Land, a common good for all of humanity - Card. Roger Etchegaray
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Card. Roger Etchegaray

1. In the Bible, the commitment to equally distribute the earth is at the origin of one of the most singular social institutes: the Jubilee. This surprising institution proposed making God's original project on creation into a concrete reality, being that the earth and its riches should be considered a common good of all of humanity. Making a treasure from that precious heredity, which was strongly reaffirmed by the Holy Father John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente (n. 13), the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace felt it was necessary to publish a document on the theme of land and its equal distribution, in order to enrich and given direction to the path of preparation for all of the Church towards the Great Jubilee of the Year 2,000.

The document, "For a Greater Distribution of Land. The Challenge of Agrarian Reform," is in itself a document which is profoundly integral in the "Jubilee." It faces the problems of the excessive concentration of land in great ownership and of the excessive pulverization of the small companies, often on the sidelines of the market. It deals with a very current and pressing problem, especially in countries which are developing. The "jubilee" inspiration offers the document an indisputable ethical intonation. It solicits, in fact, a strong awareness of conscience of human and Christian values of justice, of solidarity and of the integral promotion of man. Without these values, there is a lack of political determination which is capable of reforming unequal and dramatic situations and to promote processes of growth and development.

Lay-Out of the Document

2. The document is laid out in three parts:
a) In the first part (nn. 4-21), some problems, both typical and characteristic, are taken into consideration, in the process of concentration and of the process of pulverization of the founding property. We feel it necessary to highlight, above all, the parts which deal with the institutional and structural issues which impede the implementation of an agrarian reform. Of particular importance are the highlighted sections related to the consequences (nn. 13 ss) of a lack of reform and what that produces at a social, economic and political level.
b) The second part of the document (nn. 22-41) draws on the Biblical message (nn. 22-26) and on the teaching of the social magisterium (nn. 27-41) regarding the property of land. The document illustrates some needs, both spiritual and ethical-social ones which derive from the Biblical tradition of the Jubilee. In the section dedicated to the social doctrine, duly noted is the connection between the principal of the universal distribution of goods and private property. This doctrinal element develops into the interpretative key which allows for a correct and adequate comprehension of the sense and of the conceptual and thematic articulation of the entire text. In reading the document it is easily seen that there is a surprising degree of harmony between the social doctrine of the Church and of economic theory. Both the social teaching and economic theory recognize that private property is an institution, when it is clearly defined even in its finality and social ties, which favor the growth of investments and of productivity in an efficient and coherent way with the natural predisposition of man to produce.
c) The third part of the document (nn. 42-59) focuses on those which are the ethical and cultural presumptions that are need to activate an efficient agrarian reform which is respectful of the needs of justice of the person and of people and answers in an adequate way to the needs of a solid development. Definitively, it deals with activating, in a coordinated way, a series of articulated and complex factors which go from the professional formation of credit, to the promotion of women in the cooperation, to the activation of services and infrastructure to the coherence in defining the political choices at a national and international level.
d) At the heart of these three parts, the document pauses on some issues which it feels should be noted, because of the relevance they take on now according to public opinion and the mass media.

1) In the first place, the question of the land of the indigenous. In this regard we refer to the numbers, 11, 39, 55, 56, which, read in a unit, offer an up-date picture of how the document highlights the issues and proposes indications for their solutions;

2) The other theme is that related to the occupation of land. In merit of this delicate and complex issue, the document (n. 44) takes the opportunity to reaffirm that the occupation of land is a pressing sign of activating without delay efficient agrarian reforms.

Agrarian Reform: A Practical Utopia
3. The driving force of the document is its proposal on agrarian reform. Why does it address and re-launch this theme? On this point the text is very pointed in supplying the answer. Often, the experience of agrarian reform, put into action by many governments and many countries, has failed miserably, aside from the good intentions which moved them, because of a kind of "original sin" which impeded their success: that of being uniquely identified with the expropriation of land and its subsequent sub-division. All this is certainly necessary and fundamental...but it is not enough. The suggested approach in the document, instead calls for a reformist political stance, capable of activating all the factors, from the cultural ones to the social ones, from the economic ones to the political ones. It is not sufficient to press just one or two buttons...the buttons must be harmonized and all pressed together! This reform, then, must be capable of using the markets to offer technology, adequate services and infrastructures, to remove barriers to the access of credit and to the education of the poor and to the most disadvantaged, including women. A reformist political stance which is capable of offering more opportunities of integration between agriculture and other sectors, especially in relation to the work market, as a form of insurance against the risks to which the rural family is exposed; capable, as well, of removing the institutional ties which block the natural rooting and expansion of the family-run business up to the point of reaching stable and efficient economical dimensions.

In the rural zones, the possibility of access to land through the offered opportunities, even those of the work force and of capital are seen to be even more a necessary condition for the reduction of poverty. For this reason, agrarian reform, which proposed to correct the inefficiencies tied to the productive forms like the minifund, through the schemes of reform "assisted by the market," addresses even today an important priority. The document solicits reformist designs and theses to redistribute land with programs which aim to financially assist the poor and women, and which are accompanied by programs in which the rights to ownership are defined in a clear way. The redistribution of land also represents a transfer of political and economic power which is essential to break the dependence with the power of big owners, of institutions which represent money and the urban elite, and instead favors the sharing of the benefits which derive from economic growth. By underlying in an unequivocal way the many and difficult institutional and structural nodes which need to be resolved in order for an agrarian reform to be equal and efficient, the document does not propose an unrealizable utopia but a practical utopia.

A Message of Hope for the Poor
4. The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace wanted to give a universal voice to the many local voices and Churches which find themselves on a daily basis facing the grave issues of the distribution of land. These voices which arise from the Church, together and every more often, call for the construction of a society in the evangelical sign of justice and peace. Even the "challenge of agrarian reform," proposed in the document, positions itself along these difficult and necessary lines. It is a challenge which solicits the responsibility of everyone, especially of those, at the national and international levels, who are inherently responsible for the common good. In this second year of preparation for the Great Jubilee of 2,000, dedicated by the Holy Father John Paul II to the Holy Spirit and to a stronger adhesion to Christian hope, the document wants to be a message of hope, of "jubilee" hope, especially for the poor.