ROME – While the Vatican’s focus currently is on sunny Panama for World Youth Day, where Pope Francis is once again presiding over the “Catholic Woodstock,” a small papal delegation instead spent the last few days at the World Economic Forum in freezing Davos to spread the Gospel to the world’s elite.
“Unlike other years, we didn’t go to Davos with a message from the Holy Father,” said Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, head of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development, in a phone interview with Crux Jan. 25.
“We just went to participate in some discussions on refugees, the globalization of religion and the role of religion for reconciliation in society,” he said.
The cardinal explained that the small Vatican delegation “didn’t go with any power or force” to the Jan. 22-25 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where market movers and political elite meet every year to discuss global challenges and innovations.
But, he added, the Vatican continued to bring forward the message sent by Francis to participants at the meeting last year, where he encouraged them not to forget about the needs and concerns of the poor and to put the dignity of the human person at the center of global affairs.
The world “cannot remain silent in the face of the suffering of millions of people whose dignity is wounded, nor can we continue to move forward as if the spread of poverty and injustice has no cause,” said the pope’s message, which Turkson read during the opening session of the 2018 meeting.
It wasn’t just the Vatican’s presence that was reduced at the Swiss resort this year, with other notable figures choosing for various reasons not to attend, including British Prime Minister Theresa May, French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. President Donald Trump, all facing considerable political turmoil in their own countries.
As the pope visits Panama and with other important papal visits looming, especially Francis’s Feb. 3-5 trip to the United Arab Emirates and his March 30-31 trip to Morocco, it’s not surprising that Davos slipped down in the priority list.
But it would be a mistake, the cardinal said, “to read this as a shift in policy,” as the Vatican continues its mission to bring Catholic social teaching to the entrepreneurs and millionaires, diplomats and presidents, who attend the World Economic Forum every year.
“Pope Francis might very well send another message next year,” he added.
The Vatican’s presence, Turkson made clear, predates Francis’s first message to Davos in 2014. He pointed to figures such as Irish Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, who attended the event several times before, as proof that the Church’s “consideration of Davos as a platform of real evangelization” goes back “a long way.”
While the cardinal did not show up with a papal message or agenda, he did decide “to try something new,” he said, by leading the Vatican’s first very own panel at Davos.
The panel, titled “How to build an economy that serves,” discussed topics such as circular economy, inclusive finance and artificial intelligence. Many CEOs attended and the President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo, was also present.
“We had three times more people than expected, and received excellent feedback,” wrote Father Augusto Zampini, a theologian at the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, who was a part of the small Vatican delegation at Davos, in a message to Crux Jan. 25.
The panel had a “rich discussion on the purpose of doing business, on the call (vocation) to do so for the service of humanity and creation (nature), and on the link between economics, ecology and politics,” he wrote.
Another addition was made this year, with Turkson offering the possibility for faithful at the event to go to Mass.
“There was good attendance,” the cardinal said. “At the end of Mass on Wednesday we sat together to have our small chat about how things were going on and possible trajectories.”
The Vatican, the cardinal explained, does not attend the event to “negotiate any deals,” but to bring a different voice to the multitude of points of view clashing and merging every year at Davos.
“The business of the Church in Davos is always to accompany, in this case to accompany the economic and business actors that are gathered there,” he added, always presenting the “point of view of Gospel and Catholic social thought to help in any consideration that people may have.”