Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. "Come, blessed of My Father, receive the inheritance of the Kingdom
prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Because, I was hungry
and you gave Me to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me to drink ..." (Matthew 25:
This Evangelical word helps us to make our reflection on charity concrete,
spurring us to be set on fire, according to indications in the "Tertio
Millennio Adveniente" (Cf. n. 51) with some words of commitment that are
particularly consonant with the spirit of the Great Jubilee that we are
preparing to celebrate.
In this connection, it is opportune to refer to the Biblical Jubilee.
Described in chapter 25 of the Book of Leviticus, in certain aspects this
Jubilee reiterates and expresses more completely the function of the
Sabbatical year (Cf. vv. 2-7, 188-22), which is the year in which one had
to abstain from cultivating the earth. The Jubilee year occurred after a
period of 49 years. It was also characterized by abstention of the
cultivation of crops(Cf. vv. 8-12), but it implied two advantageous norms
for the Israelites. The first concerned the recovery of both land and
buildings (Cf vv. 13-17, 23-34); the second concerned the liberation of the
Israelite, who had been sold as a slave to another Israelite to pay off his
own debts (Cf. vv. 39-55).
2. The Christian Jubilee, which was first celebrated by Boniface VIII in
1300, has its own specific nature, but it does not lack content that
recalls the Biblical Jubilee.
In so far as the possession of real estate is concerned, the normative of
the Biblical Jubilee rested on the principle according to which the "earth
belongs to God" and, therefore, given for the benefit of the entire
community. Because of this, if an Israelite had lost his land, the Jubilee
year enabled him to regain possession of it. "The lands cannot be sold
forever, because the land is mine and you are to me as foreigners and
tenants. Because of this, in the whole country that you possess, you will
give the right to rescue the land" (Leviticus 25, 23-24).
The Christian Jubilee calls us to an ever greater awareness of the social
values of the Biblical Jubilee that it hopes to interpret and re-propose in
the contemporary context, reflecting on the demands of the common good and
on the universal destiny of the goods of the earth. Precisely from this
point of view, in the "Tertio Millennio Adveniente" I proposed that the
Jubilee be lived as "an opportune time to think, among other things, of a
consistent reduction, if not the outright cancellation, of the
international debt, that weighs on the future of many nations" (TMA, 51).
3. In connection with this problem, typical of so many vulnerable
countries, in the encyclical "Populorum Progression," Paul VI affirmed that
a dialogue is necessary between those who provide the means and those who
are the beneficiaries, in such a way as "to measure the contributions not
only according to the generosity and disposition of some, but also in
connection with the real needs and the possibility of use of others. In
this way, the developing countries will no longer run the risk of seeing
themselves overwhelmed by debts, the payment of which ends by absorbing the
best of their earnings" (PP, 54). In the encyclical "Sollicitudo Rei
Socialis" I was compelled to point out that, unfortunately, the change in
circumstances -- be it in indebted countries or in the international
financial market -- have made of the financing itself a "counter-productive
mechanism," and this "either because the debtor nations, to pay back the
commitment to the debt, see themselves obliged to export capitals which are
necessary for growth, or even, just to maintain their level of life,
because, for the same reason, they cannot obtain indispensable new
financing" (n. 19).
4. The problem is complex and has no easy solution. It must also be clear
that it is not only of an economic character, but involves fundamental
ethical principles and must find a place in international law, to be
addressed and adequately resolved according to medium and long-term
perspectives. It is necessary to apply an "ethics of survival" that
regulates relations between creditors and debtors, in such a way that the
debtor in difficulty is not burdened by an unbearable weight. It is a
question of avoiding abusive speculation, of agreeing to solutions through
which those who lend are more reassured and those who receive feel
committed to effective global reforms in so far as the political,
bureaucratic, financial and social aspects of their countries are concerned
(Cf. Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, At the Service of the Human
Community. An Ethical Appreciation of the International Debt, II).
Today, in the context of the globalized economy, the problem of
international debt is increasingly thorny, but 'globalization' itself
demands that one walk on the road of solidarity, if we do not want to meet
with general catastrophe.
5. Precisely in the context of these considerations we make our own the
virtually universal request that we have received through the recent
Synods, from many Episcopal Conferences and of individual brother Bishops,
as well as a large number of representations of religious, priests and
laity of making a heartfelt appeal so that the debts contracted may be
partially or even totally cancelled at the international level. In
particular, the request for payment of exorbitant interests would
necessitate taking political decisions that would leave entire populations
in hunger and misery.
This perspective of solidarity, which I had the occasion to point out in
"Centesimus Annus" (Cf. n. 35) has become even more urgent in the world
situation of the last few years. The Jubilee can be a propitious occasion
for gestures of good will: may the richer countries give signs of trust
regarding the economic improvement of the poorer nations; may the market
agents know that in the vertiginous process of economic globalization it is
not possible to save oneself alone. May the gesture of good will to cancel
the debt or at least to reduce it be the sign to the world of a new way of
considering wealth in function of the common good.