Business leaders, economic analysts and theologians gathered at the Vatican this week to consider, in light of Catholic social teaching, the place of solidarity and fraternity in making business decisions. Referencing the Popes' continual call for greater global solidarity, Domingo Sugranyes Bickel, president of the Centesimus Annus — Pro Pontifice Foundation, said, “we are trying to find answers that make sense for business people — this is not always easy.” The foundation, which is dedicated to the study and promotion of the Church’s social doctrine, met May 8-10 at the Vatican to discuss the theme, “The Good Society and the Future of Jobs: Can solidarity and fraternity be part of business decisions?” “Pope Francis has compelled us to try to get into higher gear, in continuity with the past,” Sugranyes told CNA May 8. The organization’s president described it as “a ‘think tank,’ if you wish, in the middle of Vatican.” It was founded in 1993 by St. John Paul II to promote Catholic social teaching. It is named for his encyclical from two years prior, Centesimus Annus, on the hundredth anniversary of Rerum Novarum. Leo XIII's 1891 encyclical on capital and labor is hailed as the beginning of Catholic social teaching in the modern era. Although it is not an official body of the Curia, the lay-led foundation is overseen by Cardinal Domenico Calcagno, president of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See. The Roman Pontiff met with members of the foundation May 10, thanking them for accepting “the suggestion to work on the value of solidarity. In this way, we can carry forward a theme of reflection and commitment that is intrinsic to the social doctrine, which is always in harmony with subsidiarity.” He noted in particular the prominence that his immediate predecessors had given to Catholic social doctrine: its prominence in the Magisterium of St. John Paul II, and its explanation and updating by Benedict XVI. “In the contemporary economic system — and in the mentality that it generates — the word solidarity has become inconvenient, even troublesome,” Pope Francis acknowledged. “The crisis of these years, which has profound causes in the ethical order, has increased this 'allergy' to words like solidarity, equal distribution of goods, the priority of work.” The Pope went on to suggest that perhaps some people are “unable or unwilling to truly study in what way these ethical values can become concrete economic values,” but noted that the Centesimus Annus — Pro Pontifice Foundation had taken up the task. “Truly this is what you seek to do, holding together the theoretical and practical aspects, thoughts and the experiences 'in the field.'” Sugranyes noted that the organization, as a place where “people from academics, people from business, theologians, pastors, bishops,” can come together, is dedicated to considering these topics “by discussion, by analyzing, by studying, by training.” The president noted that “there is a strong need for business leaders and economic leaders, professionals, to enlarge their views and take into account more elements from reality, from a global reality where inequalities are not measured in one place.” Pope Francis encouraged the members of the foundation to consider “the conscience of the entrepreneur” as the “place in which such research occurs.” “In particular, the Christian entrepreneur is urged to always confront the gospel with the reality in which he works; the gospel asks him to put the human person and the common good in first place, to perform his role so that there might be work opportunities, dignified work.” While such a task is not simple, it may not be as difficult as many people think, suggested Sugranyes, because the world of business and economics is composed of real people, not simply artificial machines. “There are real persons in companies everywhere. Every executive will tell you that when trying to build teamwork you have to count on people’s will to do things together - we are not talking to machines.” Alberto Quadrio Curzio, president of the foundation’s scientific committee, expressed his belief in the importance of people’s creativity becoming part of the notion of solidarity. “I think that solidarity must be creative solidarity, solidarity must be dynamic solidarity and not just to better distribution of income and wealth - which is important, after all, but which is not enough.” “You can not utilize the better distribution of income, of wealth, without helping people to personal growth,” he emphasized, going on to note the “absolutely fundamental” aspect of education, as well as the family as the first place where solidarity is learned. Pope Francis also emphasized the importance of human community. “The Christian community — the parish, the diocese, the associations — is the place in which the entrepreneur, but also the politician, the professional, the union worker, draws the strength to nourish their commitments and encounters with their brothers.” He closed his audience by encouraging the various experts to “move ahead with faith, dedicating proper time to prayer, because also the layperson, also the entrepreneur needs to pray and to pray often when the challenges are most difficult!”
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