Pope's Address to the Confederation of Italian Cooperatives

«Live your alliance as Christians, as an answer to your faith and your identity without fear!»

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On Saturday, Pope Francis received in audience at the Paul VI Audience Hall, the members of the Confederation of Italian Cooperatives. The following is a translation of the Pope’s address to the participants in the audience.

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Brothers and Sister, good morning!

This last one [he is referring to the choir] was the most melodious “cooperative! Congratulations!

Thank you for this meeting with you and with the reality you represent — that of cooperation.  Cooperatives challenge everything; they also challenge mathematics, because in a cooperative society one plus one is three! And in a cooperative society, a failure is half a failure. This is the beautiful thing about cooperatives!

First of all, you are the living memory of a great treasure of the Italian Church. In fact, we know that at the origin of the Italian cooperative movement, already in the 19thcentury, many agricultural and credit cooperatives were wisely founded and promoted by priests and pastors. In several Italian dioceses, there is still recourse to cooperation as effective remedy to the problem of unemployment and to the different forms of social hardship. It is a rule today, I do not say normal, habitual … but so often one hears: “Are you looking for work? Come, come to this firm.” Eleven hours, 10 hours of work, for 600 euros. “Do you like it? No? Go home.” What can one do in a world that functions like this? Because there is the queue, the line of people looking for work: if you don’t like it, someone else will. And hunger, hunger makes us accept what we are given, black work … To give an example, I could ask about domestic staff: how many men and women who work as domestic staff have social savings for their pension?

All this is well noted. The Church has always recognized, appreciated and encouraged the cooperative experience. We read it in the documents of the Magisterium. We recall the cry launched in 1891 by Pope Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum: all proprietors and not all proletarians.” And also noted certainly are the pages of the Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, where Benedict XVI expresses himself in favor of cooperation in credit and in consumption (Cf. nn. 65-66), stressing the importance of the economy of communion and of the non-profit sector (Cf. n. 41), to affirm that the god-profit is not in fact a divinity, but only a compass and a measure of valuation of entrepreneurial activity. Pope Benedict explains to us how our world is in need of an economy of gift (Cf. nn. 34-39), namely, of an economy capable of giving life to enterprises inspired in the principle of solidarity and able to “create sociality.” Hence, through you the exclamation resounds that Leo XIII pronounced, blessing the beginnings of the Italian Catholic Cooperative Movement, when he said that, to do this “Christianity has a wonderful wealth of forces” (Encyclical Rerum Novarum , 15).

These and many other affirmations of gratitude and encouragement addressed to co-operators by the Church are valid and current. I am also thinking of Blessed Paul VI’s extraordinary social teaching. We can confirm and reinforce such affirmations. Therefore, it is not necessary to repeat or recall them at length.

Today, I would like our dialogue to look not only at the past but above all to have it address what is ahead: the new prospects, the new responsibilities, the new forms of initiative of the cooperative businesses. It is a true mission that asks us for creative imagination to find ways, methods, attitudes and instruments to combat the “throwaway culture,” which we live today, the “throwaway culture” cultivated by powers that govern the economic-financial policies of the globalized world, where the god of money is at the center.

Globalize solidarity – this must be globalized: solidarity! – today it means to think of the vertiginous increase of unemployed, the incessant tears of the poor, the need to take up a development that is the true integral progress of the person, who is certainly in need of income, but not only of income! We think of the needs of health, which the traditional welfare systems can no longer satisfy; to the pressing needs of solidarity, putting again at the center of the world economy the dignity of the human person, as you said. As Pope Leo XIII would say again today: “Christianity has a wonderful wealth of forces” to globalize solidarity!

Therefore, do not pause to look only at what you have been able to do. Continue to perfect, to reinforce and to update the good and solid realities that you have already built. However, you must also have the courage to come out of them, the loads of experience and good methods, to lead cooperation to new frontiers of change, to the existential fringes where hope is in need of emerging and where, unfortunately, the present socio-political system seems, instead, fatally destined to suffocate hope, to rob hope, increasing risks and menaces.

This great leap forward that we propose cooperatives should do, will confirm that all that you have already done is not only positive and vital but continues to be prophetic also. Therefore, you must continue to invent – this is the word: to invent – new forms of cooperation, because the warning: when the tree puts out new branches, the roots are alive and the trunk is strong! — is also valid for cooperatives.

