234 - may 2000

Globalization:Challenges to the Church’s Mission
A speechgiven by Francis Cardinal GeorgeO.M.I.
at the Congreso AmericanoMisionero in ParanáArgentina on September 301999
In a speech at theCongresso Americano Misionero in ParanáArgentina on September 301999Cardinal Francis GeorgeArchbishop of Chicago (USA) examined thechallenges raised by global- ization to the Church’s mission. Some 2900delegatesincluding several Oblatesattended the Congress. (See OMI InfoNo.385Dec. ’99). According to the Cardinalit is the Church’smission to work towards a globalization that respects the human person. Evermore conscious of the inter- dependence of the peoples of the earththeCatholic Church must be unitedfavor interfaith dialoguein order to createsolidarityand do its best to remove divisions so that globalization may be achance for the human personfor justice and for peace.

Table of Contents


What isGlobalization?

Globalization:An Evaluation

Positive Dimensions: Globalization as Opportunity

Negative Dimensions: Globalization as Ideology

The Church’s Missionary challenges in an Age ofGlobalaization

Two Tasks

  1. The proclamationand defense of the human person
  2. Creating aculture of life

Three resources

  1. Thechurch’s catholicity in an age of globalization
  2. The call for anew evangelization
  3. Celebration ofthe Great Jubilee



As this decade andcentury draw to a closeit has become increasingly apparent that a new worldorder is taking shape. At the beginning of this decadewe saw the collapse ofCommunism in Eastern Europeand with itthe end of the Cold War. This eventmeant both the end of the bipolar political arrangement of the world andas ithas turned outthe end of an economic order which divided the world intocapitalist and socialist economies.

What has replaced theCold War world orderwhich perdured for more than four decadesis what is nowbeing called globalization. While it is still emerging as a new worldorderthe contours it is bringing to the world and the directions it appearsto be going are becoming clearer to us. Given the effects of this world orderon concrete personsit is incumbent upon the Church - which has been entrustedby Christ to care for all - to engage it as it does all cultures: both toaffirm what is good and noble about it and to confront its shortcomings and itsevils with the light and power of the Gospel.

In this presentationI wish to explore what challenges globalization raises for the mission of theChurch today. This isof coursea vast task - one that cannot be fullyrealized in a presentation such as this. I will try to set out what are boththe main challenges globalization raisesas well as what resources the Churchbrings to bear upon those challenges in its presentation of the message ofJesus Christ. I will begin with a brief deion of globalization as it isunfolding in the world today and follow that by a brief evaluation of itspositive and negative dimensions. Attention then turns to how the Church in herevangelizing mission should and can respond to those challenges today. Thepresentation concludes with some reflections on globalization in light of theNew Evangelization and the Great Jubilee.

WhatIs Globalization?

There are manyattempts today to define just what globalization is. It is a phenomenon whichis so vast that attempts at grasping it comprehensively can fall short of themark. Let me begin with an image which sets the stage for understandingglobalizationboth at the technical and the spiritual levels.

In July we noted thethirtieth anniversary of one of the most remarkable events of the twentiethcentury: the occasion when - an Earth dweller first set foot on anotherplanetary bodythe moon. That event was filled with all kinds of meaning forus. But one of the most powerful images to emerge from the adventures of travelin space was our first opportunity to see our own planet Earth from theperspective of space. This is an image now familiar to all of us. From theperspective of the Apollo 8 spacecraftthe Earth appeared like a sapphire orbillumined against the blackness of space. As one gazes at this gemone cannotsee lines of political division or other boundaries and barriers that mark andsometimes divide the human community. Insteadthe image from space is one of aprofound unity.

Globalization in itsmost positive senseI believeis an aspiration here on earth to the harmonyand unity seen from space. It holds up the hope and the promise of a trulyunited human familybound together in deep communion. It is from such animageand to such a hopethat we should take our cues about dealing with aprocess which has the potential to link all humanity together in anunprecedented way. The image of Earth from the Apollo 8 spacecraft offers thebasis for a spirituality which can guide us to meet the missionary challengeswhich globalization holds before usa spirituality more adequate to the visiongiven us by a truly Catholic faith.

