Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Pope Francis spoke to thousands of members of the Italian Federation of Cooperatives in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall about the need to build "a new quality economy" that can "create enterprises based on the principle of solidarity and social relations," that act as "the lever that raises and develops the weakest part of local communities and civil society" and provide "new welfare solutions" that support, facilitate and even encourage family life, because even though money is "the dung of the devil," if it is well managed, "it can be used to promote the common good."
For Pope Francis, cooperatives can be an alternative model to profit-driven enterprises. They have "a real mission that calls upon us to be creative to come up with forms, methods, attitudes and tools to combat the 'culture of waste' nurtured by those in power who shape economic and financial policies of the globalised world."
In his address, Francis first noted that since Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum in 1891, "the Church has always recognised, appreciated and encouraged the cooperative experience", as an experience of "an economy that can create enterprises based on the principle of solidarity" to globalise solidarity against the "culture of waste".
"Today, globalising solidarity means thinking about fast rising unemployment, the endless tears of the poor, the need to start the kind of development that is really full progress for people who certainly need money, but not only money! We must think about health needs, which traditional welfare systems can no longer meet, about the pressing needs of solidarity, centring the world economy on human dignity. As pope, Leo XIII might have said, 'Christianity is full of wonderful strength to globalise solidarity!"
For the Holy Father, the cooperative movement "is not only something positive and vital, but it is also something prophetic" and must "invent new forms of cooperation." In view of this, Francis articulated "some concrete encouragements".
"The first one is for cooperatives to continue to be the lever that raises and develops the weakest part of local communities and civil society. For this, we must give priority to the establishment of new cooperative enterprises, along with the further development of existing ones, in order to create new job opportunities, especially now where none exist. Our thoughts must go first to young people, because we know that youth unemployment, which is so high, destroys their hope. We should also think about who are left jobless too soon. In addition to new enterprises, let us also look at those businesses that are in difficulty, those that old businessmen would let die but which can be revived with initiatives that you call 'Workers buy out' 'empresas recuperadas', 'aziende salvate'."
"A second encouragement - not in terms of importance - is to get active in finding new welfare solutions, especially in the field of healthcare, which is a sensitive area where so many poor people no longer find adequate answers to their needs. [. . .] Charity is a gift! It is not a simple gesture to reassure the heart! It is a gift without which we cannot enter the house of those who suffer. In the language of the social doctrine of the Church, this means building on subsidiarity with force and coherence. It means joining forces! How nice it would be, starting in Rome, for cooperatives, parishes and hospitals, Bambin Gesù Hospital in particular, if they could set up an actual network of support and solidarity. And that people, starting with the neediest, would be placed at the centre of this movement of solidarity. This is the mission we propose! You have the task of coming up with practical solutions, running this network in actual situations in your communities, starting right with your own history, your wealth of knowledge, focusing on your entrepreneurship whilst not forgetting that people are at the centre of everything."
"The third encouragement of the economy is its relationship to social justice, the dignity and worth of people. It is well known that a certain liberalism believes that it is necessary first to produce wealth, no matter how, and then promote some redistributive policy through the state. Others think that enterprises must hand out crumbs from accumulated wealth, thus meeting their so-called social responsibility. We run the risk of deluding ourselves of doing good when unfortunately all what we do is marketing, stuck as ever in the vicious circle of individual and business selfishness. We know instead that by creating a new quality economy, we create the ability to develop people in their full potential. [. . .] I am not saying that we should not increase our incomes, but that is not enough. It is necessary that enterprises managed by a cooperative actually grow in a cooperative manner by involving everyone."
"The fourth suggestion is this: if we look around [we see] that, instead of growing, an economy never renews itself in an aging society. The cooperative movement can play an important role in supporting, facilitating and even encouraging family life". Reconciling "work and family" means "helping women meet their full potential in their vocation and build up their talents. Women who are free to be increasingly involved, both in business and in the family! I know that cooperatives already offer many services and many forms of organisation, such as mutual associations, to meet everyone's needs, especially children and senior citizens, from nursery to home care. This is our way of managing the commons, i.e. those goods that should not just be the property of a few or used for speculative purposes."
"The fifth encouragement might surprise you! It takes money to do all these things," said the pope. "You must invest, and invest well! [. . .] With good determination, put together good means to achieve good works. [. . .] As Basil of Caesarea, a Father of the Church in the fourth century, said, quoted by St Francis of Assisi, 'money is the dung of the devil'. When money becomes an idol, it rules man's choices. It then ruins and condemns him. It makes him a serf. Money in the service of life can be managed in the proper way by a cooperative, but only if it is a real and true cooperative, when capital does not rule over people but people rule over capital."
"If it is genuine, if it wants to play a strong social role, if it wants to be a player in the future of a nation and of each local community, the cooperative economy must pursue transparent and clear aims. It must promote the economy of honesty! A healing economy in the treacherous sea of the global economy. A real economy promoted by people who have only the common good in their hearts and minds."
Finally, the cooperative movement "cannot remain uninvolved with social and economic globalisation, whose effects reach into every country, even into our homes. But do cooperatives participate in globalisation like other enterprises? Is there an original way for cooperatives to face the new challenges of the global market? How can cooperatives participate in the development of cooperation whilst safeguarding the principles of solidarity and justice? I am saying this to you so that I can say it all the cooperatives in the world: cooperatives cannot remain locked up at home, nor can they leave home as if they were not cooperatives. We must have the courage and imagination to build the right way to integrate development, justice and peace in the world."
For those who belong to cooperatives, Francis' final advice is to live "as Christians, as a response to your faith and your identity without fear! Therefore, go ahead and walk together with all the people of good will!"