Here, today, you represent valid experiences in many sectors: from the development of agriculture to the promotion of the building of new houses for those who do not have a house, from the social cooperatives to cooperative credit, largely represented here, from fishing to industry, to enterprises, to communities, to consumption, to distribution and to many other types of service. I am well aware that this list is not complete, but it is sufficiently useful to understand how precious the cooperative method is, which must go forward, be creative. It has revealed itself as such in many challenges. And it will do so again! However, every appreciation and every encouragement risks remaining generic. Instead, I would like to offer you some concrete encouragements.

The first is this: the cooperatives must continue to be the engine that relieves and develops the weakest part of our local communities and of civil society. Sentiment is not capable of this. Therefore the foundation of new cooperative enterprises must be put in the first place, along with the further development of the existing ones, in order to create above all new possibilities of work that do not exist today.

My thought goes first of all to young people, because we know that youth unemployment, dramatically high – we think of some countries of Europe, 40, 50%  — destroys hope in them. However, we think also of the many women who have the need and will to insert themselves in the world of work. We do not neglect the adults who often remain prematurely without work. “What are you?” “I’m an engineer” – “Ah, how nice, how nice. How old are you?” – “49” – “No good, go.” This happens every day. In addition to new enterprises, we also look at the companies that are in difficulty, to those that it suits old bosses to allow to die and which instead can revive with initiatives that you call “workers buy out,” “recovered enterprises,” in my language, saved companies. And I, as I said to their representatives, am a fan of recovered enterprises!

A second encouragement – not in importance – is that of activating yourselves as protagonists to bring about new Welfare solutions, in particular in the field of health, a delicate field in which so many poor people no longer find adequate answers to their needs. I know what you have been doing for years with heart and passion, in the fringes of the cities and of our society, for families, children, the elderly, the sick and disadvantaged persons in difficulty for different reasons, bringing to homes heart and help. Charity is a gift! It is not a simple gesture to c
alm the heart; it is a gift! When I do charity I give myself! If I am unable to give myself, then it is not charity — a gift without which one cannot enter the home of one who suffers. In the language of the Social Doctrine of the Church this means to appeal to subsidiarity with force and coherence: it means to join forces!

How good it would be if, beginning from Rome, there could be born through cooperatives to parishes and to hospitals – I am thinking of  the “Bambin Gesu” in particular,  an efficient network of assistance and solidarity. And people, beginning with the neediest, would be put at the center of all this solidaristic movement: people at the center, the neediest at the center. This is the mission we propose to you!  The task for you is to invent practical solutions, to make this network function in concrete situations of your local communities, beginning in fact from your history, with your patrimony of knowledge to combine being an enterprise and at the same time not forgetting that the person is at the center of everything.

You have done so much, and yet there is still so much to be done! Let’s go forward!

The third encouragement regards the economy, its relation with social justice, with the dignity and value of persons. Noted is that a certain liberalism believes it is necessary to produce wealth first, and it does not matter how, to then promote some redistributive policy by the State. First fill the glass and then give to others. Others think that it is the enterprise itself that must enlarge the crumbs of accumulated wealth, thus absolving the so-called “social responsibility.” The risk is run of deluding oneself of doing good while, unfortunately, one continues to do only marketing, without coming out of the fatal circuit of egoism of persons and companies that have the god of money at the center.

Instead, we know that by realizing a new quality of economy, the capacity is created to make persons grow in all their potentiality. For instance: the member of the cooperative must not be only a furnisher, a worker, a well treated user, he must always be the protagonist, he must grow through the cooperative, he must grow as a person, socially and professionally, in responsibility, in concretizing hope, in doing together. I am not saying that there must not be growth in income, but this is not enough: the enterprise managed by the cooperative must truly grow in a cooperative way, namely, involving everyone. One plus on equals three! This is the logic.

In the Latin etymology “co-operators “ means to work together, to cooperate and, therefore, to work, help, contribute to reach an end. Do not ever be content with the word “cooperative” without having the awareness of the true essence and the spirit of cooperation.

The fourth suggestion is this: if we look around us, it never happens that the economy is renewed in a society growing old, instead of growing. The co-operative movement can exercise an important role to supporting, facilitating  and also encouraging the life of families. To bring about conciliation, or perhaps better the harmonization between work and family; it is a task you have already started and that you must carry out increasingly. To do this means also to help women to fulfil themselves in their vocation and in putting their talents to fruition. Women free to be increasingly protagonists, whether in enterprises or in families! I am well aware that the cooperatives already propose many services and many organizational formulas, such as the at of   which meet the needs of all, of children and of the elderly in particular, from nursery schools to home help. This is our way of managing common goods; those goods that must not be the property of a few and must not pursue speculative ends.

