Francis: Work toward a humane economy

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Pope Francis leads his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican May 15, 2019. The pope has issued a new universal church law establishing procedures for reporting and investigating abuse within the church. The new church law goes into effect June 1. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

On May 1, Pope Francis sent an invitation to the event “The Economy of Francesco,” named after St. Francis of Assisi. The event will take place in Assisi, Italy, from March 26-28, 2020. It is an initiative to which young economists and entrepreneurs from all over the world, and from diverse paths in life, are invited to participate.

Through this initiative, Pope Francis hopes to bring together young economists and entrepreneurs who see the need for a “different type of economy” than the one prevailing today: one that promotes life, inclusion, humanity and care for the environment. Consistent with the social doctrine of the Church, which is respectful of the essential nature of all things, Pope Francis does not seek to advance a specific Catholic economic solution; rather, he provides principles so as to encourage young people to live up to their responsibilities and hopes — to engage their energies to work toward an economy that, as he wrote in his message to participants, is consistent with “a new humanism responsive to the expectations of men and women and to the plans of God.”

We have been made for eternity, but we are bodies; we do not just have bodies. We need material things to flourish. How we produce, consume and distribute those material things makes a difference; it is not value-neutral. To reach happiness, respect for the nature of all things in every aspect of economic activity is required, and this especially includes the environment.

An unsustainable model

It is a well-researched fact that, more often than not, economic activity today is driven by models that are exclusively materialistic and disrespectful of the wider order of creation. Therefore, it is self-destructive and unsustainable. Such models have led to harmful, abusive, hopeless and unjust situations all over the world. Some models propel variations of a Lockean, individualist understanding of freedom (freedom from), and see selfishness, competition and autonomy as fundamental virtues — rather than vices — necessary to achieve economic prosperity.

‘Economy of Francesco’
According to the website of the economic event “The Economy of Francesco,” Pope Francis “invites young economists, entrepreneurs and change-makers to Assisi to make a commitment in the spirit of St. Francis, in order to make the economy of tomorrow fair, sustainable and inclusive, with no one left behind.” To apply to participate in the event, and to read Pope Francis’ invitation, visit

Alternative prevailing models seek to concentrate power in the state, undermining legitimate personal initiative, freedom, rights and responsibilities that every person has by their nature. This is why in his 1931 encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, Pope Pius XI clearly states the incompatibility of capitalist and socialist economic models with human development. Both models are lacking a correct understanding of the dignity of the human person, who is social by nature. The models do not account for subsidiarity, which acknowledges the need for higher levels of associations to coordinate human efforts when lower levels of associations cannot do so. Nor do they account for solidarity, which embraces the reality of human vulnerability and the richness of mercy, compassion, proactive participation and cooperation over competition; and the pursuit of the common good, which are conditions that lead to human flourishing in society. These four principles of the Catholic social tradition are the true essential foundation for integral human development. The accumulation of wealth, per se, is not.

‘Culture of communion’

Pope Francis, concerned with the salvation and well-being of current and future generations, points out the need to correct inhuman models of growth, as they are “incapable of guaranteeing respect for the environment, openness to life, concern for the family, social equality, the dignity of the workers and the rights of the future generations.” Through “The Economy of Francesco” meeting, he wants to encourage young people to seek a “culture of communion based on fraternity and equality” and a vision of economics that “can give hope to our future and benefit not only the poorest of the poor, but our entire human family … and the entire planet, our common home.”

However, Pope Francis does not understand our relationship with the environment in typical environmentalist terms. Rather, he sees a person’s relationship with creation as a proper relationship between the way we live and work and as the capacity to respect the order of creation in a broad sense, which includes the environment. These appropriate relationships are what help us discover beauty and keep alive a sense of wonder. More importantly, these are healthy relationships that allow us to discover the committed love of God for each one of us and for our fellow men and women.

Economic cooperation

What does all of this mean in practical terms? Pope Francis clearly understands what is at the core of our proposed integral economic methodology. A fact of experience is that human beings exist, live and act together with others — not in isolation. A manifestation of the relationality and vulnerability of people, we need one another to develop. Thus how we interact with others either helps or jeopardizes economic outcomes, our personal development and that of others, including the generations that will come after us.

Acknowledging the temporal dimension of the human person is essential for economic efficiency (Aguirre 2019). While seeking to meet our needs, we also must incorporate the needs of others. In his recent apostolic exhortation Christus Vivit (“Christ Lives”), he exhorts young people “to be protagonists of change” (No. 174). He reminds them that they “are the ones who hold the future,” as it is through them that “the future enters into the world.” Pope Francis also asks them “to be protagonists of this transformation,” “to build the future, to work for a better world” (No. 174). What is needed is an understanding of the economy rooted in Christian anthropology; not a Catholic economics, but a humane economy.

‘A lay outlook’

How could this become a reality? Francis suggests a path: take advantage of the work we carry out at universities, businesses and organizations, for they are “workshops of hope for creating new ways of understanding the economy and progress, for giving voice to those who have none and for proposing new styles of life,” he wrote in his message to participants of “The Economy of Francesco” event.

We all have the same dignity, but not all the same responsibility. As leaders, we need to avoid doing violence to the very nature of things.

In the words of St. Josemaría Escrivá, we need a “genuine lay outlook, which leads to three conclusions: be sufficiently honest, so as to shoulder one’s own responsibility; be sufficiently Christian, so as to respect those brothers in the Faith who, in matters of free discussion, propose solutions which differ from those which each one of us maintains; and be sufficiently Catholic so as not to use our Mother the Church, involving her in human factions” (“Passionately Loving the World,” No. 117).

Dr. Maria Sophia Aguirre is an ordinary professor of economics at the Catholic University of America, where she is the founder of the Integral Economic Development programs.