We may be centuries removed from the age of Borgia popes, but the current occupant of the Chair of St. Peter demonstrated yesterday that, rhetorically at least, he knows how to stick in the knife.
Pope Francis was invited to attend the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos this week – an event that attracts the wealthy and influential and where, according to The New York Times, $70,000 will barely get you in the door. The pontiff declined, instead sending a cardinal from the impoverished West African nation of Ghana to the gathering with a message.
The papal missive began by recognizing the role that the business sector has had in economic development and innovation, and that it has helped reduce poverty for a great number of people. However, he added, business successes “often have led to a widespread social exclusion.”
It should not have been hard for any of the attendees at the ultra-exclusive event in a posh Swiss resort town to miss the point.
Just in case anyone did, though, the message continued. Francis urged attendees to work for policies that support the “dignity of every human person and the common good,” issues that currently seem to be “little more than an afterthought.”
He reminded them of their “precise responsibility towards others, particularly those who are most frail, weak and vulnerable.” He added, “It is intolerable that thousands of people continue to die every day from hunger, even though substantial quantities of food are available, and often simply wasted.”
Hunger, of course, will not be a problem in Davos this week. The Wall Street Journal reported that just one hotel laid in an extra 4,700 bottles of wine and Champagne and 176 pounds of salmon to meet the demand generated by conference-goers.
“I know that these words are forceful, even dramatic,” the pope continued, “but they seek both to affirm and to challenge the ability of this assembly to make a difference. In fact, those who have demonstrated their aptitude for being innovative and for improving the lives of many people by their ingenuity and professional expertise can further contribute by putting their skills at the service of those who are still living in dire poverty.”
Francis ended his message by invoking “divine blessings on you and the participants of the Forum, as well as on your families and all your work.”
Perhaps ironically, inequality actually is on the agenda at the WEF conference this year. A report issued on December 30 by the group warned, among other things, of “growing economic inequality and weakening social cohesion within countries, which threaten political stability.”
A small number of sessions at the conference addressed the kind of topic that Francis raised in his letter, but the title of one of them inspired little confidence. The “open forum” scheduled for Thursday bore the title, “Ethical Capitalism – Worth a Try?”
Follow Rob Garver on Twitter @rrgarver
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