Human beings, created in the image and likeness of God, are seekers of meaning before being seekers of material goods, the Pope says.
“A society and economy without young people are sad, pessimistic, cynical,” Pope Francis told young people gathered for the Economy of Francescoevent in Assisi on September 24, 2022. To their standing ovations, the Pontiff invited the 1,000 participants to “stir things up” to enable an economic paradigm shift.
“I have waited for this moment for more than three years,” said the Pope, recalling the letter he wrote to young people on May 1, 2019, in which he asked them to reflect on the economy of tomorrow to give it “a soul.”
He expressed his satisfaction that they had since succeeded in forming a “global community of young people” who share the “same vocation”: “changing an enormous and complex system like the world economy.”
“You young people, with the help of God, know what to do, you can do it; young people have done this before in the course of history,” he assured.
“Our generation has left you with a rich heritage, but we have not known how to protect the planet and are not securing peace,” the Pope said after listening to several testimonies from young people from around the world.
He enjoined them to be “artisans” of our common home that is “falling into ruins,” in order to “transform an economy that kills into an economy of life.” And he exclaimed, “I’m counting on you!”
You are not just the “not yet,” you are also the “already here,”; you are the present.
In his speech, the Pontiff gave three pieces of advice drawn from the life of St. Francis of Assisi to the young people from more than a hundred countries.
The first is to “look at the world through the eyes of the poor” and the weak. “May your daily choices not ‘produce’ discarded people,” he insisted.
“Do not forget about work, do not forget about workers,” he gave as a second piece of advice, asking them, “while you create goods and services, do not forget to create work, good work and work for everyone.”
The third signpost was “incarnation,” which Francis explained by saying that those who have left a positive mark on history “translated ideals, desires, and values into concrete actions“
“The Church has always rejected the gnostic temptation of thinking that the world changes only through different knowledge, without the effort of the flesh,” he said.
Defending the spiritual capital of societies
Francis also warned against the unsustainability of relationships in some parts of the world, a perverse effect consumerism has on families.
The family, and with it the acceptance and protection of life, is suffering a serious crisis in some regions of the world. Current consumerism seeks to fill the void of human relationships with ever more sophisticated commodities – loneliness is big business in our time! – but in this way it generates a famine of happiness.
The Bishop of Rome explained that the first capital of any society is spiritual, “invisible but more real than financial or technological capital.”
Human beings, created in the image and likeness of God, are seekers of meaning before being seekers of material goods. … Technology can do much: It teaches us the “what” and the “how”; but it does not tell us the “why”; and so our actions become sterile and do not bring fulfilment to life, not even economic life.
He expressed concern that young people often suffer from a lack of meaning in modern societies, referring to the very high figures of youth suicides.
Inequality mortally pollutes our planet
The head of the Catholic Church recalled that keeping the poor at the center of decision-making should guide environmental efforts too.
Not all environmental solutions have the same effects on the poorest, and therefore those that reduce misery and inequality should be preferred. As we seek to save the planet, we must not neglect those who suffer.
The Pope insisted on the “respect, care and love for the poor, for every poor person, for every fragile and vulnerable person – from conception in the womb to the sick person with disabilities, to the elderly person in difficulty.”
I would go even further: an economy of Francesco must not limit itself to working for or with the poor. As long as our system “produces” discarded people, and we operate according to this system, we will be accomplices of an economy that kills.
At the end of his speech, Pope Francis signed a “pact” designed by the participants during their stay in Umbria. It includes twelve commitments that young people make to change the economy of tomorrow.
And he concluded with this prayer:
Father, we ask forgiveness for having damaged the earth, for not having respected indigenous cultures, for not having valued and loved the poorest of the poor, for having created wealth without communion.
Living God, who with your Spirit have inspired the hearts, hands and minds of these young people and sent them on the way to a promised land, look kindly on their generosity, love and desire to spend their lives for a great ideal.
Bless them in their undertakings, studies and dreams; accompany them in their difficulties and sufferings, help them to transform their difficulties and sufferings into virtue and wisdom.
Support 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. You, whose only begotten Son became a carpenter, grant them the joy of transforming the world with love, ingenuity and hands. Amen.