Cedric Prakash Cedric Prakash
01 Nov 2021
In a rare move, Pope Francis  “in the name of God” makes nine specific appeals to those responsible for key sectors of today’s world economy

Pope Francis has never been one to mince words. Ever since he assumed responsibility of the papacy, he has proved to be a world leader ‘par excellence’, who is able to read and understand the signs of the times and has the courage to walk the talk! On 16 October 2021, he was at his prophetic best: spelling out with clarity, urgent engagements and providing a roadmap to the world to address endemic issues which plague millions of people today. He was speaking (via video) to the participants at the IV World Meeting of Popular Movements (WMPM)from across the globe. The WMPM is an initiative of Pope Francis, who seven years ago, felt it was necessary to create an ‘encounter’ between Church leadership and grassroots organizations working to address the “economy of exclusion and inequality” (Evangelii Gaudium #53-54) by working for structural changes that promote social, economic and racial justice. The WMPM has been focussing on three inter-related dimensions of the struggles of ordinary people: terra(land), domus(shelter) and labor(work).

Popular movements are grassroots organizations and social movements established around the world by people whose inalienable rights to decent work, decent housing, and fertile land and food are undermined, threatened or denied outright. These movements primarily represent three increasingly excluded social sectors:

•    workers who are at risk or lack job security;

•    landless farmers, family farmers, indigenous people and those at risk of being driven off the land by large agribusiness corporations and violence; and

•    the marginalized and forgotten, including persons who are homeless and persons living in communities without adequate infrastructure.

The Meeting this year, once again, brought together hundreds of committed activists (including street vendors, artisans, fishermen, farmers, builders, miners, workers of various trades and professions) from the most marginalized communities of society from across the globe. They discussed and shared their ongoing social struggles and proposed alternative forms of action to defend workers’ rights. 

Pope Francis’ message (about forty minutes long) touches the core of Catholic Social Teaching. Several of his points have already found mention earlier in his consistent teaching of the faith; particularly in his Apostolic Exhortation ‘Evangelii Gaudium’ and in his pathbreaking Encyclicals ‘Laudato Si’ and ‘Fratelli Tutti’. He intertwines his message into four distinct but complementing dimensions 1. Dear Social Poets 2. The blessed 3.  Let us dream together and 4. Time for action. A sincere reading, prayerful reflection and a committed actualisation of the entire message is a must for meaningful discipleship today!

He begins his message with an endearing “dear social poets”. He goes on to explain, “This is what I like to call you: social poets. You are social poets, because you have the ability and the courage to create hope where there appears to be only waste and exclusion. Poetry means creativity, and you create hope. With your hands you know how to shape the dignity of each person, of families and of society as a whole, with land, housing, work, care, and community”.

Having set the tone, Pope Francis’ message deals with a whole range of complex issues which grip the world today and for which, he believes, that urgent advocacy and action are paramount and which include:

• that the principles he mentions are rooted in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (2001);

• his criticism of “indifference, meritocracy and individualism” on the one hand, and “any authoritarian mindset, any forced collectivism or any state-centric mindset” on the other: “the common good cannot be used as an excuse to quash private initiative, local identity or community projects”

• his reference to “the protests over the death of George Floyd”: “it is clear that this type of reaction against social, racial or macho injustice can be manipulated or exploited by political machinations or whatever, but the main thing is that, in that protest against this death, there was the Collective Samaritan who is no fool! This movement did not pass by on the other side of the road when it saw the injury to human dignity caused by an abuse of power”

• his call for serious consideration of “a basic income (the UBI) or salary so that everyone in the world may have access to the most basic necessities of life. It is right to fight for a humane distribution of these resources, and it is up to governments to establish tax and redistribution schemes so that the wealth of one part of society is shared fairly, but without imposing an unbearable burden, especially upon the middle class”

• his call for serious consideration of a shorter workday: “working fewer hours so that more people can have access to the labour market is something we need to explore with some urgency”

Pope Francis reserves his choicest words for the second part of his message subtitled ‘The blessed’. In this section he makes a powerful and passionate plea to those whom he thinks are responsible for the culture of death in today’s world. He begins this section referring to those who engage in the struggle for human rights and justice as ‘blessed’ -the people of the Beatitudes. His direct words would have warmed the cockles of many a heart. He says. “You are, as I said in the letter I sent you last year, a veritable invisible army; you are a fundamental part of that humanity that fights for life against a system of death. In this engagement I see the Lord who makes Himself present in our midst, to give to us His Kingdom as a gift. When He offered us the standard by which we will be judged (cf. Mt 25: 31-46), Jesus told us that salvation consists in taking care of the hungry, the sick, prisoners, foreigners; in short, in recognising Him and serving Him in all suffering humanity. That is why I wish to say to you: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied” (Mt 5: 6), “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God” (Mt 5: 9). We want this beatitude to expand, to permeate and anoint every corner and every space where life is threatened”. 

