(ZENIT News / Vatican City, 12.09.2022).- On Monday morning, September 12, Pope Francis received in audience –in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall–, members of the General Confederation of Italian Industry and their families, who were in Rome on the occasion of the public Plenary Assembly. At the start of the meeting, Carlo Bonomi, President of Confindustria, greeted the Holy Father in the name of all. Here is a translation of the Pope’s. address, with headers in bold added by ZENIT.
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Dear Businessmen and Businesswomen, good morning and welcome!
I thank the President for his greeting and introduction. I am happy to meet with you and, through you, to address the world of businessmen, who are an essential component in building the common good; they are a primordial engine of development and prosperity.
It’s not an easy time for you and for everyone. The business world is also suffering a lot. The pandemic has placed in tension so many productive activities, so that the whole economic system has been wounded. Added now is the War in Ukraine with the consequent energy crisis. In these crises, the good businessman –who has the responsibility of his business, of job positions, who feels the uncertainties and risks upon himself–, also suffers. In the market, there are “mercenary” businessmen and businessmen like the Good Shepherd (cf. John 10:11-18), who suffer the same as their workers, who don’t flee in face of the numerous wolves surrounding them. People are able to recognize the good businessmen. We saw it also recently with the death of Alberto Balocco: the whole business and civic community was afflicted and showed their esteem and gratitude.
From the beginning the Church welcomed into her bosom the merchants, precursors of the modern businessmen. The Bible and the Gospels speak of work, of commerce and, among the parables, there are those that speak of coins, of landowners, of administrators, of purchased precious pearls. The merciful Father of Luke’s Gospel (cf. 15:11-32) is shown to us as a rich man, a landowner. The Good Samaritan (cf. Luke 120:30-35) could have been a businessman: it is he who takes care of the robbed and wounded man, and then he entrusts him to another businessman, an innkeeper. The “two denarii” that the Samaritan gives in advance to the innkeeper are very important: in the Gospel there are not only Judas’ thirty denarii. In fact, money itself can serve, today as yesterday, to betray and sell a friend or to save a victim. We see it every day, when Judas’ money and that of the Good Samaritan coexist in the same markets, in the same stock markets, in the same Squares. The economy grows and is humanized when the Samaritan’s denarii are more numerous than Judas’.
However, the life of businessmen in the Church has not always been easy. The harsh words Jesus uses against the rich and moneyed people, that of the camel and the eye of the needle (cf. Matthew 19:23-24), have been extended sometimes to swiftly to every businessman and every merchant, resembling those vendors that Jesus cast out of the Temple (cf. Matthew 21:12-13). In reality, one can be a merchant, a businessman, and be a follower of Christ, an inhabitant of His Kingdom. Hence, the question is: what are the conditions for a businessman to enter the Kingdom of Heaven? And permit me to point out some of them. It’s not easy …
1st To share: another name of evangelical poverty
The first is to share. Wealth, on one hand, helps a lot in life; however, it’s also true that it often complicates it: not only because it can become an idol and a ruthless master who takes all your life day after day. It also complicates it because wealth exacts responsibility: once I have wealth, the responsibility falls on me to make it fructify, not to disperse it[but] to use it for the common good. Wealth also creates envy, malice [and] not infrequently violence and evil around it. Jesus says to us that it is very difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Difficult, yes, but not impossible (cf. Matthew 19:26). And, in fact, we know of rich people that formed part of Jesus’ first community, for example, Zacchaeus of Jericho, Joseph of Arimathea , or some women who supported the Apostles with their wealth. There were men and women in the first communities who weren’t poor; and, there have always been rich people in the Church who have followed the Gospel in an exemplary way, among them also were businessmen, bankers, economists, such as Blesseds Giuseppe Toniolo and Giuseppe Tovini. Not all are asked to strip themselves to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, as the merchant Francis of Assisi. Some who have riches are asked to share them. To share is another name for evangelical poverty. And in fact, the other great economic image we find in the New Testament is the communion of goods narrated in the Acts of the Apostles: “Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul [… ] they had everything in common [… ] “There was not a needy person among them” (4:32-34).
2nd How to live sharing: philanthropy, taxes and the creation of jobs
How can one live this evangelical spirit of sharing today? There are different ways, and each businessman can find his own, in keeping with his personality and creativity. One way of sharing is philanthropy, namely, to give donations to the community, in different ways. And here I want to thank you for your concrete support to the Ukrainian people, especially to the displaced children, so that they can go to school — thank you! Very important, however, is the way in which in the modern world and the democracies taxes are handled, a form of distribution that is often not understood. The fiscal pact is the heart of the social pact. Taxes are also a way of sharing wealth, so that it is turned to the common good, to public goods: schools, health care, rights, care, science, culture, patrimony. Needless to say, taxes must be just, equitable, fixed in terms of each person’s ability to pay, exactly as the Italian Constitution establishes (cf. Article 53). The fiscal system and the administration must be efficient and incorrupt. But taxes must not be seen as a usurpation. They are a lofty way of sharing goods; they are the heart of the social pact.
