Whenever Pope Francis speaks about the economy, it has become commonplace that his critics react by accusing him of being a communist or populist and demand the pontiff focus on “matters of faith.”
Yet according to Argentine Father Augusto Zampini Davies - the director of development and faith at the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development since its creation in 2016 - caring for justice, peace, inclusion, solidarity, healthcare and the environment are all Gospel values.
For the past three years, the priest has accompanied the head of the dicastery, Cardinal Peter Turkson, to the World Economic Forum in Davos, which brings together some of the most powerful people in politics, business, and finance.
“We follow Christ, and he’s come to bring the Kingdom of God, that is one of justice, peace, inclusion,” Zampini told Crux. “This Kingdom, of course, will come at the end of times, but we are tasked with spreading it. And this means that the Catholic Church is called to work where there’s justice, peace, but also war. It’s called to work in healthcare, the environment, politics and the world of finance.”
“It’s a call from the Gospel,” he said.
Before taking up his job at the dicastery, and before even joining seminary in his late 20s, Zampini studied international law in Argentina and went on to work at Argentina’s Central Bank before moving to Baker McKenzie, a multinational law firm. He studied at Bath and Roehampton, and then went on to Durham Universitt and Cambridge, where he spent a year as a visiting scholar.
Before going to the UK, he began his priestly ministry working in the slums of Buenos Aires, and while in England, he spent a decade serving as a theological adviser for CAFOD, the official international aid agency of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.
All of his experience was preparing him for the job he now holds, which one day takes him to the Amazon rain forest in preparation of last October’s synod of bishops on the region, and the next day takes him to Davos, Switzerland where together with Turkson, he has dined with some of the world’s most important people.
Speaking about why the Church worries about equality, Zampini said that beyond the spiritual answer, there’s a more practical one too: “We are always going to be interested in fighting poverty, in the dignity of workers being respected, in making sure the wealth that is generated doesn’t damage God’s creation. This is the Church’s social teaching.”
The dicastery led by Turkson, the priest said, “concerns itself with all things social, with what happens outside the Church. We don’t have a plan, we’re not a political party, but we do know what we want. And today, a more just economic system is a goal we share with other religions, with many who are in the world of finance, and with all those who support the [United Nation’s] Sustainable Development Goals.”
“We cannot stay with our arms crossed while people are being exploited, enslaved, the planet polluted,” Zampini said. “We want to do our part.”
The economy, he said, is based on decisions, at every level: Both those who produce goods and services and those who consume them make decisions. What the Church is trying to do, Zampini explained, is to “promote Christian values in the world of economy. It affects the relations among peoples, and we are called to improve those relations, with decisions rooted in the Gospel.”
When he speaks with Crux about Davos, Zampini cannot reign in his enthusiasm. Though he’s clear to clarify that his “hope” doesn’t come just from a five-day trip to a forum at a ski resort, he said what he saw there this time - his third visit to the WEF - surprised him in a positive way.
“It’s the first time that I saw in many people a real, concrete desire to change the way things are done, and in others at least the acknowledgement,” he said. “For many business leaders, making money is no longer acceptable as the only goal for their companies. Yes, they are a business, but there’s a recognition that you can’t have a better profit margin by having workers in slave-like conditions.”
The fact that business leaders are changing their mindset, Zampini said, makes him feel better because even though it’s good that the different churches, social movements, social communities and those who work for the environment want to fight for change, it’s not enough if the business model doesn’t change.
“There’s still a lot to be done, and it cannot be done in increments, we need a radical change, in one generation,” he said. “But many have started to change, and we can help accelerate that change.”
In the world of finances, he said, many are speaking about “the ESG”: Investments that have a positive environmental, social and governmental impact. Billions today are invested in ESG, or in what the dicastery calls “impact investment,” meaning business transactions that have a positive impact in society. Yet in the financial world, the more money that goes into one thing, the more money that follows, so Zampini said he hopes to see this trickledown effect speeding up.
“For a lack of a better word, Davos was ‘hopeful’ this time,” he said. “We saw that the pope’s call in Laudato Si’ to hear the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor as one has an echo, with many quoting this phrase.”
This cry, he said, is one that cannot wait, and it speaks to the “urgency” in changing the current economic model.
“If in a family, a child is screaming at the top of his lungs, you don’t have a family assembly to try and figure out the best way to address it, or you don’t start reading books on ‘what to do if a child cries.’ You answer that cry, because it’s urgent. The same thing with the poor, and with the planet.”
Asked about what the proposal for a new economic model is, Zampini speaks of an upcoming event to be held in Assisi in March, called “The Economy of Francis,” that will bring together young leaders from around the world to work with Nobel laureates and financial experts, who will serve as mentors.
“How do you accomplish a just transition from a fossil fuel-based economy to one of renewable energies, without the poorest paying for this transition?” Zampini asked. “How do we answer the cry of the poor and of the earth, how do we generate an economy that serves, centered on people, so that finances serve the real economy? These are things Pope Francis says, and we’re trying to see how to put them in practice. And there are many who are doing so.”
Even though Zampini acknowledges that three years ago he wasn’t sure of the role the Holy See could play in Davos, today the mission has become clearer. “At first, they only put us on panels with other religions. And that’s important, but we already think alike, and we don’t need to be in Davos to speak with other religious leaders.”
When he made this point to the organizers, they understood, and since then the Vatican delegation has had a more active participation, though as Zampini put it, “we don’t go there to pontificate, but to listen, learn, and when we have advice to share, we share it.”
“There was something different in Davos this year… If we continue to put on the pressure, if we continue to help one another, I believe we can see a radical transformation,” Zampini said.