The fifth encouragement, perhaps, will surprise you! Money is necessary to do these things! In general cooperatives are not founded by great capitalists, rather, it is often said that they are structurally under-capitalized. Instead, Pope Paul VI said: you must invest, and you must invest well! Certainly in Italy, but not only, it is difficult to obtain public money to fill the scarcity of resources. The solution I propose to you is this: bring together with determination the good means to carry out good works. Collaborate more between bank and business cooperatives, organize the resources to make families live with dignity and serenity; pay just salaries to workers, investing especially in initiatives that are truly necessary.

It is not easy to speak of money. Basil of Cesarea , 4thcentury Father of the Church, said, taken up by Francis of Assisi, that “money is the dung of the devil.” The Pope repeats it also now: “money is the dung of the devil!” When money becomes an idol, it controls man’s choices. And then it ruins man and condemns him. It renders him a slave. Money at the service of life can be managed in the right way by a cooperative, if it is, however, a genuine, true  cooperative where capital does not command man but man commands capital.

Therefore I say to you that you do well – and I say also that you do so ever more – to oppose and combat false cooperatives, those that prostitute the very name cooperative, namely, of a very good reality to deceive people with objectives of profit contrary to true and genuine cooperation. Do well, I say to you, because, in the field in which you operate, to assume an honorable facade and instead pursue dishonorable and immoral ends, often addressed to the exploitation of work, or to the manipulations of the market, and even to scandalous traffic of corruption is a disgrace and a very grave lie which cannot absolutely be accepted. Fight against this! But how to fight? Only with words? With ideas? Fight with just cooperation, the true one, the one that always wins.  

A cooperative economy, if it is genuine, if it is going to carry out a strong social function, if it is going to be a protagonist of the future of a nation and of each local community, the cooperative economy, must pursue transparent and limpid ends. It must promote the economy of honesty! It must be a healing economy in the insidious sea of the global economy. At true economy promoted by persons who have at heart and in mind only the common good.

Cooperatives have a strong international tradition. In this also you have been real pioneers! Your international associations were born well before those that other enterprises created in much later times. Now there is the new great globalization, which reduces some imbalances but creates many others. Therefore, the cooperative movement cannot remain foreign to the economic and social globalization, whose effects arrive in all countries, and even within our homes.

However, do cooperatives participate in globalization as other enterprises? Is there an original way that allows cooperatives to address the new challenges of the global market?  How can cooperatives participate in the development of cooperation, safeguarding the principles of solidarity and justice? I say it to you to say it to all the cooperatives worldwide: the cooperatives cannot remain shut-in at home, nor even less so can they come out of home as if they are not co-operatives. No, one cannot think of a two-faced cooperative There must be the courage and the imagination to find the right way to integrate development, justice and peace in the world.

Finally, do not let the collaboration of the cooperative movement with your parishes and your dioceses live only in your memory. The ways of collaboration must be diverse, in relation to those of the origins, but the way must always be the same! Where there are old and new existential fringes, where there are disadvantaged persons, where there are persons alone and discarded, where there are persons that are not respected, stretch out your hand to them! Collaborate among yourselves, in respect of the vocational identity of each one, stretching out your hand!

I know that you have been collaborating for
some years with other cooperative associations – even if not connected with our history and our traditions – to create an alliance of Italian co-operatives and co-operators. For the time being it is an alliance in the making, but be confident in reaching a unique association, an ever more vast alliance between co-operators and cooperatives. The Italian co-operative movement has a great tradition, respected in the international co-operative world. The cooperative mission in Italy was very linked from the beginning to the identity, values and social forces present in the country. Please, respect this identity! However, often the choices that distinguished and divided were in the long run stronger than the choices that, instead, joined forces and united the efforts of all. Now you think you can put in the first place that which unites you. It is in fact around that which unites you, the most authentic, the most profound and the most vital part of Italian cooperatives , that you wish to build your new associative form.

You do well to plan this way, and thus you take a step forward! Of course, there are Catholic cooperatives and non-Catholic cooperatives. However, is faith saved by remaining shut-in on ourselves?  Remaining alone among ourselves? Live your alliance as Christians, as an answer to your faith and your identity without fear! Faith and identity are the basis. Go forward, therefore, and walk together with all persons of good will! And this is also a Christian call, a Christian call to all. Christian values are not for us alone; they are to be shared! And share them with others, with those who do not think like us but want the same things that we want. Go forward, courage! Be creators, “poets,” forward!

 [Translation by ZENIT]

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