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‘Saint John Paul II’s Moral Demands in 1991 Are Amazingly Timely Today,’ Says Pope Francis

Francis Addresses Participants in Workshop ‘New Forms of Solidarity: Towards Fraternal Inclusion, Integration and Innovation,’ Organized by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences

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Held Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020, in the Vatican’s Casina Pio IV, was a workshop on the theme:” New Forms of Solidarity: Towards Fraternal Inclusion, Integration and Innovation,” organized by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.

Here is a translation of Pope Francis’ prepared address to the participants in the workshop.

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The Holy Father’s Address

Good afternoon. I wish to express to you my gratitude for this meeting. Let us take advantage of this new beginning of the year to build bridges, bridges that foster the development of a supportive look from banks, finances, governments and economic decisions. We are in need of many voices capable of thinking, from a polyhedric perspective, the diverse dimensions of a global problem that affects our peoples and our democracies.

I would like to begin with a statement of fact. The world is rich, yet the poor increase around us. According to official reports, the global income of this year will be almost US$12,000 per capita. Yet hundreds of millions of people are still submerged in extreme poverty and lack food, housing, medical care, schools, electricity, drinking water and adequate and indispensable sanitation services. It is estimated that approximately 5 million children under 5 years of age will die this year because of poverty. Another 260 million will lack education due to the lack of resources, wars and migrations.

This situation has propitiated that millions of people are victims of trafficking and new forms of slavery, such as forced labour, prostitution and organ trafficking. They have no rights or guarantees; they can’t even enjoy friendship and family. These realities must not be a motive for despair but for action.

The principal message of hope I wish to share with you is precisely this: it’s about solvable problems and not the absence of resources. There is no determinism that condemns us to universal inequity. Let me repeat this: we are not condemned to universal inequity. This makes possible a new way of assuming events, which enables us to find and generate creative answers in face of the avoidable suffering of so many innocents, which implies accepting that, in not a few situations, we are faced with a lack of will and decision to change things and primarily the priorities. We are asked for the capacity to allow ourselves to be questioned and to let the scales fall from our eyes and see these realities in a new light. A rich world and a vibrant economy can and must put an end to poverty. Dynamics can be generated and stimulated, capable of including, feeding, curing and clothing the least of society instead of excluding them. We must choose what and whom to prioritize: if we propitiate humanizing socio-economic mechanisms for the whole of society or, on the contrary, we foment a system that ends by justifying certain practices, which only succeed in increasing the level of injustice and social violence. The level of wealth and technology accumulated by humanity, as well as the importance and value that human rights have acquired, no longer allows for excuses. We must be conscious that we are all responsible.

If extreme poverty exists in the midst of wealth (also extreme), it’s because we have allowed the gap to widen until becoming the greatest in history. The 50 wealthiest people in the world have a patrimony equivalent to US$2.2 billion. Those 50 people could finance the medical care and education of every poor child in the world, be it through taxes, philanthropic initiatives or both. Those 50 people could save million of lives every year.

I have called the globalization of indifference “inaction.” Saint John Paul II called it: structures of sin. Such structures find a propitious environment for their expansion every time that the Common Good is reduced or limited to specific sectors, or in the case of what convokes us, when the economy and finances are an end in themselves. It’s the idolatry of money, greed and speculation. And this reality, added now to the exponential technological vertigo, which increases the steps never seen <before> of the speed of transactions and the possibility to produce earnings without being linked to the productive processes or to the real economy.

Aristotle celebrated the invention of money and its use, but he firmly condemned financial speculation because, in the latter, “money itself becomes productive, losing its true end, which is to facilitate trade and production” (Politics, I, 10, 1258 b).

Similarly, and following reason illumined by faith, the Social Doctrine of the Church celebrates the forms of government and the banks — many times created under their protection — when they fulfil their end, which is, in short, to seek the common good, social justice, peace as well as the integral development of each individual and each human community, and of all people. However, the Church warns that these charitable institutions, both public as well as private, can fall into structures of sin. The structures of sin include today repeated tax cuts for the richest people, justified often in the name of investment and development; tax havens for private and corporate earnings, and the possibility of corruption on the part of some of the largest companies of the world, not a few times in tune with the governing political sector.

Every year hundreds of thousands of millions of dollars, which should be paid in taxes to finance medical care and education, are accumulated in tax havens, thus impeding the possibility of the fitting and sustained development of all the social actors. Impoverished persons in very indebted countries endure overwhelming tax burdens and cuts in the social services while their governments pay debts contracted imperceptibly and unsustainably. In fact, the public debt contracted can become a factor that damages and harms the social fabric.

Just as there is a co-irresponsibility in regard to this damage caused by the economy and society, there is also an inspiring and hopeful co-responsibility to create an atmosphere of fraternity and of renewed trust that embraces as a whole the search for innovative and humanizing solutions.

