Read: Earthly Mission

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By Robert Calderisi (Yale University Press, 2013)

At the end of Earthly Mission: The Catholic Church and World Development, economist and former World Bank official Robert Calderisi claims that “the Catholic Church has probably lifted more people out of poverty than any other organization in history.”

Tempering this claim slightly, Calderisi acknowledges many developments in the second half of the 20th century that were outside the church’s sphere of influence, including globalization, the growth of private industry, and mass modernization. Instead, since the end of the 19th century, the church has provided the world an intellectual framework stressing human dignity, equality, and individual rights.

This modernizing outlook had profound consequences. It told all Catholics—clerical and lay—they were equally called to serve the poor. The workers Calderisi highlights are deeply informed by the Catholic tradition, but act as individuals rather than institutional representatives. This has translated into education and services provided for all, including disenfranchised groups such as the poor, people with disabilities, women, and minorities. It has also pushed the institutional church to support and promote representative democracy, recognizing that it is the best form of government for protecting individuals.

Calderisi argues persuasively about the importance of the church in world development, but only hints at the impact of the world on the development of the church. The emphasis on equality has led Catholics working in the developing world to eschew proselytizing; the majority of Catholic money and services go to assist non-Catholics. In a remarkable statistic, Calderisi notes that although only 3 percent of Asia’s population is Catholic, more children attend Catholic schools in Asia than attend Catholic schools in North and Central America combined, and this trend is bound to continue. Calderisi ought to consider writing a sequel.

This article appeared in the March 2014 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 79, No. 3, page 43).