By Benedict Mayaki, SJ
Pope Francis on Monday received in audience in the Vatican participants at the Confindustria public assembly.
In his prepared remarks to members of the General Confederation of Italian Industry, the Holy Father called entrepreneurs “an essential component in building the common good,” which is “a primary engine of development and prosperity.”
Pope Francis highlighted that these are difficult times for everyone, including the business world. He noted that the pandemic put a strain on many productive activities, hurting the economic system. More so, the war in Ukraine and the energy crises has further exacerbated the situation to boot.
In these crises, the good entrepreneur, who feels the uncertainties and risks, also suffers, said the Pope, distinguishing between entrepreneurs similar to the Good Shepherd and “mercenary” entrepreneurs.
Like the good shepherd, the good entrepreneur feels the sufferings of his workers and does not flee before the many wolves circling around, said the Pope, recalling the death of Alberto Balocco, who was esteemed by the business and civic community.
The Pope further noted that the Church, from the very beginning, has “welcomed into its bosom merchants, forerunners of modern entrepreneurs” and the Bible speaks of labour and commerce in some parables (including the lost coin, the landowner, the steward and the precious pearls).
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, for example, the “two denarii” offered to the innkeeper is very important, said the Pope – so also is important, the money Judas was offered to betray Jesus.
In fact, “the same money can be used, yesterday as today, to betray and sell a friend or to save a victim,” the Pope said, noting that the denarii of Judas and the denarii of the Good Samaritan coexist in the same markets, in the same stock exchanges, in the same marketplaces, but the economy “grows and becomes humane when the Samaritan’s denarii become more numerous than those of Judas”.
The Holy Father also acknowledged that the life of entrepreneurs in the Church has not always been easy, pointing at Jesus words about the rich, the camel and the eye of a needle (Mt 19: 23 -24). He said that this has sometimes been too quickly extended to every entrepreneur and merchant.
“In reality, one can be a merchant, an entrepreneur, and be a follower of Christ, an inhabitant of his Kingdom. The question then becomes: what are the conditions for an entrepreneur to enter the Kingdom of Heaven?”
Reflecting on the conditions for an entrepreneur to enter into Heaven, the Holy Father underlined the importance of sharing.
He said that wealth, while it can help a great deal in life on the one hand, can also complicate life on the other hand, because it can become an idol and a ruthless master who “takes all of one’s life day after day”.
Wealth calls for responsibility said the Pope. “Once I own wealth, on me lies the responsibility to make it bear fruit, not to dissipate it, to use it for the common good.” However, wealth also creates envy, backbiting, and perhaps violence and wickedness.
The Holy Father then held up the example of wealthy people who were part of Jesus’s first community, including Joseph of Arimathea, the women who supported the Apostles with their possessions and Zacchaeus of Jericho – noting that there have always been wealthy people who have followed the Gospel in an exemplary way.
“Sharing is another name for evangelical poverty” he added, highlighting the great economic image of common sharing of goods narrated in the Acts of the Apostles.
Pope Francis said that every entrepreneur has to find his own from the different forms of living the evangelical spirit of sharing, according to one’s own personality and creativity.
One form is philanthropy – giving to the community in different ways, he said, acknowledging the gestures of support for the Ukrainian people. Another way, he added, is taxes and levies – “a form of sharing that is often not understood.”
He said the “fiscal pact is at the heart of the social pact” explaining that taxes are “a form of sharing wealth so that it becomes common goods, public goods: schools, health, rights, care, science, culture, heritage.”
However, Pope Francis cautioned, “taxes must be fair, equitable, set according to each person’s ability to pay, as the Italian Constitution states”, and “the fiscal system and administration must be efficient and not corrupt.”
“Another way of sharing is Job creation, jobs for all, especially for young people,” the Pope pointed out, noting that young people are needed because businesses without them lose innovation, energy and enthusiasm.
He added that work has always been a form of communion of wealth because “by hiring people you are already distributing your assets, you are already creating shared wealth.” Thus every “new job created is a slice of dynamically shared wealth” and “therein also lies the centrality of work in the economy and its great dignity.”
However, the labor problem cannot be solved if it remains within the confines of the labor market, he stressed, saying that it is a model of social order that needs to be challenged. In this regard, the Pope pointed at the declining birth rate, which, coupled with the rapid aging of the population, is leading to a decrease in the supply of workers and an increase in pension spending.
“There is an urgent need to support families and the birth rate in practice,” Pope Francis stressed.
The Holy Father also highlighted the positive role that businesses play in the reality of immigration by “fostering constructive integration and enhancing skills that are indispensable for the survival of the business in our current context.” However, he warned against all forms of exploitation of people and the neglect of their safety.
Pope Francis went on to remind entrepreneurs that they too are workers. He urged them not to lose contact with work, forgetting the “smell” of work and being out of touch with the life of their enterprises.
He noted that creating work generates some equality in enterprises and in society, and added, even though there is a hierarchy in business, with different functions, “salaries should not be too different.”
“If the gap between the highest and lowest salaries becomes too wide, the business community becomes sick, and soon the society becomes sick,” he said.
The Pope upheld the example of Adriano Olivetti who set a limit on the gap between the highest and lowest salaries because he knew that it could lead to a loss of common destiny in business and that community, empathy and solidarity will not be created among all.
“For while it is true that every worker depends on his entrepreneurs and managers, it is also true that the entrepreneur depends on his workers, on their creativity, their hearts and souls: it depends on their spiritual "capital."”
Concluding, the Pope underlined that the challenges of our society cannot be met without good entrepreneurs and urged the participants at the assembly to be protagonists of a change of epoch, bringing about a different economic system through their creativity and innovation.
The Pope’s Agenda
By Benedict Mayaki, SJ