ROME – Pope Francis made a daytrip to Assisi Saturday to meet with young economists and changemakers, signing a pact outlining a joint vision for a peaceful and just economy that’s more equitable and respectful of the poor and the environment.
In the agreement, signed and read aloud Sept. 24 at the close of an “Economy of Francis” event in Assisi, the youth acknowledged that there’s a “responsibility that rests on our generation,” and voiced their commitment to “spending our lives so that the economy of today and tomorrow becomes an economy of the Gospel.”
Specifically, they outlined their vision of “an economy of peace and not of war,” which is opposed to the proliferation of arms, “especially the most destructive,” and which places itself at the service of the human person and families, especially the most vulnerable.
They also voiced their desire for an economy that is respectful of creation and which “does not misuse it,” and which both “values and safeguards” different cultures and traditions, as well as the earth’s natural resources.
The pact also underlined the need for an economy committed to creating “secure and dignified” work for everyone, and in which “finance is a friend and ally of the real economy and of labor and not against them.”
Poverty in all its forms must be fought in order to reduce inequality and truly embrace the poor, they said, stressing the need for an economy “guided by an ethics of the human person and open to transcendence,” which creates wealth for all and promotes joy, “not just riches, because happiness that is not shared is incomplete.”
“We believe in this economy,” they said, insisting that the vision outlined in the pact “is not a utopia, because we are already building it. And some of us, on particularly bright mornings, have already glimpsed the beginning of the promised land.”
Pope Francis traveled to Assisi to close the “The Economy of Francis” event, which gathered young economists, entrepreneurs, changemakers, students and workers from across the world to discuss the formation of a more fair and fraternal economy.
The pope initially announced plans to travel to Assisi for the event over two years ago, however, it was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, forcing participants to lead discussions and working sessions online to prepare for the in-person gathering.
The in-person gathering in Assisi was finally rescheduled for this week, Sept. 22-24, and has drawn roughly 1,000 young people from over 100 countries.
Assisi, where Pope Francis has traveled on several occasions since his election in 2013, is the burial place of Saint Francis of Assisi, his papal namesake and someone known for his decision to leave wealth behind in order to embrace a life of poverty.
Upon his arrival, Pope Francis was greeted by a large delegation of youth and ecclesial and civil regional authorities, such as Assisi Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino, as well as top Vatican officials such as Canadian Jesuit Cardinal Michael Czerny, head of the Vatican’s department for Integral Human Development, as well as the department’s secretary, Italian Sister and economist Alessandra Smerilli.
After his arrival, Pope Francis made his way to the platform of the Lyrick Theater and heard testimonies from eight young people, interspersed with musical and theatrical performances.
The pact was then read aloud and signed by the pope, who outlined his vision for the global economy, repeating pleas for the poor and the environment and critiques of global capitalism, and urged young economists and entrepreneurs present to blaze new paths of justice and equality.
“When a young person sees in another young person the same calling, and this experience is repeated with hundreds, even thousands of other young people, then great things become possible, even the hope of changing an enormous and complex system like the world economy,” he said.
He pointed to the many challenges the world currently faces, such as the ongoing environmental crisis, the enduring impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and the war in Ukraine, as well as other global conflicts.
“Today, a new economy inspired by Francis of Assisi can and must become an economy of friendship with the earth and an economy of peace,” the pope said, saying this involves “transforming an economy that kills into an economy of life, in all its aspects.
Noting that many prophets in the bible were young when they were called by God, Francis insisted that “when civil society and businesses lack the skills of the young, the whole of society withers and the life of everyone is extinguished. There is a lack of creativity, optimism, enthusiasm.”
“A society and an economy without young people are sad, pessimistic and cynical,” he said, and stressed the need for an economy with a “prophetic dimension” that focuses on real ecological and personal conversion.
“The earth burns today, and today we must change, at all levels,” the pope said, urging youth to imitate plants in that their growth and flourishing depends on their cooperation with the whole environment around them.
Throughout the twentieth century, the earth and its resources were “plundered,” he said, and if the paradigm remains the same, the strategies to combat the damage “will always be insufficient.”
As he has repeatedly done in the past, Pope Francis condemned the use of fossil fuels and called for investment in renewable sources of energy.
He also urged young people to accept the ethical principal that “damages must be repaired,” meaning those who have abused the planet and the atmosphere must now make sacrifices, giving up unsustainable habits and lifestyles.
Sustainability, he said, is “a multidimensional reality,” and therefore goes beyond the environment, requiring social, relational and spiritual dimensions change.
Francis called for changes that respect the poor, saying, “carbon dioxide is not the only pollution that kills; inequality also fatally damages our planet.”
“We must not allow the new environmental calamities to erase from public view the long-standing and ever-present calamities of social injustice,” he said.
He stressed the need to foster more sustainable relationships, pointing specifically to the west, where relationships among people and communities “are becoming increasingly fragile and fragmented,” and the family and the ability to accept and protect life “is suffering a serious crisis.”
Thanks to rampant consumerism promoted by many big businesses, a “famine of happiness” has also been created in which people are increasingly isolated and lonely, he said, saying this trend must be reversed.
Pope Francis also repeated his criticism of capitalism, saying it is “unsustainable” in its current form.
“The first capital of any society is spiritual capital, for this is what gives us a reason to get up every morning,” he said, noting that young people especially and increasingly suffer from a lack of meaning.
This, the pope said, “comes from a lack of this precious spiritual capital – an invisible but more real capital than financial or technological capital. We urgently need to rebuild this essential spiritual patrimony.”
Turning to the figure of Saint Francis of Assisi and his love of poverty, the pope said that to develop an economy inspired by the Umbrian saint means “putting the poor at the center.”
“Starting with them, we look at the economy; starting with them, we look at the world,” he said, and urged youth not become accomplices in a system that “produces discarded people” and an “economy that kills.”
Pope Francis closed his speech urging the young economists to do three things, the first of which is to “look at the world with the eyes of the poorest of the poor.”
“In the medieval period, the Franciscan movement was able to create the first economic theories and even the first banks for those in need” through their Monti di Pietà, or “mountains of mercy,” which were essentially pawnbrokers run as charities.
“You too will improve the economy if you look at things from the perspective of victims and the discarded,” he said.
Francis also urged youth not to forget about the importance of work and workers, and of creating work for everyone, saying employment is “the challenge of our time, and it will be all the more the challenge of tomorrow.”
He also stressed the importance of “incarnation,” saying real change comes not just through ideals, but the translation of these values into concrete actions.
The pope asked forgiveness for past sins against the poor, marginalized, and the environment, and asked that God would support the young people present, especially in their “longing for the good and for life.”
“Lift them up when facing disappointments due to bad examples, do not let them become discouraged but instead may they continue on their path,” he said.
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