Pope Francis praised the free market and the role of businesses in the creation of wealth and in the promotion of the common good in an address before 7,000 businesspeople Saturday.
Although Pope Francis is often portrayed as anti-capitalist, he keeps his critics guessing with occasional praise for the free enterprise system and the importance of business as a “vocation.” His harshest criticisms seem to focus on the idolatry of money and consumption, rather than the free market itself.
Francis told the businesspeople and entrepreneurs gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall: “Dear friends, you have a noble vocation oriented to create wealth and improve the world for all.”
Last Wednesday as well, Francis offered a qualified appraisal of riches, saying that “wealth and power are realities that can be good and useful” when they are put to work for the benefit of the common good and serve society with justice and charity. It is only when they are “experienced as a privilege, with selfishness and arrogance,” that they become instruments of corruption and death, he said.
On Saturday, Francis told the business leaders that they are called “to be builders of the common good and promoters of a new humanism of work.” He also urged them to uphold “professionalism” as well as a favorable work environment for all.
“Your high road is always justice, which rejects the shortcuts of recommendations and favoritism, and the dangerous deviations of dishonesty and of easy compromise,” Francis said. The Italian world of business still suffers from a certain degree of nepotism and the exchange of favors and recommendations, even though some progress has been made in past years toward a greater meritocracy in Italian enterprises.
Pope Francis suggested that one of the foremost tasks of businesses today is the ability “to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all,” an accomplishment that the free market seems to have achieved better than any other economic system.
At the same time, “the person is at the heart of every business,” Francis told his audience, “not the abstract, idealized, theoretical person, but the concrete individual, with his dreams, needs, hopes and struggles.”
The Pope also highlighted the importance of teamwork in a successful enterprise, observing that “working together” means basing work “not on the solitary genius of an individual, but on the collaboration of many.”
Francis ended the audience by asking the Lord to “bless all of you, your families, your businesses.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome.