Pope Francis has reached out to the business community in a message to the World Economic Forum, extolling the “fundamental role” of business in improving the life of humanity and praising the “great personal honesty and integrity” of many businesspeople.
The Pope also called for the creation of employment and a better distribution of wealth that “goes beyond a simple welfare mentality.”
The message is being seen as a response to critics who accused the pontiff of being a Marxist after he strongly criticized “unfettered capitalism” and “trickle-down economics” in his apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel), published last November.
As well as praising improvements in areas such as healthcare, education, and communications, the Pope said “we must recognize the fundamental role that modern business activity has had in bringing about these changes, by stimulating and developing the immense resources of human intelligence.”
But he added that even if these successes have “reduced poverty for a great number of people,” they have also often led to “widespread social exclusion.”
He warned that the dignity of every human person and the common good should not be “little more than an afterthought” in political and economic decision making. Rather leaders of these fields “have a precise responsibility toward others, particularly those who are most frail, weak, and vulnerable,” he said.
The Pope drew attention in particular to the thousands who die from hunger every day and refugees who not only fail to find hospitality but often tragically die moving from place to place.
“I know that these words are forceful, even dramatic, but they seek both to affirm and to challenge the ability of this assembly to make a difference,” he said.
“In fact, those who have demonstrated their aptitude for being innovative and for improving the lives of many people by their ingenuity and professional expertise can further contribute by putting their skills at the service of those who are still living in dire poverty.”
The Pope called for a “renewed, profound, and broadened sense of responsibility” on the part of all people. And he reiterated his words of praise for business in Evangelii Gaudium — that it is a “a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life.”
“Such men and women are able to serve more effectively the common good and to make the goods of this world more accessible to all,” he said.
Quoting Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate, he said the growth of equality demands something “more than economic growth, even though it presupposes it. It demands first of all a transcendent vision of the person.”
This is because without the perspective of eternal life, he said, “human progress in this world is denied breathing space.”
“It also calls for decisions, mechanisms, and processes directed to a better distribution of wealth, the creation of sources of employment, and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality,” the Pope continued.
He added that he is “convinced that from such an openness to the transcendent a new political and business mentality can take shape, one capable of guiding all economic and financial activity within the horizon of an ethical approach which is truly humane.”
Furthermore, he said that the “international business community can count on many men and women of great personal honesty and integrity, whose work is inspired and guided by high ideals of fairness, generosity, and concern for the authentic development of the human family.”
“I urge you to draw upon these great human and moral resources and to take up this challenge with determination and far-sightedness,” he said. “Without ignoring, naturally, the specific scientific and professional requirements of every context, I ask you to ensure that humanity is served by wealth and not ruled by it.”
He closed his message by saying that he hoped his words would be “a constructive contribution to help your activities to be ever more noble and fruitful.”
The message was delivered by Cardinal Peter Turkson, who heads the Vatican’s justice and peace council. The World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, begins tomorrow and ends on Jan. 25.
The event gathers world leaders, top business executives, and public figures to set the key priorities and challenges for the world to tackle in the new year.
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