The XI Report of the Observatory Cardinal Van Thuân dedicated to “Peoples, Nations, Homelands”.

XI Report on the Social Doctrine of the Church in the World








Edited by

Giampaolo Crepaldi

e Stefano Fontana


Introductory synthesis

Stefano Fontana [1]


This XI Report on the Social Doctrine of the Church in the world tackles the emerging theme of the so-called “reawakening of nations”, doing so in the wake of findings illustrated in some previous Reports over the last few years. Evident, in fact, are the relations of themes such as migration or the future of Europe, dealt with in the very recent past, with this year’s theme of peoples, nations and homelands. Migratory flows make it difficult to conserve national identities and strive to create multi-cultural and multi-religious societies, while negative reactions to them are the outcome of people’s sense of feeling “threatened” in their cultural soul. The process of European integration is in the throes of major difficulties also because it has disregarded the protection and enhancement of the identities of peoples, imposing a sort of standardization considered to be a threat by so many people. Therefore, this XI Report can be considered an obligatory follow up to previous ones, as well as an effort to focus due attention on a concrete and deeply felt problem.

It may be argued that the problem’s origin lies in the relationship between nation and State. Ever since the absolute and bureaucratic modern State has been under ‘construction’, various nations, in order to avoid being crushed under its omnipotence, have made an effort to create their own ‘tailor made’ State. Therefore, following the model inaugurated in Westphalia in 1648, there has been ever increasing identification between nation and State. Identification in this sense has led to forms of nationalism becoming manifest in the oppression of national domestic minorities and warfare against other States that were the exclusive representatives of other nations. According to Hobbs, if the birth of the State puts an end to domestic conflicts insofar as it establishes an absolute power that all citizens have willingly and irrevocably accepted, foregoing liberty in order to enjoy peace, it does not put an end to conflicts among or between States which, in their mutual relations, are like individuals engaged in an ongoing battle of everyone against everyone else.  It may therefore be said that the birth of the modern State has brought about identification between nation and State which, in its turn, has generated nationalism and warfare among States/nation.

The first point to clarify, therefore, is the nature of the State with respect to nations. It is not a matter of having weak or “minimal” States, but to see to it that they – the States – do not plan the life of peoples and nations from above and from the center, imposing themselves upon the latter and acting as the absolute bond of their coexistence. In certain cases, as Caritas in veritate points out, the State as such is not constituted in an fitting manner, and this is not something good, not even for the nation/nations within its territorial boundaries. Nonetheless, strengthening the State does not mean turning it into a mega-machine in the sense understood by Max Weber. The State is an instrument which, socially speaking, “comes after” other natural dimensions of community life, like the family, the nation, and intermediate social entities, and which, legally speaking, is at the service of said realities which come before it according to the principles of natural law. Conversely, the absolute and bureaucratic State ends up forgetting natural law, and considers nothing but positive law according to the perspective of juridical positivism. This is how the State ends up expecting to always be right, also when it disregards or oppresses the natural realities (e.g. family, nation, etc.) that come before it. If the birth of a State is the outcome of a contract, as modern thought argues, it is therefore constituted apart from an order and a natural law, and is not bound to any duty towards natural community realities that come before it, including nations. Reiterating the dignity of nations, however, means referring to a natural order in which the instruments – the State in this case – serve the functional purposes of the ends upon which they depend.

During medieval times, that is to say before the birth of the modern State, nations existed, but not the State in the current meaning of the term. These nations were interconnected by virtue of an articulated unity at various levels. Creative multiplicity and the universal dimension held together without oppressing one another. The State as such was lacking, but not the political community, and the former was not identified with the latter. We are face to face with a very important turning point in the relationship between nations and the State: it is necessary not to equate political community and modern State; the political community comes before the State and may adopt a structure politically apart from the state form as understood by Hobbs or Rousseau. When correctly understood, the principles of the common good and subsidiarity can be of great assistance here. Without common good, there is no unity, because unity stems from the end pursued. The State, however, does not indicate the common good which resides in the natural finalities of the political community in its own right, and in its natural components. Subsidiarity provides criteria for the political and juridical configuration of this unitary aggregation, doing so with objectively grounded inventiveness and creativity.

