Pope in Bolivia Calls for 'Structural Changes' in World's Economy

In a talk of the utmost importance that is likely to spark discussion and inspire action worldwide, Pope Francis made his strongest call yet for “structural change” in the way the world’s economy is run, saying the present system “runs counter to the plan of Jesus.”  And he appealed to people everywhere “in the name of God” to mobilize to protect “our common home.”

He did so when he addressed the Second World Meeting of Popular Movements, at Santa Cruz, Bolivia on July 9, and encouraged them to work for these changes so that the economy serves people not profit. Saying the Church “cannot aloof” from this process, he encouraged bishops, priests, religious and laypeople  at the local church level to join hands with these movements in this task.

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The first Latin American Pope also denounced “the old and new colonialisms” that are operative in the world today and, in this context he humbly begged forgiveness of the indigenous peoples for the wrongs they suffered at the hands of the Catholic Church past and for the crimes committed against the original peoples “during the so called conquest of America.”

He went on to identify three “important tasks for the present historical moment,” and called for people—including popular movements and the church—to join hands to achieve these goals 

Welcomed by President Evo Morales, the first indigenous president of Bolivia, he delivered his forceful, passionate and repeatedly applauded talk to the representatives of popular movements from many countries. He began by expressing his joy at meeting these movements for the second time as they discuss “the best ways to overcome the grave situations of injustice experienced by the excluded throughout our world”.  He recalled his first encounter with 150 representatives of these movements from 80 countries in the Vatican last October, and asked bishops, priests and laity  to collaborate in a permanent way with these movements.

The popular movements are working for “land, lodging and labor for all our brothers and sisters.” Francis associated himself with their quest and affirmed that these are “sacred rights, well worth fighting for.”

There are “many forms of exclusion and injustice” in the world today and “there is an invisible thread joining every one of those forms of exclusion”, Francis observed.  These “destructive realities are part of a system which has become global” and “that system has imposed the mentality of profit at any price, with no concern for social exclusion or the destruction of nature”. This system has become “intolerable”, he stated.

Speaking with passion, Pope Francis said that “once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home.”  All these are “the evil effects of this subtle dictatorship”, he stated.

Given this reality, he said, “Let us not be afraid to say it: we want change, real change, structural changes.”  He revealed that in his meetings and travels worldwide “I have sensed an expectation, a longing, a yearning for change, in people throughout the world. Even within that ever smaller minority which believes that the present system is beneficial, there is a widespread sense of dissatisfaction and even despondency. Many people are hoping for a change capable of releasing them from the bondage of individualism and the despondency it spawns.”

Francis insisted: “We want change in our lives, in our neighborhoods, in our everyday reality. We want a change which can affect the entire world, since global interdependence calls for global answers to local problems.”  He called for “the globalization of hope” to replace “the globalization of exclusion and indifference!”

The Jesuit Pope hailed the popular movements of “the exploited and underprivileged” as “sowers of change.” But he reminded them that they should not see change “as something which will one day result from any one political decision or change in social structure” because “we know from painful experience that changes of structure which are not accompanied by a sincere conversion of mind and heart sooner or later end up in bureaucratization, corruption and failure.”  

As members of popular movements, Francis said, “you carry out your work inspired by fraternal love.” He praised them because every day they are “caught up in the storms of people’s lives” and turn the emotion from all this turns into community action.  He praised them for working on “the local” and “the global” in the effort “to construct a humane alternative to a globalization which excludes.” 

Pope Francis said “we desire a positive change for the benefit of all our brothers and sisters” and we know that this change can be enriched “by the collaboration of governments, popular movements and other social forces.”

He acknowledged that it’s not so easy to define the content of change, a social program which can embody this project of fraternity and justice which we are seeking.”  He told them not to expect “a recipe from this Pope”, because “neither the Pope nor the Church have a monopoly on the interpretation of social reality or the proposal of solutions to contemporary issues.” And, he added, “I dare say that no recipe exists. History is made by each generation as it follows in the footsteps of those preceding it, as it seeks its own path and respects the values which God has placed in the human heart.”

