Land is both a socio-economic resource and a source of cultural identity. Access to land is necessary to human life and for social peace.
The prophets of the Old Testament as well as Jesus Himself left no doubt about the scandal of land accumulation in the hands of a few. The unlimited accumulation of resources in a context where others lack the necessities of life is in contradiction with the purpose of creation: God created abundance for every human being to enjoy His gifts. The disrespect by the powerful of the dignity and the rights of persons is constantly decried by the prophets.
Jesus, moreover, condemns the accumulation of riches in the face of poverty and deprivation with unusual sharpness: “Woe to the rich…” (Luke 6:24). He dramatizes the fate of such abuses of creation in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man: they will have no part in God's promise.
The Christian Social Ethic is based on clear principles: the universal destination of goods; the common good; solidarity, sustainability; participation and subsidiarity. The socio-economic and cultural rights proclaim the right to the means of life.
Land grabbing emerged as an issue of serious concern at the Synod for Africa in October 2009.
“To oppose this assault,” the Synod Fathers said, “urge that the Church in Africa seek information (...) and educate the People of God and enable them to challenge unjust decisions in these matters”[i] to "press governments to adopt a suitable juridical framework which takes into account the interests of our countries and their populations",[ii] to guarantee that “their citizens are protected against unjust alienation of their land and access to water which are essential goods for the human person."[iii]
They also asked governments to "respect the traditional land rights and to recognize them by law"[iv]
The Church clearly states that land is a common good given by the Creator for the needs of all, now and in the future.
The right to the use of land is natural and primordial; it is a universal value that applies to every human being and that may not be overridden by any other economic right. “Land occupation is often an expression of an intolerable and morally indefensible state of affairs, and is an alarm bell calling for the implementation of effective and equitable solutions on the social and political level”.[v]
The social doctrine of the Church supports private property as a means of achieving autonomy and freedom, a means, however, which is subordinate to the first social function of property: to enable each and every person to live.
It condemns the latifundia because they "deprive a vast number of people of the right to take part in the process of production through their own labor and to take care of their own needs"[vi]
[i] Propositio 30.
[ii] Propositio 29
[iii] Propositio 30
[iv] Propositio 30
[v] Pontifical Commission for Justice & Peace, November 1997, §44
[vi] Pontifical Commission for Justice & Peace, November 1997, § 32.