Whatthenisglobalization? Put most simplyglobalization is about a simultaneous expansionand compression of time and space. On the one handglobalization has connectedpeople and places around the world in a way not earlier known to humanity. Onthe otherthose very connections have created a density of relationships whichcan become overwhelming and even oppressive to the human community. Thecomputer provides an image of both expansion and compression: the Internet andthe World Wide Web represent the expanded interconnectedness of the world; thecomputer chipwith its compression of information into a very tiny placegives us an image of what the world has become.

The twin forces ofexpansion and compression create a lively dynamic and reveal the deepcontradictions within globalizationto which I will return in a moment. To tryto understand how globalization operates in our world todaylet me speakbriefly about how it involves four dimensions of our lives: the technologicaleconomicpolitical and cultural.

TheTechnological Dimension

What has madeglobalization possible has been the rapid advances in communicationstechnology. The rise of the personal computer in the 1980’sand theadvent of the interconnections of the World Wide Web and the Internet in the1990’s have created a form of communication which can move large amountsof information at an extremely rapid rate. It has expanded the scope and cutthe time of communication dramatically. It is this possibility of connecting somany people and institutionsand making their interaction fast and relativelyeffortlessthat lies at the foundation of globalization as we are experiencingit. This is most evident in the information flow that this new communicationstechnology makes possible. Information is more accessible and more abundant foreven greater numbers of people.

In additionthe easeof long-distance transportation has led to both the migration of peoples toimprove their political and economic lot and the rapid movement of capital andconsumer goods. Such migration and movement areof coursenot new. But thethey are now emerging on a scale not known at earlier stages.

TheEconomic Dimension

It is in the economicdimension of human life that globalization has made itself particularly felt.The rapid transference of information and capital allows for businesstransactions at a greater pace and with great intensity. The economic orderthat is emerging out of this possibility is a world-wide market capitalismoften called neoliberal capitalism because it resembles in many ways theliberal capitalism of the end of the nineteenth century. It is a form ofcapitalism less and less under any cultural or governmental control andregulation. It has linked more countries together than ever before. It alsorepresents one of the profound paradoxes of globalization. Despite its abilityto improve life for allit has - at least to this point - widened the gapbetween a few immeasurably wealthy groups and individuals and an ever greaternumber of people imprisoned in economic hardship or even misery. The 1999report of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) indicates that the gapbetween rich and poor is growing ever wider rather than narrowing. I willreturn to this point later. Likewisedespite its ability to link togethereveryone in this new economic arrangementit has mostly linked those mostprivileged in rich and poor countries.

ThePolitical Dimension

The political effectof communications and transportation technologythe powerful economic forcesof global capitalism and the pervasive cultural images circulated in daily lifeis a weakened nation-state. Communications leap over every national boundary. Aglobal market economy limits government controlreducing the importance andthe power of the nation-state. Additionallyeconomic agreements betweennations have created blocs which undercut national sovereignty: the EuropeanUnionNAFTAand Mercosur are all familiar arrangements. Finallythe collapseof the bipolar Cold War world order has been accompanied by an increase insmall-scale warsmost often fought now within the nation-states rather thanbetween them. These wars are creating large numbers of displaced persons andrefugees on a scale not seen since the end of World War II.

As the politicalorder shiftsthe nation-state will not immediately disappearbut its powersand roles are changing. We are also witnessing the rising importance oftransnational non-state organizations such as the Non-GovernmentalOrganizations (NGOs) in the political order. Especially important are thoseaccredited at the United Nations.

