Catholic Social Teaching Timeline Activity
How well do you know your Catholic social teaching documents?
Challenge yourself with this activity, which can be completed either individually or in small groups. During the activity, you will increase your familiarity with the major social teaching documents and explore the development of the Church’s social teaching since 1891.
How to implement this activity with a group:
- Provide background information.
An encyclical is a letter from the Holy Father that is a “teaching document.” Its audience is every Catholic and all people of good will. A “social encyclical” applies the consistent, traditional moral teachings of the Church to the social and economic challenges of the current day. For example, Pope Francis released Fratelli Tutti seven months into the COVID-19 pandemic to encourage social friendship and universal solidarity during a time of isolation and social fragmentation, and as the world faced a global migration crisis and conflict in various forms.
- Break into small groups of 2-3 persons each.
Provide each group with a copy of the timeline of events (you may want to provide tape to adhere the pages of the timeline together horizontally) and batches of the cut-out rectangles with the Catholic social teaching documents descriptions. Explain that we are going to see how, over the past 120 years, these documents have helped guide Catholics’ perspectives on issues and problems facing our human family.
- Small group activity.
Ask each group to read the events on the timelines and to try to match the cut-out rectangles describing the documents with the events timeline. If participants need help, tell them to pay attention to:
- Events mentioned in the timeline that are also mentioned in the social documents descriptions.
- The names of the popes, since documents by the same popes will follow one another.
- References to anniversaries, since some documents were written to celebrate the anniversary of a previous document.
- Checking answers.
When all the groups are finished, go through each of the years on the timeline one-by-one, mentioning some of the events that happened that year. For each year, ask participants to call out the correct social teaching document. The group leader can check answers using the answer key. When the correct document is named, ask the person who got it correct to explain how the document was responding to those issues facing the world.
- Discussion. Discuss the following questions:
- What social teaching document did you find most interesting? Why?
- Name an example of how a social teaching document responded to issues facing the human family at a particular time. How did that document help Catholics see issues facing the world in the light of their faith?
- Which document(s) might you be most interested in reading in full? Check out all of the social encyclicals, as well as statements of the U.S. bishops, available electronically.