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What is human dignity?

23 January 2017
Europe - Greece - mother and child from Syria

A mother and child from Syria who received a baby kit on Lesbos

Dignity is one of the key principles of Catholic social teaching, and is also one of CAFOD’s seven core values which we try to embody in our work and practice.

Daniel Groody, a Holy Cross Father, states, “Catholic social teaching believes that human beings, created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27), have by their very existence an inherent value, worth, and distinction. It asserts that all human beings must see within every person both a reflection of God and a mirror of themselves, and must honour and respect this dignity as a divine gift.” 

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Since each of us is made in the image and likeness of God, we are, in the words of Pope Francis, “the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary” (Laudato Si’ #65). This means that each person possesses immense dignity and all of us are ‘someone’, not merely ‘something’.

Human dignity at the root of our work 

Our belief in human dignity inspires our work with some of the poorest communities around the world.

Farzana is an 18-year-old refugee. She fled Pakistan where her family were living as there were bombs going off every day and their lives were constantly in danger.

We met Farzana in a refugee camp in Athens where she told us, “I have been here for eight months. We don’t have money. We don’t have clothes. We don’t have shoes,” she said. “I just want a good life, a normal life, a safe life. We are humans too.”

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Human dignity in practice

Thanks to your compassion, our partner Caritas Hellas is supporting women, men and children as they arrive in Greece.

Anastasia, from Caritas Hellas, explains that human dignity means giving the refugees who she works with the chance to make some of their own choices again – from being able to choose their own clothes to parents being able to buy their children an occasional treat.

“It is a matter of dignity,” she says. “And that’s where we should focus now, both in our projects and as people: on dignity.”

Seeing refugees as humans, as people concerned for their own and their children’s safety is recognising in them their inherent value and worth. Seeing that all people need more than food – they need love, warmth, respect, a chance to be educated and the opportunity to work - this is seeing all peoples as made in God’s image.

Treating everyone with human dignity is integral to our faith, and the vision of dignity being a ‘divine gift’ continues to inspire us in our daily work. Thank you for all you do to make this possible.

Read more about Catholic social teaching