TheCultural Dimension

In thisinterconnected web of relationships fostered by communications technologyakind of global culture has emerged. This culture is marked especially by signsof consumption: foodclothingand entertainment. Many of these signs ofconsumption emerged - at least initially - from North America: McDonald’shamburgersCoca-ColaT-shirtsathletic shoesrock musicvideosandmovies. Because they are public companiesthey are owned by investorsthroughout the hemisphere and around the world. Although these cultural signsare received and interpreted in different ways ill cultures around the worldthey do provide a common cultural languageespecially among the youth of theworld. Along with a wider choice of cultural goods and life-styles. a kind ofuniversal skepticism about the human intellect’s ability to grasp truthhas arisen. The post-modern mind deconstructs but resists intellectualsynthesis.

Paradoxicallypost-modern diversity seems to lead to homogenization of culture. Thehomogenizing powers of the economic forms of globalization give the impressionthat there is no alternative to neoliberal capitalism. - Can this businesseconomy described by Pope John Paul in Centesimus Annus - one based onprivate propertya free market and personal economic initiative but designedso that the economy serves the person rather than the person serving theeconomy -emerge from our present global economic order? The homogenizing powersof cultural globalization seem to be breaking down forms of artmusicandeven language in local cultures. Although Spanish continues to be the mostspoken first language in the Catholic Church todayEnglish has emerged a thelanguage of globalization.

These homogenizingforces are keenly felt. Because of their sheer sizemany people experiencethese forces as being beyond their control. At the same timethere continue tobe signs that they may not become as all-embracing as they now appear to be.The United Nations Development Program has called for greater regulation ofeconomic globalizationwhich indicates an awareness of the problem but givesno solution. Studies are also showing thatwhile global cultural signs maypervade a culturethey have not eradicated local cultural expressions andsometimes intensify their local culture. It isin factbeing increasinglyrecognized that to understand globalizationone must not look only at itshomogenizing aspectsbut must instead attend precisely to where the globalintersects with the local. Very few people beyond a small managerial andcultural elite live exclusively at the level of the global. Most people feelits impact as it interacts with their local setting.

One of the mostcommon postures regarding the global is resistance by reasserting localidentity. This has been one of the causes for the increased number of wars inthe world today. It has led in some instances to religious identity beinginvoked as a means to establish a clearer local identity and difference fromone’s neighborsoften with violent consequences. It has also contributedto the revival of language and custom in other places. In both instancesthelocal is experienced more intensely because of its being countered by theincursion of the global.

This interaction ofthe global and the local has combined with the migration of peoples (bothvoluntary and forced) to produce cultural interactions unmatched in intensityand scale. Many of the countries of America have long been multicultural. Whatis new is the intensity of the interaction between cultures. The United Statesand Canada are now the second and third most multicultural countries of theworld (after Australia). The United States is now also the fifth largestSpanish-speaking country in the world.

The jostling ofcultures with one another has led to cultural fragmentation and new forms ofculture emerging. Againcultures have always borrowed from one another. Butwhat we are seeing today is a cultural fragmentationespecially in urbansettings.

Because of a combinedexperience of powerlessness in the face of globalizationresistance to itsencroachments and the fear of fragmentation of basic cultural valuesgroupsaround the world are responding with what are sometimes calledfundamentalisms. Fundamentalism is a reassertion of identity andautonomy by selecting certain anti-modernanti-global dimensions of local(especially religious) identityand making them both the pillars upon whichidentity is built and the boundary against further global encroachment. Ifglobalization is responsible for an unacceptable homogenizationthe postmodernworld may find its protection for the local in premodern phenomena. Humanfreedom might thereby be finally disconnected from modernity and a genuinelynew postmodern order be born in the dialogue between premodern culture such asIslamand the postmodern culture of secularized Christianity.

Globalization: An Evaluation

Having said all ofthis about globalizationhow shall we evaluate it? There has been a tendencyespecially in religious circlesto focus on the negative dimensions. Much ofthat evaluation is on the mark. But to focus exclusively on the negativedimensions of globalization ignores two important things. First of allthereare some positive values of globalization that must be acknowledged. Andsecondone cannot simply condemn globalization outright. since all culturalphenomena are evangelically ambiguous and there is no alternative in view.Globalization cannot be ignored nor easily escaped. If the Church wishes toengage the world - as was made so clear she should at the Second VaticanCouncil - we must not simply evade or ignore or even condemn such a powerfulforce in the contemporary world. To that endI wish to look at both thepositive and the negative results of globalization.

