Since Pope John XXIII in the 1960s, human rights have been of central importance to Catholic social teaching and practice. Yet the approach of the Church to human rights is often different from that of the secular world.
Catholic social teaching roots human rights—economic and others—in the dignity of the human person. All the rights are interwoven, and all contribute to integral human development—the all-round development of each and every person along all dimensions of life from beginning to end, including future generations. Freedom connects them: people must be free to become active agents of their own development and care for our common home.
For example, our Catholic approach links fundamental rights with fundamental duties. St. John XXIII regarded them as two sides of the same coin: “In human society one man’s natural right gives rise to a corresponding duty in other men; the duty, that is, of recognizing and respecting that right… Hence, to claim one’s rights and ignore one’s duties, or only half fulfill them, is like building a house with one hand and tearing it down with the other.” While this reciprocity of rights and duties is to be found between persons, it also engages the state in its positive role of promoting the common good and actualizing human rights. The modern state, on behalf of all of us, must make sure that every member of society effectively “has the right to be looked after in the event of ill health; disability stemming from his work; widowhood; old age; enforced unemployment; or whenever through no fault of his own he is deprived of the means of livelihood.”
Thank God that there are brave men and women, including youth and seniors, who struggle to protect and promote fundamental human rights wherever and however they are threatened today. We pray that God bless, protect and strengthen the human rights defenders among us!
– Card. Michael Czerny S.J.
Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development
Excerpted from an article for The Messenger Magazine (Ireland)