From an historical viewpoint, however, there is a problem of considerable importance. Modern States have centuries of history behind them, and their artificiality is deeply rooted by now. Claims made by nations can upset a well established political system, generate civil wars, destabilize, and cause conflicts. It is also possible to trigger chain reactions, since requests for autonomy or even political independence advanced by individual peoples and nations can become occasions for geopolitical conflicts replete with dire consequences. The current political system descends from on high, and to reverse the perspective calls for caution: in practical terms, not every claim for national autonomy and independence deserves unconditional support. First of all because, in some cases, the yearning for political independence bears hidden within itself a statist and centralist notion equal to what people would like to escape. Nowadays, many States encompass several nations or peoples: just consider Russia or China. The multiplication of demands for independence could raise fears about possible disintegration that would be prevented by a worsening of centralism. Processes such as these could be supported by foreign powers in order to create difficulties for a foe: regarding issues such as these, it is necessary, on one hand, to be very clear about the concepts of nation and State, and, on the other hand, exercise the necessary realism and practical prudence.

On our planet at present there are nations that have a State of their own, States which encompass several nations and peoples, nations whose national identity suffers the effects of migration, nations that forge agreements among themselves that straddle the borders of several States, and States that give life to supranational economic and political agreements, as is the case of the European Union. When the last of these processes takes place, it is necessary to see to it that no leveling of nations and peoples takes place, and that the countries entering the Union are not requested to make substantial sacrifices regarding their own cultural identity. This entails not only making sure that there may never be an absolute and bureaucratic super-State over and above the States that join together, but also that there may never be a universalist political ideology imposed by the new supranational élites. Both phenomena would be very negative for the national identities that are to be safeguarded and respected, not just protected as if they were folklore or archeology, but left to live more than made to live.

It is in this general context that the concept of homeland is to be found and motivated anew. The homeland is not just the State to which a person belongs and of which he/she is a citizen. As we said above, however, it might have been like this when the modern State had absorbed the nation in question, perhaps creating it artificially, as was the case with Italy. The homeland is the community reality endowed with its own culture and its own history of symbols and meanings; a reality in which persons and families find their horizon of sense, belonging and natural finalism. The homeland is the physical and symbolic place of roots. The homeland is to be known and loved, certainly not scorned or defamed. Nowadays there is a cultural globalism that looks down on homelands, or strives to cage them within its own system of disincarnated touristic enjoyment. Now spreading is a standardized global culture with a language of no more than 200 well codified  words, and a series of conventional and formalized operational principles.

When speaking about homeland it is quite natural to refer to its lengthy history, during which the sense of belonging developed and became well set in people’s minds.  Nonetheless, however, it is necessary to refer not only to historical background, but also to nature. National principles and values are not well-grounded only because they have been handed down by history, but because they conform to the nature of man, the family and the community. Because they express in an original manner the order of social life as human nature so requires. History also hands down irrational and unnatural mores and customs, but they are to be purged from the cultures of nations. Man is undoubtedly culture, but genuine culture respects his nature.

Homeland therefore has to do with truth, and coming into the picture at this point is the relationship of the Catholic religion with culture. Christianity has two essential aims in its endeavors: the unity of humankind based on all being children of one and the same Father, and the specific reality of individual peoples. Both levels fall within both creation and redemption. Christianity, and therefore the Church as well, founds the unity of humankind and the belonging to a people. As St. John Paul II taught us, both expressions of belonging stem forth from the question man asks himself about the ultimate sense of his existence, and therefore about God. Not all religious perform this task in the same way. The Catholic religion claims a unique role for itself, because it is the only one that places revelation in relationship with reason, and hence culture with its natural base. This requires the Church not to bring its workings, its teaching and its own language down to the level of institutions, whether State-based or occupying a position above States. The Church enlightens them with its Social Doctrine which has the power to place each thing at its proper level, safeguarding the whole.



[1] Director of the Observatory Cardinal van Thuân on the Social Doctrine of the Church, Trieste (Italy). This introductory synthesis js undersigned by: Fernando Fuentes Alcantara, Director of the Fundación Pablo VI, Madrid; Alfredo Mantovano, Vice-president of the Rosario Livatini Center of Studies, Rome; Daniel Passaniti, Executive Director CIES-Fundación Aletheia, Buenos Aires; Grzegorz Sokolowski, President of the Social Observatory Foundation  (Fundacja Obserwatorium Społeczne), Wrocław (Poland); Manuel Ugarte Cornejo, Director of the Centro de Pensamiento Social Católico, Universidad San Pablo di Arequipa, Peru.