul VI, The Development of Peoples, 76.

[31] Vatican II, Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 78.

[32] Paul VI, Christmas message, 1967.
[33] Matthew 5:9.

[34] Vatican II, Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 78.

[35] John 14:27.

[36] Matthew 25:31-46.

[37] Paul VI, homily of the Mass on Development Day, Bogota, August 23, 1968; see Paul VI, opening address at the 2nd General Conference of Latin American Bishops, Bogota, August 24, 1968.

[38] Paul VI, message of January 1, 1968.

[39] Paul VI, homily of the Mass on Development Day, Bogota, August 23, 1968.

[40] Paul VI, The Development of Peoples, 30.

[41] Paul VI, homily of the Mass on Development Day, Bogota, August 23, 1968.

[42] Paul VI, ibid.

[43] Paul VI, The Development of Peoples, 31.

[44] Paul VI, The Development of Peoples, 31.

[45] Paul VI, Address to new priests and deacons, Bogota, August 22, 1968.

[46] Paul VI, Address to the peasants, Mosquera, Colombia, August 23, 1968.

[47] So 2:3; Lk 1:46-55.

[48] Mt 5:3.

[49] Am 2:6-7; 4:1; Jer 5:28; Mi 6:12-13; Is 10:2 et passim.

[50] Phil 2:5-8.

[51] 2 Cor 8:9.

[52] Paul VI, His Church, 50.

[53] Paul VI, Homily of the Mass on Development Day, Bogota, August 23, 1968.

[54] Vatican II, Decree on the Life and Ministry of Priests, 17.

[55] Vatican II, Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 69.

[56] Vatican II, Decree on the Life and Ministry of Priests, 21.

[57] Vatican II, Decree on the Life and Ministry of Priests, 8.

[58] Vatican II, Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 69.

[59] Vatican II, Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 3; Paul VI, closing address of Vatican II, December 7, 1965.

[60] Paul VI, opening address at the 2nd General Conference of Latin American Bishops, Bogota, August 24, 1968.

[61] Vatican II, Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 36.

[62] Vatican II, Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 1-3.

[63] 2 Cor 8:9.



Cristina Cuervo Rengifo and Laura Brueggeman, Medellin Statement (Sutori)