World Watch: ‘A Different Kind of Economy’

Pope Francis has sought to revitalize conversation about global economic justice in the Church by initiating the Economy of Francesco, a movement of young people committed to “giving a new soul to the global economy.” 

The movement began when Pope Francis issued a letter in May 2019 to young economists and entrepreneurs “interested in a different kind of economy: one that brings life not death, one that is inclusive and not exclusive, humane and not dehumanizing, one that cares for the environment and does not despoil it.” 

The letter invited them to a gathering in Assisi, Italy, which he said would “allow us to meet one another and eventually enter into a ‘covenant’ to change today’s economy and to give a soul to the economy of tomorrow.”

The three-day meeting in November 2019 included young people from around the world and engaged with prominent economists such as Amartya Sen of Harvard University and Jeffrey Sachs of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University. Delegations from various countries gave presentations on the issues facing their national economies and proposed solutions. Participants were then grouped into 12 thematic “villages,” focusing on issues such as finance, agriculture, energy, and women in the economy. These groups have continued to meet virtually.

The initiative flows from Francis’ long-standing concern about the structural problems of the global economy. Building on the tradition of Catholic social teaching, he critiques “models of [economic] growth incapable of guaranteeing respect for the environment, openness to life, concern for the family, social equality, the dignity of workers and the rights of future generations.” 

In his most recent speech to the World Meeting of Popular Movements, Pope Francis repeated that “land, labor and lodging” are key rights that are cornerstones of social and economic justice. The goal, he says, is to “place the economy at the service of the people in order to build a lasting peace based on social justice and on care for our common home.” 

In the U.S. Church, conversation about economic justice has lost momentum in recent years. This past November marked 35 years since the publication in 1986 of the pastoral letter “Economic Justice for All,” the bishops’ last major document on Catholic social teaching and the economy. In a panel marking the anniversary, Catholic theologians agreed it was time to reignite Churchwide conversation about economic justice in the United States. 

One panelist, Dr. Meghan Clark, a theologian at St. John’s University, said that key to reinvigorating the conversation would be for Church leaders to heed Pope Francis’ call to spend more time listening directly to people on the margins. “The cry for [dignity of work] we’re hearing louder and louder now,” she said. The conversation “needs to start on the margins,” she concluded. 

FAITH IN ACTION: 

• Explore the website for the Economy of Francesco movement: https://francescoeconomy.org/ 

• Watch the panel, “Economic Justice for All at 35:” https://bit.ly/3rE4pNF

• Read the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ “A Catholic Framework for Economic Life,” summarizing the 10 main principles in “Economic Justice for All:” https://bit.ly/31AEqeW

• Watch this video documentary from the World Meeting of Popular Movements and watch Pope Francis’ speech on building a moral economy: https://bit.ly/3Itz1rg

The Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, based in Washington, D.C., is a resource for Maryknoll on matters of peace, social justice and integrity of creation, and brings Maryknoll’s mission experience into U.S. policy discussions. Phone (202) 832-1780, visit www.maryknollogc.org or email ogc@maryknollogc.org.

Featured image: A laborer in Nepal heaves heavy loads uphill in a brickyard, where workers toil long hours for little pay and with few protections. (Gregg Brekke/Nepal)

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Kathleen Kollman Birch

Kathleen Kollman Birch is communications manager for the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns.