Pope: there is no real economy without spiritual capital
Pope Francis travelled to Assisi to meet young people from all over the world participating in the Economy of Francesco conference. “I am counting on you not to leave us undisturbed,” he said. “The pollution that kills is not only from carbon dioxide; inequality also mortally poisons our planet". And “without appreciating the poor, poverty cannot be fought.”
Assisi (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis met hundreds of young people from all over the world gathered in Assisi for the Economy of Francesco conference.
The conference comes three years after the pontiff wrote a letter urging them to meet this challenge. For him, a new generation of economists, entrepreneurs and people of good will must get their hands dirty to change a sick economy.
Like past Meetings of Prayer for Peace in Assisi, which allowed hundreds of people to share their experience and network, meeting together participants can try to breathe new life into an economy that truly focuses on people, relationships and care for the common home.
In Assisi Francis listened to the voices of young people and their experiences, like Lilly, a 14-year-old environmental activist in Thailand, who was able to convince 70 important retailers in her country to stop using plastic bags, and Maryam, who was a teacher and women's rights activist in Afghanistan until she was forced to flee her homeland to escape Taliban oppression.
“You were already committed to creating a new economy," Pope Francis told them. But the letter "made you feel part of a worldwide community of young people who had the same vocation. When young people see their own calling in other young people, this experience is repeated with hundreds, thousands of other young people, then great things become possible, including hoping to change a big and complex system like the world economy.”
This is a most urgent task. The pontiff noted that young people have faced many crises in recent years: climate emergency, pandemic, Ukraine and wars. Like a young Saint Francis in the Assisi of his time, his peers today see well that "there is a common home that is being ruined.”
Yet, amid all this, “it is not good enough to touch the surface; we must question the development model itself. The situation is such that we cannot just wait for the next international summit; the earth is burning now, and it is now that we must change, at all levels.”
Francis urged young people to teach the world to “accept the universal ethical principle – which is hard for many – that harm must be repaired. If we grew up abusing the planet and the atmosphere, today we must learn to sacrifice those lifestyles that are still unsustainable. Otherwise, it will be our children and grandchildren who will foot the bill, a bill that will be too heavy and unfair.
“We need rapid and decisive change. I am counting on you not to leave us undisturbed and offer us an example.” As for the latter, the pope mentioned a 25-year-old young man who refused a job in a weapons factory, one of many “heroes of today”.
Next, Francis spoke of the challenge to sustainability and how it is inseparable from other great challenges of today. "While we try to save the planet, we cannot neglect the men and the women who suffer. The pollution that kills does not come only from carbon dioxide; inequality also mortally poisons our planet.”
The unsustainability of relations between people, the "famine of happiness" that consumerism claims to falsely fulfil with increasingly sophisticated goods are other challenges that must be met. All this leads to scourges like demographic winter, the enslavement of women who are not allowed to work and be a mother, and suicide among young people that are often swept under the carpet.
There is also the “spiritual unsustainability of our form of capitalism. The first capital of every society is the spiritual one because it is the one that gives us the reasons to get up every day and go to work, and generates the joy of life that is also necessary for the economy.
“Our world is rapidly consuming this essential form of capital accumulated over the centuries by religions, wise traditions, and popular piety. There is an urgent need to reconstitute this essential spiritual heritage.
“Technology can do a lot: It teaches us the 'what' to do and the 'how’ to do it, but it does not tell us ‘why’; and so our actions become sterile and do not fulfil life, not even economic life.”
In the city of Saint Francis, the pontiff appealed to create an economy that puts the poor at the centre. "Without appreciation, care, and love for every poor person, for every weak and vulnerable person, from those conceived in the womb to the sick and disabled, to the elderly experiencing hardships, there is no Economy of Francesco.”
Noting how the first market economy was born in 13th century Europe precisely in daily contacts with Franciscan friars, the pope condemned a form of capitalism that “seeks to help the poor but does not appreciate them, does not understand the paradoxical beatitude: ‘blessed are the poor’.”
For Francis, “We must not love poverty; on the contrary, we must fight it, first of all, by creating jobs, worthy jobs. But, as the Gospel says, without appreciating the poor, poverty cannot be fought.”
The pope concluded his address by leaving the young people with three recommendation: first, “look at the world through the eyes of the poor. You will improve the economy if you too look at things from the perspective of the victims and the discarded."
Secondly, “do not forget work”. For him, “without worthy and well-paid jobs, young people do not really become adults, and inequalities increase. Sometimes once can survive without work, but you don't live well. Hence, as you create goods and services, do not forget to create jobs, good jobs, jobs for all.”
Finally, with respect to incarnation, people should not stop at conferences. “You will change the world of economics if, along with heart and mind, you also use your hands. Ideas are necessary, they attract us a lot, especially when we are young, but they can turn into traps if they do not become 'flesh', that is, concrete, daily commitments.”