Putting a “CAPP” on rising division and polarization

By Michael Swan, The Catholic Register

[Toronto – Canadian Catholic News] – Canadians are getting in on a 30-year-old Vatican project to recast our thinking, our politics and our way of life.

On a Sept. 17 Zoom call, a small group will launch the Canadian chapter of Centesimus Annus-Pro Pontifice or CAPP, a lay-led organization created by St. Pope John Paul II in the Vatican.

Even if the Rome-based network dates from the end of the Cold War and has been active across Europe and in the United States for a generation, a Canadian arm of CAPP is needed now to address the rising polarization of global politics and debate, said Cecil Chabot, who along with Danielle Morin in Montreal is leading the effort to establish the new Canadian organization.

“As we know, in our society there are a lot of polarized proposals to respond to those challenges,” Chabot told The Catholic Register. “The Church continues to go back to the Gospel message and say, ‘Here are the Gospel principles by which we can assess any and all of the economic, social, political answers people are proposing. Here are the criteria by which we can assess things.’ ”

As the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War ended, the Pope who played such a large part in the demise of communism did not stand with the victors beating his chest. Pope John Paul was as critical of capitalism and consumerism as he was of communism.

Instead of backing the winners, St. Pope John Paul II returned to the century-old tradition of social encyclicals to propose a future that would be neither capitalist nor communist.

In his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus – marking 100 years since Pope Leo XIII issued Rerum Novarum as the first encyclical of the Catholic social teaching tradition — John Paul endorsed no economic theory or master plan for the post-Cold War future. Instead, he demanded a bedrock which should lie below economic mechanisms, political theories, policies and programs. He called this bedrock the “civilization of love.”

In the most recent papal encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis references Centesimus Annus at least six times over the course of 90 pages.

Centesimus Annus still matters in the digital age of polarized politics, even if our present reality was hardly imaginable in 1991, said Morin.

“One basic fundamental is unity of life,” she said. “Our faith — we believe in the Gospel, but we are not too clear about how it could be applied in the world with the changes we have today. I see this necessity to have this unity of life where the faith is not compartmentalized into our little area. It is part of everything. But we have to express it.”

The Centesimus Annus-Pro Pontifice organization is all about giving people a way of thinking and talking about their faith in the real world, she said.

While the CAPP organization in Rome has made a mark by giving book awards and funding scholars working on Catholic social teaching, and the U.S. branch has done the same through its association with the Catholic University of America in Washington, the Canadian organization is going to begin with a program of national Zoom meetings and local discussions on the entire Catholic social teaching tradition, said Chabot.

“Beyond educating ourselves, it’s also pushing the knowledge deeper,” he said.

The typical members of CAPP have been business owners, academics and professionals. The monthly meetings are a way “to come to a deeper understanding of what it means to live the Gospel in my professional work,” Chabot said.

“We’re not looking for professional Catholics but Catholic professionals,” he said.

To sign up for the Sept. 17 Zoom call go to www.cappcanada.ca/launch.