Documents on Democracy

Issue Date April 1998
Volume 9
Issue 2
Page Numbers 190-92
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During a historic five-day trip to Cuba, Pope John Paul II touched on many themes, but especially emphasized freedom of worship and expression. Over the course of his visit, the Pope also called for the release of Cuban political prisoners and for an end to the U.S. embargo. Excerpts from his remarks during a meeting with Cuban bishops on 25 January 1998 appear below:

When the Church demands religious freedom she is not asking for a gift, a privilege or a permission dependent on contingent situations, political strategies or the will of the authorities. Rather she demands the effective recognition of an inalienable human right. This right cannot be conditioned by the behavior of the Pastors and the faithful, nor by the surrender of the exercise of any aspect of her mission, much less by ideological or economic considerations. It is not simply a matter of a right belonging to the Church as an institution, it is also a matter of a right belonging to every person and every people. Every individual and every people will be spiritually enriched to the extent that religious freedom is acknowledged and put into practice.

Furthermore, as I have already had occasion to state: “Religious freedom is a very important means of strengthening a people’s moral integrity. Civil society can count on believers who, because of their deep convictions, will not only not succumb readily to dominating ideologies or trends, but will endeavor to act in accordance with their aspirations to all that is true and right” (Message for the 1988 World Day of Peace, 3).

For this reason, dear Brothers, commit yourselves completely to promoting everything that favors the dignity and continuing improvement of human beings, for this is the first path that the Church must follow in fulfilling her mission (cf. Redemptor Hominis, 14). . . .

When the scale of values is inverted and politics, the economy and social activity are no longer placed at the service of people, the [End Page 190] human person comes to be viewed as a means rather than respected as the center and end of all these activities, and man is made to suffer in his essence and in his transcendent dimension. Human beings are then seen simply as consumers, and freedom is understood in a very individualistic and reductive sense, or men and women are seen as mere producers with little room for the exercise of civil and political liberties. None of these social and political models fosters a climate of openness to the transcendence of the person who freely seeks God.

On the preceding day, the Pope preached to a congregation of more than 150,000 people in Santiago de Cuba. Excerpts from his homily appear below:

The Church calls everyone to make faith a reality in their lives, as the best path to the integral development of the human being, created in the image and likeness of God, and for attaining true freedom, which includes the recognition of human rights and social justice. In this regard, lay Catholics—holding to their specific role as lay persons so that they may be “salt and leaven” in the midst of the society of which they are part—have the duty and the right to participate in public debate on the basis of equality and in an attitude of dialogue and reconciliation. Likewise, the good of a nation must be promoted and achieved by its citizens themselves through peaceful and gradual means. In this way each person, enjoying freedom of expression, being free to undertake initiatives and make proposals within civil society, and enjoying appropriate freedom of association, will be able to cooperate effectively in the pursuit of the common good.

South Korea

Former dissident and prodemocracy activist Kim Dae Jung was elected president of South Korea in December elections (see the article by David I. Steinberg on pp. 76–90 above). Excerpts from Kim’s inaugural address of 25 February 1998 follow:

The historic significance of today’s inaugural ceremony is great indeed; today is a proud day when a democratic transition of power is taking place on this soil for the first time. Moreover, it is a historic day when a government is, at last, being born that embraces both democracy and the economy as the nation’s goal.

This is truly the “government of the people” mandated by the power of the people. While dedicating all the glory and blessing to you, I firmly pledge to serve you, body and soul. . . . [End Page 191]

Unfortunately, however, at this very important juncture, we have run into a foreign exchange crisis which is the most serious national crisis since the Korean War. We are faced with a crisis that could bankrupt our country. Burdened by an enormous debt, we are anxious to settle the maturing foreign debts that are surging over us every day.

. . . . We must calmly and squarely look back to find out how we have arrived at this state of affairs. This unfortunate development would not have taken place unless the political, economic and financial leaders of this country were tainted by a collusive link between politics and business and by government-directed banking practices and unless the large business groups had set up a large number of uncompetitive subsidiaries. . . .

Political reform must precede everything else. Participatory democracy must be put into practice; the people must be respected as masters and must act like masters. Only then can national administration become transparent and corruption disappear. I will do whatever it takes to realize politics by the people and politics in which the people truly become the masters.

The government of the people will not indulge in political retaliation of any kind. It will not condone discrimination and preferential treatment of any kind. I firmly pledge here and now that there will not be a government for one region, or discrimination against a province any longer.

The government will be made more efficient by bearing its share of the pain. A large portion of the power and functions that have been by now concentrated in the central government will be transferred to the private sector and local autonomous governments. . . .

The biggest task facing the government of the people is to overcome the economic crisis and make our economy take off once again. The government of the people will push democracy and economic development in parallel. Democracy and the market economy are two sides of a coin or two wheels of a cart. If they were separated, we could never succeed. Every nation that has embraced both democracy and a market economy has been successful.

Nations, on the other hand, that have rejected democracy and accepted only a market economy have ended up suffering disastrous setbacks, as illustrated by Nazi Germany and militaristic Japan. These two countries, too, accepted both democracy and a market economy after the Second World War and have come to enjoy the freedom and prosperity they have today.

When democracy and a market economy develop together in harmony, there cannot be unsavory collusion between politics and business, government-directed financing and irregularities and corruption. I firmly believe that we can overcome today’s crisis by practicing democracy and a market economy in parallel.