He goes on to say, “But it happens to us as people, as communities, as families and even individually, that we have to face situations that paralyse us, where the horizon disappears and bewilderment, fear, powerlessness and injustice seem to take over the present. 
We also experience resistance to the changes we need and long for, many forms of resistance that run deep, that are rooted beyond our strength and decisions. They are what the Social Teaching of the Church calls structures of sin; these too we are called to change, and we cannot overlook them in the moment of thinking of how to act. Personal change is necessary, but it is also indispensable to adjust our socio-economic models so that they have a human face, because many models have lost it”. 

Then in his characteristic style (so vividly portrayed by Jesus in the Gospel of Mathew 23: 13-36) Pope Francis holds accountable various sections of society whom he thinks are responsible for the state of affairs in the world today saying, “And thinking about these situations, I make a pest of myself with my questions. And I go on asking. And I ask everyone in the name of God”.

“I ask all the great pharmaceutical laboratories to release the patents. Make a gesture of humanity and allow every country, every people, every human being, to have access to the vaccines. There are countries where only three or four per cent of the inhabitants have been vaccinated”. He hits the nail on the head; in the context of the current pandemic there are certainly some pharmaceuticals who have reaped mind-boggling profits. We have seen in India how the poor did not have access to the vaccines, the minimum primary health care and the oxygen cylinders during the second wave.

“In the name of God, I ask financial groups and international credit institutions to allow poor countries to assure “the basic needs of their people” and to cancel those debts that so often are contracted against the interests of those same peoples”. In market -driven economies it is without doubt the rich who become richer at the cost of the poor. At the end of July 2021 ‘Credit Suisse’ released its latest Global Wealth Databook, which estimates the total wealth of nations, how it is divided, how many millionaires and billionaires we have and other such data. This year’s edition tells us that the richest 1 percent of Indians own 40.5 percent of the nation’s wealth, the top 5 percent own 61.7 per cent and the top 10 percent have 72.5 percent. Putting it differently, the top 5 percent own more than the other 95 percent combined!

“In the name of God, I ask the great extractive industries -- mining, oil, forestry, real estate, agribusiness -- to stop destroying forests, wetlands and mountains, to stop polluting rivers and seas, to stop poisoning food and people”. Fr Stan Swamy (whose death on 5 July is regarded as an institutional murder) had the courage to take on the powerful mining mafia and other vested interests. He accompanied the Adivasis as they struggled for their legitimate rights and the protection of their land, forests and water. The recent flooding and landslides in Uttarakhand and Kerala, in the Aravalli and Western Ghats is there for all to see.

“In the name of God, I ask the great food corporations to stop imposing monopolistic systems of production and distribution that inflate prices and end up withholding bread from the hungry.” The people of India must be thankful to the farmers of India who have been protesting for more than eleven months now, demanding the immediate and unconditional repeal of the three anti-farmer laws. The nation knows why they are protesting! 

“In the name of God, I ask arms manufacturers and dealers to completely stop their activity, because it foments violence and war, it contributes to those awful geopolitical games which cost millions of lives displaced and millions of dead.” Pope Francis has often referred to the arms and ammunition industry as the ‘industry of death. When he addressed the US Congress in 2016, he said “Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.”

In the name of God, I ask the technology giants to stop exploiting human weakness, people’s vulnerability, for the sake of profits without caring about the spread of hate speech, grooming, fake news, conspiracy theories, and political manipulation.” It is no State secret of how some ‘technology giants’ have fostered the spread of hate and divisiveness in India. In a recent expose (according to leaked documents obtained by the Associated Press) Facebook in India has been selective in curbing hate speech, misinformation and inflammatory posts – particularly anti-Muslim content even as its own employees cast doubt over the company’s motivations and interests.

“In the name of God, I ask the telecommunications giants to ease access to educational material and connectivity for teachers via the internet so that poor children can be educated even under quarantine.” School- going children from the poorer and peripheral sections of society have suffered tremendously. According to a UNICEF Report released in September 2021 “School closures in South Asia have forced hundreds of millions of children and their teachers to transition to remote learning in a region with low connectivity and device affordability. Even when a family has access to technology, children are not always able to access it. As a result, children have suffered enormous setbacks in their learning journey.” The Report added that, in India, 80 per cent of children aged 14-18 years reported lower levels of learning than when physically at school. Girls, children from the most disadvantaged households and children with disabilities faced the biggest challenges while learning remotely. 