It’s good to recall that a magic or invisible law doesn’t exit, which condemns us to freezing or paralysis in face of injustice. And even less so is there an economic rationality that implies that the human person is simply an accumulator of individual benefits foreign to his condition of being social.

Saint John Paul II’s moral demands in 1991 are amazingly timely today: “The principle is certainly just that debts must be paid. However, it’s not licit to exact or pretend their payment when the latter would impose in fact such political options that lead to hunger and the despair of entire populations. One cannot pretend to have contracted debts paid with unbearable sacrifices. In those cases, it’s necessary — as, moreover, is happening in part — to find ways for the reduction, delay or extinction of the debt, compatible with the fundamental right of peoples to sustenance and progress” (Centesimus Annus, § 35).

In fact, the Objectives of Sustainable Development approved unanimously by all nations also recognize this point, and exhort all peoples “to help developing countries achieve long-term sustainability of the debt through coordinated policies geared to fomenting the financing of the debt, relief from the debt and the re-structuring of the debt, as appropriate, and to address the external debt problem of very indebted poor countries, to reduce the anxiety of the debt: (ODS 17, 4).

The new forms of solidarity, which convoke us today, must consist of this, if one thinks of the world of banks and finances: in the aid for development of underprivileged peoples and the levelling of countries that enjoy a certain standard of living and level of development with those unable to guarantee the minimum necessary to their populations. <It must be> solidarity and economy for union, not for division with the healthy and clear awareness of co-responsibility.

It’s practically necessary to affirm from here that the greatest structure of sin is the war industry itself, given that it is money and time at the service of division and death. Every year the world loses billions of dollars in armaments and violence, sums that would put an end to poverty and illiteracy if they could be redirected. Isaiah spoke truly in the Name of God for the whole of humanity when he foresaw the day of the Lord in which “they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks” (Isaiah 2:4). Let us follow him!

More than 70 years ago, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights committed all the Member States to look after the poor in their land and home and in the whole world, namely, the common home. The governments acknowledged that social protection, basic income, medical care for all and universal education were inherent to fundamental human dignity and, therefore, to fundamental human rights.  These economic rights and a safe environment for all are the most basic measure of human solidarity. And the good news is that, whereas in 1948 these objectives weren’t in immediate reach, today, in a much more developed and interconnected world, they are. You all, who so kindly have gathered here, are the financial leaders and economic specialists of the world. Along with your colleagues, you help to establish the global tax rules, informing the global public on our economic condition and advising governments of the world on budgets. You know first hand what the injustices are of our present global economy. Let us work together to put an end to these injustices. When multi-lateral credit organizations advise the different nations, it’s important to take into account the lofty concepts of fiscal justice, the public budgets responsible in their indebtedness and, above all, the effective and protagonist promotion of the poorest in the social framework. Remind them of their responsibility to offer assistance for the development of impoverished nations and relief from debt for the most indebted nations. Remind them of the imperative to halt climate change caused by man, as all the nations have promised, so that we don’t destroy the basis of our Common Home.

A new ethic implies being aware of the need for all to commit themselves to work together to close the tax havens, avoid evasions and money laundering that rob society, as well as to tell nations the importance of defending justice and the common good above the interests of companies and the most powerful multinationals (which end up by asphyxiating and impeding local production). The present time exacts and calls for taking a step that passes from the insular and antagonistic logic, as the only mechanism authorized for the solution of conflicts, to another capable of promoting the interconnection that propitiates a culture of encounter where the solid basis of a new international financial architecture is renewed.  In this context, where the development of some social and financial sectors has reached levels never seen before, how important it is to recall Saint Luke’s words: “Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required” (Luke 12:48ff.). How inspiring it is to listen to Saint Ambrose, who thinks with the Gospel: “You [rich man] don’t give of what is yours to the poor [when you do charity] but you are giving him what is his. As, the common property given in use for all, you alone are using” (Naboth 12:53). This is the principle of the universal destiny of goods, the basis of economic and social justice as also of the common good.

I rejoice at your presence here today. We celebrate the opportunity to know ourselves co-participants in the Lord’s work, which can change the course of history in benefit of the dignity of each person of today and of tomorrow, especially of the excluded and in benefit of the great good of peace. With humility and wisdom, we make an effort together to serve international and inter-generational justice. We have boundless hope in Jesus’ teaching that the poor in spirit are blessed and happy, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven (Cf. Matthew 5:3) which begins already here and now.

Thank you very much! Don’t forget to pray for me. I invoke upon you and your families the Lord’s blessings.

[Original text: Spanish]  [ZENIT’s translation of Pope’s prepared address by Virginia M. Forrester]
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