Positive Dimensions: Globalizationas Opportunity

There are twopositive dimensions of globalization which I would like to note here. Togetherthey represent the opportunity which globalization offers. The first dimensionis the possibility of a more interconnected world. With the communications andtransportation technology which we now havewe have the chance to becomegenuinely a connected human family. For a Church which calls herself Catholicthis is of real importance. The vision of the Earth from the Apollo 8spacecraft is the possibility being held out to us. As we shall seetheimplications of this possibility have been expressed over and over again byPope John II in his call for greater human solidarity.

This brings us to asecond and related positive aspect of globalization: the increased opportunityfor human development which access to information and the shrinking of distancemake possible. Communications technology in this newly global era has madepossible effective protection of human rights. The movement against thedeployment of land minesfor examplewas conducted entirely over theInternet. The televised display of famine and war-induced suffering hasmobilized public opinion and forced governments to react to these humantragedies. Globalization in medicine is bringing about campaigns to totallyeradicate certain diseases. In other wordsthe access to information and theshrinking of distance can improve the quality of human life in significantways.

Negative Dimensions: Globalization as Ideology

There are three areas which haveattracted most attention from critics of globalization.

Firstthese are thevalues which have often driven economic and cultural globalization: namelythesearch for economic profit as the highest human goal and the definition of thehuman being as a consumer. If profit alone - and especially short-term profit -is seen as the value which organizes an economic systemthen human beings andhuman societies are bound to suffer. Likewiseto value human beings primarilyin the light of how much they can consume represents an unacceptable diminutionof the dignity of the human person. It is an affront to a basic principle oftheological anthropologynamelythat we are created in the image and likenessof God. To define people on the basis of how much they can buy and consumedestroys our sense of the personwho discovers his genuine self throughgenerosity and self-giving. It remains trueof coursethat these negativephenomena are not tied uniquely to globalization. They have existed in everyeconomic order since the fall of Adam and Evebut their scope makes them morepowerful now.

The second negativedimension of globalization is the ever widening gap between the rich and thepoor. The global economy promises that those who submit to its ways will have abetter way of life economically. But the experience of many is that ofexclusion or exploitation rather than inclusion in this growing wealth. Inresponsemore and more voices are calling for a regulation of this economy inorder to distribute its wealth more equitably. The problemof courseis thatthere is no single political interlocutor for a global economynor do mostwant a world government. In other wordseconomic dynamics cannot be severedfrom political and cultural factors. Look at the differencesfor examplebetween the post-Marxist economies of Poland and Hungary and that of Russia.The first two had the cultural context to make the economy shift where Russiaapparently did not.

The third negativedimension has to do with the fracturing of cultures and ways of life which thehomogenizing forces of globalization bring in their wake. Part of human dignityis the right to culturean authentic but distinctive way of being human. Thisis a point which the Holy Father has made tirelessly in his travels around theworld. To deprive peoples of their language and way of lifeto force them intoother patterns of livingis to rob them of a basic dimension of theirhumanity. Additionallythe fundamentalist response to cultural globalizationis often accompanied by human rights abuses and conflict.

TheChurch’s Missionary Challenges in an Age of Globalization

Whatthendo thepossibilities and the challenges of globalization mean for the Church’smission today?

The Holy Father firstspoke of globalization in his Message for the 1998 World Day of Peace. In thatmessage he recognized how the world was changing. In view of the political andespecially the economic changeshe posed a series of questions about inclusionand justice. In order to create a more equitable society and peace in theworldhe laid down two principles: 1) a greater sense of responsibility forthe common good; and 2) never losing sight of the human person as the center ofany social project. “The challengein short” he says“is toensure a globalization in solidaritya globalization withoutmarginalization.” (Emphasis in the original). In light of these wordsof the Holy FatherI would propose a focus on two tasks that might define theChurch’s mission in an age of globalizationand identify three resourcesthat the Church brings to these tasks.