“In the name of God, I ask the media to stop the logic of post-truth, disinformation, defamation, slander and the unhealthy attraction to dirt and scandal, and to contribute to human fraternity and empathy with those who are most deeply damaged.”  Most media in India is godified – singing to the music of the ruling regime. The World Press Freedom Index 2021 published by the international journalism not-for profit body, ‘Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF), puts India at 142 out of 180 countries ranked. India continues to be counted among the countries classified “bad” for journalism and is termed as one of the most dangerous countries for journalists trying to do their jobs properly.

“In the name of God, I call on powerful countries to stop aggression, blockades and unilateral sanctions against any country anywhere on earth. No to neo-colonialism. Conflicts must be resolved in multilateral fora such as the United Nations. We have already seen how unilateral interventions, invasions and occupations end up; even if they are justified by noble motives and fine words.” We see so much of this happening everywhere. Powerful nations have made the United Nations a handy tool which they can easily dispense with. India too does not respect the directives of the UN where Kashmir is concerned. 

The Jesuit weekly ‘America’ refers to the above ‘asks’ as ‘Pope Francis’ 9 commandments for a just economy’ which they say is a significant contribution to Catholic Social Teaching.  Pope Francis concludes these ‘asks’ with a measure of hope saying, “This system, with its relentless logic of profit, is escaping all human control. It is time to slow the locomotive down, an out-of-control locomotive hurtling towards the abyss. There is still time.”

Without using the phrase ‘in the name of God’ he then takes on the political rulers of the world saying, “Together with the poor of the earth, I wish to ask governments in general, politicians of all parties, to represent their people and to work for the common good. I want to ask them for the courage to look at their own people, to look people in the eye, and the courage to know that the good of a people is much more than a consensus between parties (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 218). Let them stop listening exclusively to the economic elites, who so often spout superficial ideologies that ignore humanity's real dilemmas. May they be servants of the people who demand land, work, housing and good living. This aboriginal good living or buen vivir is not the same as “la dolce vita” or “sweet idleness”, no. This is good human living that puts us in harmony with all humanity, with all creation”.

Then in his typical style, Pope Francis does not spare religious leaders too. His words are clear and direct “I also want to ask all of us religious leaders never to use the name of God to foment wars or coups (cf. Document on Human Fraternity, 2019). Let us stand by the peoples, the workers, the humble, and let us struggle together with them so that integral human development may become a reality. Let us build bridges of love so that the voices of the periphery with their weeping, but also with their singing and joy, provoke not fear but empathy in the rest of society.”  Many of our ‘religious’ leaders (including some Christian ones) who indulge in hate and divisiveness would do well to listen to and act on what he is saying. Will they do so?

Pope Francis ends this section with a definite mission and a vision, “And so, I persist in my pestering. It is necessary to confront together the populist discourses of intolerance, xenophobia, and aporophobia, which is hatred of the poor. Like everything that leads us to indifference, meritocracy and individualism, these narratives only serve to divide our peoples, and to undermine and nullify our poetic capacity, the capacity to dream together”.

There is much to learn, much to do in our world today. In India, the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) has initiated a year-long nation-wide campaign ‘Jan Azaadi 75: On the path to Freedom’ which focusses on remembering the values of the freedom struggle; re-asserting the contributions of people’s movements over 75 years; and to resolutely strengthen our collective struggle for democracy, human rights, social and ecological justice. The campaign which began on 9 August will conclude on 15 August 2022.  Many need to get involved in this campaign

It is also significant that Pope Francis’ message to the popular movements was in the week that he launched the two-year Synodal process of communion, participation and mission. It would be interesting to see if the hierarchy and clergy in India will have the courage to popularise this incisive papal message as a base document during this process. The truth is that, in the name of God – we have no choice but to listen, to learn and to journey together with the hope that God’s reign based on justice, liberty, equality and fraternity may become a reality for all!

*(Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is a human rights, reconciliation & peace activist/writer. Contact: cedricprakash@gmail.com )


Pope Francis Pope Francis Roadmap to address endemic issues IV World Meeting of Popular Movements (WMPM) Workers with lack of job security Landless Farmers Homeless people Catholic Social Teaching Social Poets Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church George Floyd Death Social Teaching of the Church Access to the vaccine Financial Groups International credit institutions Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook Stop destroying forests Anti-farmer laws Arms and ammunitions industry Industry of death Hate speech Misinformation and Inflammatory posts Anti-Muslim content World Press Freedom Index 2021 Pope Francis’ 9 commandments for a just economy Intolerance Xenophobia Aporophobia National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) Synodal Process Issue 45 Cover Story

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