With this premise, Pope Francis proposed “three great tasks” that “demand a decisive and shared contribution from popular movements” at this moment in history.

“The first task is to put the economy at the service of peoples,”  he stated. He repeated what he has often said before: “Human beings and nature must not be at the service of money. Let us say NO to an economy of exclusion and inequality, where money rules, rather than service. That economy kills. That economy excludes. That economy destroys Mother Earth.”

The Pope said “the economy should not be a mechanism for accumulating goods, but rather the proper administration of our common home. This entails a commitment to care for that home and to the fitting distribution of its goods among all. It is not only about ensuring a supply of food or ‘decent sustenance’. Nor, although this is already a  great step forward, is it to guarantee land, lodging and labor for which you are working.”

Pope Francis insisted that “a truly communitarian economy, one might say an economy of Christian inspiration, must ensure peoples’ dignity and their ‘general, temporal welfare and prosperity’.  Such an economy includes not only land, lodging and labor, but also access to education, health care, new technologies, artistic and cultural manifestations, communications, sports and recreation.”

He assured his international audience that “such an economy is not only desirable and necessary, but also possible. We can achieve it (because) the available resources in our world, the fruit of the intergenerational labors of peoples and the gifts of creation, more than suffice for the integral development of each man and the whole man”.

 Pope Francis stated clearly that the obstacle to achieving such an economy is the existence of “a system with different aims.” He said there is “a system which, while irresponsibly accelerating the pace of production, while using industrial and agricultural methods which damage Mother Earth in the name of ‘productivity,’ continues to deny many millions of our brothers and sisters their most elementary economic, social and cultural rights.”  He expressed his judgment: “This system runs counter to the plan of Jesus.”

On the other hand, he said, “working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labor” is “a moral obligation” and for Christians “it is a commandment. It is about giving to the poor and to peoples what is theirs by right.”

He repeated the long standing Church teaching that “the universal destination of goods is a reality prior to private property. Property, especially when it affects natural resources, must always serve the needs of peoples.” He said “It is not enough to let a few drops fall whenever the poor shake a cup which never runs over by itself. Welfare programs geared to certain emergencies can only be considered temporary responses. They will never be able to replace true inclusion, an inclusion which provides worthy, free, creative, participatory and solidary work.”

In the effort to create such an economy that serves people, Francis said “popular movements play an essential role, not only by making demands and lodging protests, but even more basically by being creative”.  He praised them because they are “creators of work, builders of housing, producers of food, above all for people left behind by the world market.”  He urged governments to support these forms of popular economy and communitarian production, and to respect for the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity which allow the common good to be achieved in a full and participatory democracy.

“The second task is to unite our peoples on the path of peace and justice”, he stated. He said the world’s peoples want to be artisans of their own destiny. “They do not want forms of tutelage or interference by which those with greater power subordinate those with less. They want their culture, their language, their social processes and their religious traditions to be respected.”  

Pope Francis declared that “No actual or established power has the right to deprive peoples of the full exercise of their sovereignty” and “whenever they do so, we see the rise of new forms of colonialism which seriously prejudice the possibility of peace and justice.”

He recalled that the peoples of Latin America “fought to gain their political independence and for almost two centuries their history has been dramatic and filled with contradictions, as they have striven to achieve full independence.”  But in recent years, “after any number of misunderstandings, many Latin American countries have seen the growth of fraternity between their peoples. The governments of the region have pooled forces in order to ensure respect for the sovereignty of their own countries and the entire region, which our forebears so beautifully called the “greater country”.” He urged the popular movements to foster and increase this unity.

He said “it is necessary to maintain unity in the face of every effort to divide, if the region is to grow in peace and justice.”