1. The proclamationand defense of the human person

At the veryfoundation of a globalization that is just and equitable is the dignity of thehuman persona theme which Pope John Paul II has returned to again and againfrom his first encyclicalRedemptor hominisonward. Without this focalpointany project for society is bound to go astray and enslave rather thanset free. We must make the proclamation of the truth about the human person thecenter of our missionary proclamation in a globalized world. The redemption wehave received in Jesus Christ is testimony to how God perceives and loves eachhuman being.

Since our response tohuman dignity is deeply affected by the values which comprise one’sculturethe second and related major task facing a Church is the conversion ofculture. In the words of the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Americathe cultures which globalization touches must be guided by “a moral visionof human dignitysolidarityand subsidiarity.” (No. 55) As the ApostolicExhortation explainsthis transformation involves both the inculcation ofthese positive values in every culture and in interactions between nationsandalso the attendant reduction of the negative effects of globalization on thepoor and weak. The global conversion of culture also involves supporting thoseinternational organizations that strive to create and sustain a culture oflife.

Let me give anexample of a proper response to one issue that is of special importance to thecountries of America: their massive external debt. Dealing with this centralissue in our people’s lives requires two strategies. On the one handwemust mitigate the negative effects of the debtwhich drains away resourcesfrom a country and hurts especially the poor. This requires concerted effortsto have the debt reduced by lender countries and institutions - or evencompletely cancelled in some cases. While some efforts have been made by theworld financial institutions and the major industrialized countries toacknowledge this issueall efforts have so far been inadequate. But on theother handwe must promote an internal culture within each debtor nation thatwill assure that loans and investments received are used for the common goodand for genuine human promotion. Thuscultural elements that encouragecronyismcorruptionand fraud must be eliminated within the country itself.As Christianswe are called upon to work at both of these dimensions.

Three Resources

1. The Church’scatholicity in an age of globalization

One of the greatresources the Catholic Church brings to the mission of evangelization in an ageof globalization is its catholicity. I understand catholicity here in both ofits theological dimensions: its extension throughout the entire worldand thefullness of truth which it brings to the human family.

As a Church extendedthroughout the entire worldthe Catholic Church itself is a transnationalinstitution which brings special resources to a globalized world. In an agewhen transnational institutions (such as the NGOs) can render a special serviceto mankind which no single nation can dothe Church has networks ofcommunication to build solidarity among nations and throughout the humancommunity. The challenge before us now as a Church is to use the network wealready have even more effectively. Missionary institutes and organizationshave a special role to play in this. Communion among local churches is meant tobe the leaven for solidarity among peoples.

The message of faithwhich the Church preaches provides a moral and spiritual vision for a just andequitable society in an age of globalization. The truths she has received fromChrist emboldens the Church to proclaim the dignity of the human personthecentrality of the human person for any social projectthe call to solidarityamong all members of the human familythe presence of both good and evil inevery culturean the reconciling mission of Jesus Christ to bring all thingstogether on the earth in offering to God (cf. Eph 1:10; Col 1:20).

Let me sketch for youhow I see the presentation of these truths. A Church which is truly catholicproposes the message of salvation to all people without exception ordistinction; all are called to the banquet table of the Reign of God. Theeffectiveness of this proposal is grounded in our own continual conversionacontinual “change of mentality” (metanoia)a constant turningaway from a radically autonomous and isolated selfa change brought about bythe encounter with Christ in his bodythe Church. In this constant conversionecclesial communionour relation to one another in Christis deepened. Theinculturation of the faith - the conversion of a society and culture broughtabout by preaching who Christ is in a language understandable to the people -begins with identifying semina verbi present in every culture and thenmoves to identify the demonic elements also present in any culture. Thisdiscernment becomes visible in the lives of the evangelizers themselveswhoare witnesses to the power of God’s grace. Such Catholic evangelizers mustbe in profound conversation both with Christ and with the people he places ontheir path.


The newevangelizationfirst called for by our Holy Father during a visit to Haititakes into account how the world has changed and asks how the saving message ofJesus Christ can be heard by those whohaving once accepted the Gospelnowhave deliberately put it aside. This conscious rejection of the faith ispresent not only in the new Aeropagoi of the mass media and of science of whichthe Pope spoke in the encyclical Redemptoris Missiobut also in thechanged outlooks of many men and women todayof entire groups who live in aworld order where the old compass points no longer orient. Keeping theprinciples of the new evangelization in mind will make our mission moreeffective in a globalized world: It is biblical; comprehensive in attending toall peoples; dialogic in its respect for freedom of conscience; culturallyadapted even as it transforms societies; innovative in its use of the new mediaof communications; and it is the responsibility of all members of the Church.

The newevangelization presupposes both ecumenical and interfaith dialogue. SinceChrist and his Church are oneecclesial disunity is a scandal that weakens thepreaching of the Gospel. Globalized economiessocieties and cultures willrespond only to a genuinely unified Church. As the faith communities becomeagain the primary shapers and leavens of culture in the next millenniuminterfaith dialogue becomes ever more imperative. Especially crucial is thedialogue between Catholicism and Islamboth of which are growing. Therelationship between Catholics and Muslims will define globalization moreprofoundly than any economic or political arrangements.


A third resource forthe mission in a context of globalization is the celebration of the GreatJubilee. The Jubilee carries with it messages that are central to mission.First of allit expresses the gratuitous character of the love of Godwhooffered His own Son for the salvation of our world. In a world where everyrelationship threatens to become commercializedwhere acts of generosity andgratuity are seen as diminishing possible profitsthe message of how God actsgratuitously to save the world brings us into a genuine new world.

SecondJubilee meansin the Bible the cancellation of debt and a new beginning. If authenticglobalization is about inclusion and participationthen such inclusion andparticipation must be made possible by giving the poor a fresh start. TheChurch brings her resources to bear upon imagining a new beginning wherejustice and then peace will have a better chance because both are grounded inlove.


To sustain thismissionary activitywe must have a missionary spirituality which will sustainguideand nourish us in our calling. I return here to the image of Earth seenfrom space: Our world isafter allquite small in the total scheme of thecosmos. It is fragile. Its divisions and barriers are of human makingand webelievers should be those who can see where the world has come fromand whereit is going.

The world in all ofits dimensions has come from God. It is God’s creatingand bears theimprint of his own image. It has therefore a dignitya goodnessand a beautywhich cannot be deniedno matter bow much sinfulness has disfigured theworld’s countenance. The world is on a journey beyond its brokenness anddivisions to a new harmony and communion with Goda journey which the lettersof Paul to the Ephesians and Colossians call reconciliation. In themidst of the fracturing which the world experiences more acutely because ofglobalizationthe message of reconciliation of all things in Christ is a truthwhich our world aches to hear.

Several decadesbefore talk about globalization became commonPope John XXIII called theSecond Vatican Council to revitalize the mission of the Church in the world. Hecalled it so that the Churchas a globala worlda universal assemblycouldbe more visibly the sacrament of the unity of the human race after thenationalcultural and economic divisions had led us into war and bloodshed inthe first half of this century. The call to mission which is truly Catholic isthe true call of the Council. For various reasonsthe Council has not yet beenreceived as a call for the Church to change the world. Much energy has beenexpended in changing the Church according to various patterns; not enoughenergy has been given to changing ourselves with the help of the Church so thatwe can change the world.

This change beginswith Jesus Christ and ends in him. He is the Reign of God in his person. Thegreatest challenge to the mission of the Church in a new global order remainswhat has been the greatest challenge for the last 2000 years: how to overcomethe obstacles to discipleship and accept with glad hearts the freedom thatJesus Christsavior of the worldwants to give us? In any situationpeoplecan be afraid to hope. By expanding this conference to include all of Americayou are giving to the world another reason to hopeand I thank you.

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