Another form of sharing is the creation of jobs, jobs for all, especially for young people. Young people need your confidence and you need young people, because businesses without young people lose innovation, energy, enthusiasm. Work has always been a way of sharing wealth: by contracting people you are already distributing your patrimony, you are already creating shared wealth. Each new job created is a portion of wealth shared dynamically. Rooted here also is the centrality of work in the economy and its great dignity. Today, technology threatens to make us forget this great truth, but if the new capitalism creates wealth without creating more work, this great good function of wealth enters in crisis. And, speaking of young people: when I meet with leaders, many say to me: ‘The problem of my country is that young people leave, because they don’t have opportunities.’ To create work is a challenge and some countries are in crisis because of that lack. I ask you, please, that here, in this country, thanks to your initiative, your courage, there be jobs, that jobs be created especially for young people.
3rd To share: the model of social order
However, the problem of employment can’t be resolved if it remains anchored solely in the limits of the job market: what must be questioned is the model of the social order. What model of social order? And here we touch upon the subject of denaturalization. Denaturalization, joined to the rapid aging of the population, aggravates businessmen’s situation, but also that of the economy in general: the offer of workers decreases and the expense in pensions of public finance increases. It’s urgent to support families and the birth rate. We must work on this, to come out as soon as possible from the demographic winter that Italy and other countries are living. It’s a bad demographic winter, which goes against us and hinders us from growing. Today, to have children, I would say, is a patriotic question, also to move the country forward.
4th To share: the birth rate
Continuing with the subject of the birth rate: sometimes a woman who is employed here or works there is afraid of becoming pregnant, because there is a reality – I’m not saying among you – but there is a reality that as soon as the belly is seen, you are fired. “no, no, you can’t get pregnant.” Please, this is a problem of working women: study it, see what you can do so that a pregnant woman can go ahead, both with the child she is expecting as well as her work. And, continuing with the subject of work, there is another question to highlight. Italy has a strong community and territorial vocation: work has always been regarded within a broader social pact, where a business is an integral part of the community. The territory lives of the business and the business is an integral part of the community. The territory lives of the business and the business draws lymph from nearby resources, contributing substantially to the wellbeing of the places where it is. To be highlighted in this connection is the positive role played by businesses in the immigration reality, fomenting a constructive integration and empowering indispensable competencies for business survival in the current context. At the same time, it’s necessary to reiterate forcefully the “no” to any form of exploitation of people and of neglect of their security. The problem of immigrants: an immigrant must be received, accompanied, supported and integrated and the way to integrate him is work. However, if the immigrant is rejected or simply used as a labourer without rights, this is a great injustice and, in addition, harms your country.
5th The businessman is also a worker
I also like to recall that a businessman himself is a worker. And this is nice! He doesn’t live of the land; the true businessman lives of work, he lives of work and he continues being a businessman while working. The good businessman knows the workers because he knows the work. Many of you are artisan entrepreneurs, who share the same daily work and the same beauty as the employees. One of the grave crises of our time is the loss of contact of businessmen with work: as they age, their life passes in offices, meetings, trips, conventions and they no longer go to workshops and factories. One forgets the “smell” of work, It’s not nice. It’s what happens to us priests and Bishops: when we forget the smell of the sheep, we are no longer Pastors, we are functionaries. We forget the smell of work, we no longer recognize the products with our eyes closed on touching them; and when a businessman stops touching his products, he loses contact with the life of his business and often his economic decline begins. Contact, closeness, that is God’s style: to be close.
6th The salary gap
The creation of work then generates a certain equality in your businesses and in society. It’s true that there is hierarchy in businesses; it’s true that there are different functions and salaries, but the salaries should not be too different. Today the part of value given to work is too small, especially if we compare it with that given to financial income and the salaries of top executives. If the gap between the highest and the lowest salaries is too great, the business community gets sick and soon the society gets sick. Adriano Olivetti, a great colleague of yours of the last century, put a limit to the difference between the highest and lowest salaries, because he knew that when wages and salaries are too different, the sense of belonging to a common destiny is lost in the business community, empathy and solidarity among all is not created; and so, in face of a crisis, the labour community doesn’t respond as it could, with grave consequences for all. The value that is created depends on each and all: it also depends on your creativity, talent and innovation; it also depends on the cooperation of all, on the daily work of all. Because if it’s true that every worker depends on his businessmen and executives, it’s also true that the businessman depends on his workers, on their creativity, on their heart and soul: we can say that he depends on the spiritual “capital” of the workers.
7th Society’s great challenges will not be solved without good businessmen
Dear friends, the great challenges of our society will not be overcome without good businessmen, and this is true. I encourage you to feel the urgency of our time, to be protagonists in this change of epoch. With your creativity and innovation you can create a different economic system, in which the protection of the environment is a direct and immediate objective of your economic action. Without new entrepreneurs, the earth will not endure the impact of capitalism, and we will leave to future generations a planet that is too wounded, perhaps, uninhabitable. What we’ve done up to now isn’t enough: please, help us to do more together.
And I thank you for coming and wish the best for you and your work. I bless you and your families from my heart. And, please, don’t forget to pray for me. Thank you.
Translation of the Italian original by ZENIT’s Editorial Director and, into English, by Virginia M. Forrester