In the overwhelming majority of North American Catholic social teaching documents there is one central theme. The “preferential option for the poor and marginalized” is the hermeneutical key that unlocks them all.
The Latin American and Caribbean bishops and their Episcopal Conference (CELAM) pushed the preferential option for the poor and marginalized to the center of Catholic social teaching and the regional church’s mission at their second meeting in Medellín, Columbia in 1968.
There the bishops produced a series of documents, known as the Medellín Conference Documents, presented a theological critique of society and social justice for the Latin American and Caribbean people. This document, Justice, argues that liberation for the poor and marginalized not only requires personal conversion, but most importantly “structural transformation.”
Jesus’ love for the poor was not passive—it was radically active and radically political.
In order to follow Jesus’ love for the poor, our love must be radically active in the direction of structural transformation that creates inclusive politics, even unto the least and most marginalized among us. This politics of Christian love in the direction of structural transformation for the least and most marginalized among us is what Catholic social teaching calls “social justice.”
When electing politicians in a democratic society, Christians must discern whether or not public policies put forward in campaigns seek justice for the poor and marginalized or preserve the social, political, and economic structures that benefit the wealthy and elite.
The theological and moral challenge for us is to read the Latin American and Caribbean bishops’ witness of our poor neighbors and then ask ourselves whether or not we can affect social justice for them with our votes in this election season.
Q. Which politicians are most committed to the preferential option for the poor and marginalized and to their social justice in the region? Whose public policies are able to achieve structural transformation that put their well-being of migrant workers and their families at the center of our political-economy?