Pope Francis on Saturday lamented the loss of spiritual meaning in the lives of many young people today — a lack that is often replaced by an undue focus on material goods, he said.
“Human beings, created in the image and likeness of God, are seekers of meaning before being seekers of material goods. That is why the first capital of any society is spiritual capital,” he said at an international conference on the economy in Assisi, Italy, Sept. 24.
“Young people especially suffer from this lack of meaning,” the pope said. “Faced with the pain and uncertainties of life, they often find their souls depleted of the spiritual resources needed to process suffering, frustration, disappointment and grief.”
“Look at the youth suicide rate, how it has gone up,” he added.
“Technology can do much: it teaches us the ‘what’ and the ‘how’: but it does not tell us the ‘why,’” he said, “and so our actions become sterile and do not bring fulfillment to life, not even economic life.”
Pope Francis spoke about the importance of spirituality in an address to participants in The Economy of Francesco, a Sept. 22-24 conference for young economists, entrepreneurs, and researchers from around the world.
The initiative followed a call from Pope Francis to young people to build “a different kind of economy” based on greater care for the poor and the environment.
Francis traveled to Assisi for the final day of the meeting on Sept. 24. Before addressing attendees, the pope watched a skit based on Isaiah 21:1-12, followed by a meditation on the meaning of the scripture passage.
There was also a musical performance, presentations, a video of the first two days of the conference, and participant testimonies from economists, and activists for the environment, women’s rights, and social issues from Italy, Benin, Argentina, Thailand, Kenya, Afghanistan, and Poland.
‘I am counting on you’
Throughout his speech, Pope Francis emphasized the need for young adults to put their energy and creativity to good, practical, use to build a more just economy.
“You young people, with the help of God, know what to do, you can do it,” he said.
“According to Scripture, young people are the bearers of a spirit of knowledge and intelligence. It was the young David who humbled the arrogance of the giant Goliath,” he pointed out.
“Indeed,” he continued, “when civil society and businesses lack the skills of the young, the whole of society withers and the life of everyone is extinguished. There is a lack of creativity, optimism, enthusiasm. A society and an economy without young people is sad, pessimistic and cynical.”
“I say this with seriousness: I am counting on you. Please don’t leave us undisturbed, and lead by example.”
‘Poor at the center’
The pope also reflected on the example of Saint Francis of Assisi and what it means to help the marginalized. “Developing an economy inspired by [Saint Francis] means committing ourselves to putting the poor at the center,” he said.
“Starting with them, we look at the economy; starting with them, we look at the world,” he noted. “There is no ‘Economy of Francesco’ without respect, care and love for the poor, for every poor person, for every fragile and vulnerable person — from conception in the womb to the sick person with disabilities, to the elderly person in difficulty.”
“As long as our system ‘produces’ discarded people, and we operate according to this system, we will be accomplices of an economy that kills,” he underlined, challenging young economists to ask themselves if they are doing enough to change structures, or if they are content with just slapping a coat of paint on the house.
“Perhaps our response should not be based on how much we can do but on how we are able to open new paths so that the poor themselves can become protagonists of change,” he said.
He closed his address with a prayer to God the Father, asking his “forgiveness for having damaged the earth, for not having respected indigenous cultures, for not having valued and loved the poorest of the poor, for having created wealth without communion.”
“Living God, who with your Spirit have inspired the hearts, hands and minds of these young people and sent them on the way to a promised land, look kindly on their generosity, love and desire to spend their lives for a great ideal. Bless them in their undertakings, studies and dreams; accompany them in their difficulties and sufferings, help them to transform their difficulties and sufferings into virtue and wisdom,” he prayed.
At the end of the encounter, Pope Francis joined participants in signing a pact promoting “an economy of the Gospel.”
The full text of the pact is below:
We, young economists, entrepreneurs, and changemakers, called here to Assisi from every part of the world, aware of the responsibility that rests on our generation, commit ourselves today, individually and all collectively to spending our lives so that the economy of today and tomorrow becomes an economy of the Gospel, and therefore:
an economy of peace and not of war, an economy that opposes the proliferation of arms, especially the most destructive, an economy that cares for creation and does not misuse it, an economy at the service of the human person, the family and life, respectful of every woman, man, and child, the elderly, and especially those most frail and vulnerable, an economy where care replaces rejection and indifference, an economy that leaves no one behind, in order to build a society in which the stones rejected by the dominant mentality become cornerstones, an economy that recognizes and protects secure and dignified work for everyone, an economy where finance is a friend and ally of the real economy and of labor and not against them, an economy that values and safeguards the cultures and traditions of peoples, all living things and the natural resources of the Earth, an economy that fights poverty in all its forms, reduces inequality and knows how to say with Jesus and Francis, “Blessed are the poor,” an economy guided by an ethics of the human person and open to transcendence, an economy that creates wealth for all, that engenders joy and not just riches, because happiness that is not shared is incomplete.