The Pastoral Cycle

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The social tradition of the Church has developed over the years a pastoral methodology to address social issues that brings together in dialogue social and human sciences, and faith tradition. The origin of such a systematic approach dates back to the 1920s, initiated within the movement of the Young Christian Workers of the Belgian priest Joseph Leo Cardijn. The traditional approach to social issues – that is charity – was not suited to respond to the working and living conditions of industrial workers of the time. The class struggle that characterised the industrial revolution sharply out-ruled the paternalistic attitude calling the ruler to be benevolent and generous towards the poor, who in their turn were expected to be patient and bear their condition. The level of strife and conflict was much heightened, and the working class was getting alienated from the Church, conquered by the atheist socialist ideology, which would make use of Marxian social theory to interpret changes in society and direct social action. Modernity brought about such fast changes and complexity that understanding social situations and searching for relevant solutions requires an organised, systematic analysis of effects, causes, and options for a response. Joseph Leo Cardijn developed a method that would organise young Christian workers in gathering facts and data about the social issues they engaged in, so that their critical analysis would not be based on unfounded assumptions. Nonetheless, their discernment of what action to take as a response would include a prayerful dialogue with the biblical message, laying a bridge between faith and social sciences. The method became well known as ‘See – Judge – Act’, and it was formally endorsed by Pope John XXIII in his Encyclical Letter Mater et Magistra (1961). Soon after, this methodology became a characteristic of the movement of Theology of Liberation in Latin America, and widely spread and popularised. In the 1980s it got further developed in what has come to be known as the Pastoral Cycle (PC) keeping basically the same structure, but articulating the first element ‘See’ into two components, namely insertion and socio-cultural analysis, and then calling the second element ‘Judge’ as theological reflection, whereas the ‘Act’part is conceived as an action process.
      This first moment of the PC is that of insertion. NGOs and governmental organizations often operate from outside the community, they send in a researcher or social analyst, and then they prepare a project proposal for donors to fund the project. Even though in recent years the catchword for funding projects has been ìparticipatory methodsî, the logic of the PC is different and goes beyond the easy rhetoric of participation. It requires journeying with the people. Insertion is essential for establishing a meaningful rapport with the community, building trust, and for identifying issues and therefore give motivation and energy for breaking the apathy and plunging into action.
      The next step is that of raising critical consciousness in the community. If people are to act effectively on their situation, they need to become aware of the causes of the problem to work out strategies that truly go to the core of the issue, rather than dealing just with the symptoms. The exercise of analysis, however, is not limited to problems, but it has to give ample room also to the search of possible solutions, opportunities and available resources.
      People live in and according to a culture, though often the majority may not be able to articulate it systematically or consciously. Culture conditions their behaviour, their actions and interpretations of reality, convictions and motivations. Social ministers help the group or community they are working with to grasp their own social and cultural reality (and options for action or possible intervention strategies) in a reflective, critical way. Ministry is concerned with people, but persons live in a society and are inspired by their culture hence the inescapable necessity of social and cultural analysis. Social ministers are expected to use these tools with remarkable familiarity.
      Having understood how the situation has come about and why, social ministers accompany the group or community through the exercise of theological reflection. This step aims at bringing to the surface the existential meaning of what has been analysed; it is a process searching for the truth, critical of basic assumptions and actual values (or counter values) that underpin the status of the social issue at hand. Likewise, the community seeks insight and inspiration for a transformed reality in a process of discernment that is value based and rooted in the wisdom of their faith tradition, through a dialogue that can involve various sources. The result often includes a healing process and the regeneration of the faith group, coming to a deeper understanding of their vocation in that situation or, in other words, a renewed self-understanding giving them a sense of direction, purpose and a task that contributes to social transformation.
      People may be Christians, Muslims, African traditional religion followers, or affiliated to any other faith. The aim of theological reflection is to gauge the influence of faith in relation to the issue at stake. How much do people link faith with their own plight? How does faith enlighten the understanding of what is happening? Do they see any relationship between faith and their plight? Does faith motivate them to react or to remain passive? Do the difficulties of life plunge them into despair and doubt about Godís presence and action?
      Now the community is ready for action. They own the problem and understand the causes and range of options for responding to the situation through social and cultural analysis. They have reflected and shared about the relationship between faith and issue, coming up with a sense of responsibility for addressing the issue and a line of action. All this needs now to be turned into a community plan to act accordingly and in collaboration. Such a plan will include strategies and specific tasks, monitoring and evaluation systems, and initiatives to build the capacity to carry out the strategy and tasks planned. Celebration must also be part of this process. Celebration brings together all actors of social transformation in an atmosphere of confident joy and hope and mutual acceptance. It affirms the presence of God in their human history, in times of growing secularization and emphasis on technology, which might render more and more problematic the perceptions and the acceptance of Godís active presence in history. Celebrations are linked with the memorial of the great initiatives of God in history particularly with the supreme one, the resurrection of Jesus, which is the model and the driver, as it were, of all transformations.
      The pastoral cycleís outlook on social transformation is based on an articulated set of assumptions: first of all the entry point will often be a crisis situation, which offers the opportunity for the regeneration of people and society; then faith in people and commitment to their empowerment. The methodology itself involves different aspects of peopleís life, including a healing dimension along the process, helping the community to reconcile itself with past wrongs, with internalised oppression, and negative relationships. All this requires a role of facilitation and accompaniment by social ministers, who construct holistic, community based processes inclusive of the contribution of faith traditions and spirituality.


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