The idea of progress lost appeal because it became associated with the concept of linear process towards maximalist ends that in practice caused much harm. Nevertheless, social justice as an aim of political and social agency on a global scale cannot be approached without any idea of progress in the sense of bringing diversities together towards joint action. The concepts of social justice and progress are intertwined. In order to find a common ground for religious and secular motivated projects of social justice, the paper discusses the concepts of progress in the perspective of a traditional adversary of linear progress modernism: the papacy. Focusing on social teaching contributions by the last two popes’—Benedict XVI (Spe Salvi) and Francis (Laudato Si’)—the finding is that despite variations both popes argue that a transcendent perspective on progress can empower improvements towards more social justice by encouraging and simultaneously limiting human agency.