Ambassador: Pope's critique of capitalism makes me 'take notice'

Rome — Pope Francis' frequent criticism of the global market capitalist system is forcing governments around the world to "sit up and take notice," the British ambassador to the Holy See has said.

Speaking to a Rome conference on the relationship of faith and culture, Ambassador Nigel Baker said governments have to notice Francis' critiques because of the pope's "huge global impact."

"That's the novelty," said Baker. "A world leader setting out principles that he expects us to take seriously and will keep repeating until we do."

Baker was speaking Saturday at a conference hosted by the Forum of Christian Culture, a Rome-area group that describes itself as "the place where Christian and secular culture can meet, talk, and engage."

The ambassador was among nine speakers at the event, including Archbishop Santo Marcianò, head of the Italian archdiocese for the military services; and Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro, editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica.

Baker focused his remarks on three paragraphs of Francis' apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium ("The Joy of the Gospel") that focus on economic ethics, saying that "for the pope there's no reality more important than the primacy of the human person."

In one example, the ambassador pointed to a section in the document in which the pope directly addresses "financial experts and political leaders," calling on them to consider the words of 4th century Saint John Chrysostom, who said: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs.”

The pope, said Baker, wants to emphasize three points in his economic analysis:

  • To "always remember that economic systems are not sacred but instruments to an end;"
  • That the "only legitimate object can be a real concern for human beings;" and,
  • "Without ethics and responsibility, market capitalism is unbalanced and potentially tyrannical."

"We can pay attention or we can ignore him," Baker said of the pope. "His message is not a counsel of despair. It's a call to action. For governments as well as individuals."

Marcianò, who took up his archdiocese in 2013 after previously serving as the archbishop of the southern Italian archdiocese of Rossano-Cariati, also centered his remarks widely on Francis' apostolic exhortation.

Focusing on what the pontiff has called a "culture of indifference," the archbishop said the pope was calling for a "belonging of love" among peoples in which no one was excluded.

Joking at one point about his own ecclesiastical status, Marcianò noted that the definition of lay Catholics come from the original Greek word laicos, which means "one of the people."

"Therefore, I am lay," said the archbishop. "I am one of the people. So, too, the pope is lay!"

Francis, Marcianò said, is calling on people to take the initiative in building relationships with one another.

"Where build the relationships?" he asked "Here. The Joy of the Gospel liberates us from indifference."

Spadaro, who is known for a lengthy interview he had with the pope last year that was released in Jesuit magazines worldwide, spoke from his background in studying how technology is changing the human and Christian experience.

The internet, said Spadaro, has changed communication from a broadcasting model -- where one news outlet would report on information for listeners -- to a sharing model, where people share information with one another.

"In this context, we can't broadcast the Gospel but share it," said Spadaro, likening the situation to early church, when the Gospel was "diffused in a group, among friends."

"It has to be today like it was many years ago," said the priest.

The pope, said Spadaro, is encouraging people to communicate or evangelize by "touching the other."

"Don't use cold words," he said, paraphrasing the pope. "Touch the other, be close to the other."

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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