The word “integral” has become ubiquitous in the Catholic Church. It can be traced back to Pope Pius XII speaking of “integral peace” in his 1942 Christmas message, though it is more commonly associated with Pope Paul VI, who introduced “integral human development” in 1967 in Populorum Progressio. Today, Pope Francis has thrust this word to the forefront with his emphasis on “integral ecology” in Laudato Si’ and his maxim that “everything is connected.”
One of the areas in which this integral perspective is particularly crucial today is mining. Mining is a nexus between problems of ineffective economic development, poor governance, human rights abuses, ecological degradation, and violent conflict. For several years, the Catholic Peacebuilding Network has been engaged in studying how a peacebuilding approach might serve to pull the responses to these various problems together and help address mining in a truly integral way. The newly published volume Catholic Peacebuilding and Mining: Integral Peace, Development, and Ecology is a result of this engagement. The book is a combined effort of a global group of academics and practitioners, and includes case studies from Colombia, Peru, El Salvador, the Philippines, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The complexity of mining is due in part to the way that it is simultaneously radically local and radically global. It is a fundamental part of the global supply chain that interconnects peoples, nations, and businesses, but it is also intimately rooted in specific places and communities, frequently in remote areas away from scrutiny and on lands populated by Indigenous or other marginalized peoples. The Catholic Church is one of the few entities able to match this complexity. It is present in localities directly impacted by mining, and its institutional nature allows it to connect those grassroots contexts with national, regional, and international levels. The church’s social teachings also touch on many of the key issues at stake. The capacity to connect those social levels and apply principles from its body of social teaching are key to the church’s distinct ability to identify badly needed integral solutions for peace, development, and ecology in the mining sector.
At present, this capacity is not as well-leveraged as it could be, and the church needs to better activate its own ecclesial networks in order to realize its potential in this area. However, some positive examples do exist. In the successful campaign to ban metal mining in El Salvador, church leaders embraced the cause and helped channel grassroots energy to have a major impact on national legislation. They also helped Salvadoran groups network with communities in the Philippines impacted by the same mining company active in El Salvador. A different example is Colombia. The Colombian bishops’ conference has been striving to coordinate diocesan and parish level activity around mining and environmental protection with implementation of the country’s 2016 peace accord, which includes economic development strategies that lean on mining. Here, Catholic leaders are trying to make sure that local concerns about mining, like biodiversity preservation and protection of indigenous rights, are respected within the framework of a necessary yet fragile national plan to end a decades-long civil war and promote sustainable development.
The mining sector is a space that dramatically demonstrates that, indeed, “everything is connected.” It demands bold brushstrokes at the policy level, and nuanced sensitivity to the dynamics of ecology, culture, economics, and conflict at the site level. The Catholic Church is ideally situated to help weave these demands together. It has much work to do to improve the quality of its engagement. Recommended actions include: enhance its technical know-how; better engage lay leadership, including women; find a balance between justified criticism of companies and cooperation with them when warranted; and reconsider how some of its social teaching fits emerging understandings of problems like climate change and conflict. The Catholic Church has distinctive potential to address problems in the sector in the integral way that they need.
Caesar A. Montevecchio is Assistant Director of the Catholic Peacebuilding Network at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.
This piece is an overview of the new book Catholic Peacebuilding and Mining: Integral Peace, Development, and Ecology, edited by Montevecchio and Gerard F. Powers (Routledge, 2022). The book is available for free via open access.