Solidarity as mutual obligation and shared effort

It is extremely important to register that solidarity is a two-way street. Even with the weakest, true solidarity is never a matter of the powerful dispensing favours ‘out of their bounty’ to those less fortunate than themselves and it is never simply about salving our conscience by handouts from our surplus. Anyone who has had any dealings with the major aid and development agencies such as Cafod will have registered the change in approach in recent years, now stressing working with partner organisations on the ground in the developing world (rather than simply flying in British experts and doing things for them) and seeking to give a voice to the poor nations rather than speaking on their behalf.

Certainly, says Pope John Paul, “those who are more influential, because they have a greater share of goods and common services, should feel responsible for the weaker and be ready to share with them all [my emphasis] they possess” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis“Social Concern” (1987), paragraph 39) and how many of us are willing to hear that little world, ‘all’ in this sentence? But the weak may not remain passive, simply expecting handouts (which would rob them of their own human dignity), nor ignore their own social obligations: they too are called to live in solidarity with other members of society, whether by campaigning to improve their own lot or by their mutual support and care. This applies both within communities and between communities, both locally and internationally. It calls all, rich and poor alike, to work together, collaboratively, to end injustice and to give grounds for hope.

The relevance of this in our own towns and cities where segments of the community (typically, the educational under-achievers among the young, and members of some ethnic and religious minorities) are alienated from the rest of society is obvious. Social cohesion can only be achieved through solidarity and by achieving a shared vision, not by threat or coercion. Here John Paul brings to its natural conclusion a line of thinking which had developed in Catholic Social Teaching through the twentieth century. Whereas the wartime Pope, Pius XII had urged that Opus Iustitiae Pax – that peace could only be founded on justice; and whilst Paul VI argued, in Populorum Progressio, that “development is the new name for peace” (Populorum Progressio – “The Development of the Peoples” (1967), paragraph 87) , JPII coined a new motto: Opus Solidaritatis Pax (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, paragraph 39) peace will come only through solidarity – or (to put it negatively) without solidarity we shall never have peace.