Finance ministers from France, Argentina, Mexico, Paraguay, and El Salvador; a Nobel economics laureate; and the director of the International Monetary Fund are among global leaders who took part in a Vatican workshop on Wednesday.
The event – entitled “New Forms of Solidarity” – was held at the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.
It provided a forum for key players in the global financial system to discuss rising inequality through “inclusion, integration, and innovation”.
In his address to participants, Pope Francis laid out several dangers lurking behind prevailing economic models, as well as several ways to build bridges between the rich and the poor.
“The world is rich, and yet the number of poor people is swelling all around us.”
Hundreds of millions of people, said the Pope, are struggling in extreme poverty, and are lacking food, housing, healthcare, schooling, electricity, and drinkable water. Around 5 million children will die this year of causes related to poverty, he said.
Pope Francis added that rising income inequality has also left millions of people as victims of forced labor, prostitution, and organ trafficking.
These facts should impel us to take action, and not to fall into despair.
“These are solvable problems,” he said. “We are not condemned to global inequality.”
Poverty can be overcome, said the Pope, if an economic system is put in place that includes, feeds, cures, and dresses those left behind by society.
“We have to choose what and who to prioritize,” he said. Our choice will lead either to increased social injustice and violence, or to “humanizing socio-economic systems”.
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Structures of sin
Pope Francis went on to say how extreme poverty has continued to exist alongside great wealth throughout much of human history.
Currently, the 50 richest people possess the equivalent of US$ 2.2 trillion. The Pope said that, on their own, they could finance “medical care and education for every poor child in the world, either through taxes and/or philanthropy” and save millions of lives every year.
And he condemned recurrent tax breaks for wealthy individuals as “structures of sin”. “Every year hundreds of millions of dollars – which should be collected as taxes and go to finance healthcare and education – instead end up in offshore accounts,” he said.
Co-responsibility and fraternity
Turning to solutions, the Pope urged global financial leaders to “co-responsibility” in the pursuit of fraternity and trust.
Banks and financial institutions, he said, should help disadvantaged peoples and developing nations to achieve a certain standard of development.
“Social protection, a basic income, healthcare for all, and universal education,” he said, are “economic rights” that form the basis of human solidarity.
Benefiting the excluded
Finally, Pope Francis invited participants in the workshop to use their positions of authority to promote development for the disadvantaged, debt relief for struggling nations, and efforts to reduce the effects of climate change.
“We celebrate the opportunity to recognize co-participants in the Lord’s work, which can change the course of history to benefit the dignity of every person, especially those who are excluded.”