But he warned that  “a new colonialism” threatens this “equitable human development and restrict the sovereignty of the countries.”  This “new colonialism takes on different faces”, he said.  At times “it appears under the influence of mammon: corporations, loan agencies, certain “free trade” treaties, and the imposition of measures of “austerity” which always tighten the belt of workers and the poor.” At other times, “ under the noble guise of battling corruption, the narcotics trade and terrorism – grave evils of our time which call for coordinated international action – we see states being saddled with measures which have little to do with the resolution of these problems and which not infrequently worsen matters.”   He said this new colonialism takes another form too through “the monopolizing of the communications media, which would impose alienating examples of consumerism and a certain cultural uniformity”.  He called this form “ideological colonialism”.

Francis said “none of the grave problems of humanity can be resolved without interaction between states and peoples at the international level.” Consequently, “no government can act independently of a common responsibility.”  At the same time, he said, “if we truly desire positive change, we have to humbly accept our interdependence.”

Pope Francis said that “colonialism, both old and new, which reduces poor countries to mere providers of raw material and cheap labor, engenders violence, poverty, forced migrations and all the evils which go hand in hand with these, precisely because, by placing the periphery at the service of the center, it denies those countries the right to an integral development. That is inequality, and inequality generates a violence which no police, military, or intelligence resources can control.

“Let us say NO to forms of colonialism old and new. Let us say YES to the encounter between peoples and cultures. Blessed are the peacemakers.”

Then responding to those who say that “when the Pope speaks of colonialism, he overlooks certain actions of the Church,” Pope stated: “I say this to you with regret: many grave sins were committed against the native peoples of America in the name of God. My predecessors acknowledged this, CELAM has said it, and I too wish to say it. Like Saint John Paul II, I ask that the Church ‘kneel before God and implore forgiveness for the past and present sins of her sons and daughters’. and “I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offenses of the Church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America.”

On the other hand, he said, there were “many bishops, priests and laity who preached and continue to preach the Good News of Jesus with courage and meekness, respectfully and pacifically; who left behind them impressive works of human promotion and of love, often standing alongside the native peoples or accompanying their popular movements even to the point of martyrdom  The Church, her sons and daughters, are part of the identity of the peoples of Latin America.”

Francis noted that “some powers here, as in other countries, are committed to erasing this identity, at times because our faith is revolutionary, because our faith challenges the tyranny of mammon.”  This is happening in the Middle East, he said  “this too needs to be denounced: in this third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocide is taking place, and it must end.”

In his talk, Francis expressed his “affection and appreciation” to “our brothers and sisters in the Latin American indigenous movement” for “their efforts to bring peoples and cultures together in a form of co-existence…where each group preserves its own identity by building together a plurality which does not threaten but rather reinforces unity.” He praised their quest for an inter-culturalism too.

“The third task, perhaps the most important facing us today, is to defend Mother Earth”, the Pope said. “Our common home is being pillaged, laid waste and harmed with impunity “ one international summit after another takes place without any significant result. Today, he said, “there exists a clear, definite and pressing ethical imperative to implement what has not yet been done.” He insisted that “we cannot allow certain interests—interests which are global but not universal—to take over, to dominate states and international organizations, and to continue destroying creation.” He called on people and their movements “to cry out, to mobilize and to demand—peacefully, but firmly—that appropriate and urgently-needed measures be taken” and concluded, “I ask you in the name of God, to defend Mother Earth.”

Pope Francis concluded this powerful talk by affirming that “the future of humanity does not lie solely in the hands of great leaders, the great powers and the elites. It is fundamentally in the hands of peoples and in their ability to organize. It is in their hands, which can guide with humility and conviction this process of change.” He assured them that in this effort, “ I am with you.”

The representatives of the popular movements had repeatedly interrupted his hour-long talk with applause, and at the end they gave him a standing ovation.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Beth Cioffoletti
2 years 4 months ago
This is really something. In my lifetime I have never heard a world leader speak like this.
Bill Mazzella
2 years 4 months ago
Agree, Beth. No room for he meant this or he did not mean this. No confusion. No doubt. God does visit the people in Francis.

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