Activists warn against ‘co-optation’ of Economy of Francis by financial institutions

Activists warn against ‘co-optation’ of Economy of Francis by financial institutions

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Some participants of the Vatican-sponsored “Economy of Francis” are dismayed by the “co-optation” of the movement by some of the biggest names in international finance.

SÃO PAULO – Some participants of the Vatican-sponsored “Economy of Francis” are dismayed by the “co-optation” of the movement by some of the biggest names in international finance.

The Economy of Francis, a three-day event which took place from November 19-21, gathered over 2,000 young people from all regions of the globe for an on-line debate about economic models able to protect basic human needs through cooperation, community involvement, and environmental awareness. An in-person assembly is scheduled to be held in Assisi, Italy, in the autumn of 2021.

Among the delegates, there were several members of social movements, community activists and social entrepreneurs. Many of them are openly anti-capitalist activists.

Shortly after the meeting, at the beginning of December, a group of big investors and companies announced the creation of a Council for Inclusive Capitalism at the Vatican. The Council’s guardians include Mastercard’s CEO Ajay Banga, VISA’s CEO Alfred Kelly and Bank of America’s CEO Brian Moynihan.

Sociologist Eduardo Brasileiro, an organizer of the Brazilian delegation to the Economy of Francis, said this was an “attempted cooptation of the initiative.”

“We’re very disappointed,” he added.

Brasileiro told Crux that most of the Brazilian and Latin American youth delegates believe that the current crisis requires a “systemic change in the production and labor dynamics that generates unemployment, [disproportionate] enrichment and accumulation.”

“Although the pope opened this broad debate, segments of the Vatican apparently don’t agree with him. We’ve been seeing a move towards the financial industry, in search of an alleged ‘consciousness financial system’,” he said.

Brasileiro said that’s why the Economy of Francis is at a crossroads now.

The Brazilian delegation is, along with other Latin American countries’ groups, at the forefront of the anti-capitalist debate. It began its work at the end of 2019, when the participants were first announced. It gathers young members of the Church, progressive social movements, economists, sociologists and members of left-wing parties.

Brasileiro said that from the beginning, their idea was to constitute a new social movement in its own right, one that will continue to be active after the meeting.

The group also wanted its name to make reference to Saint Francis’s longtime cooperator, and is known as Brazilian Alliance for the Economy of Francis and Clare.

“The involvement of political organizations and social movements is very relevant. They share their experience and present alternative economic ways that are already effective in communities,” said Luiza Dulce, a 30-year-old economist who is a member of the agriculture division of the Workers’ Party (known as the PT, its Portuguese acronym), the leftwing party which ruled Brazil between 2003-2016.

Izadora Gama Brito, 32, coordinates the Homeless Workers’ Movement (MTST) in Sergipe State and is one of the members of the Alliance. She told Crux that the MTST, a nation-wide social movement, promotes several ‘solidarity economy’ initiatives in its land and building occupations and in popular housing projects across the country.

“The movements’ members at the base always come up with their own solutions for daily problems and we try to help them. Community schools, shared kitchens, and shared vegetable gardens are frequent elements in MTST. We want to present and discuss such ideas,” she said.

“That’s our way to show everybody that we don’t need a predatory economy and that an economy directed to the common good is possible,” Brito added.

Before the virtual Vatican meeting at the end of November, the Brazilian Alliance attended an on-line conference with its Latin American counterparts organized by Via Campesina, an umbrella organization that unites several international movements for the landless.

“I’m sure that the fact that we’re Latin Americans led us to such a configuration [of The Economy of Francis’s delegation.] Across the region, the Catholic Church has a very strong connection with the people’s struggles,” Dulce said.

She said that she was raised a Catholic, distanced herself from the Church, but now feels somehow connected to it again thanks to Pope Francis.

“I admire him very much,” Dulce said.

Brasileiro explained that the Alliance has also been thinking on strategies to directly connect to communities across the country. One of them is the creation of Houses of Francis and Clare, which will function as centers to gather the local youth and promote theological studies, collective prayer and celebrations, and hold debates connected to sustainability, green energy, and regional development.

The first House of Francis and Clare is being implemented in the city of Florianopolis, in Santa Catarina State.

Father Paulo Sérgio Bezerra, who has followed many of the Alliance’s assemblies and activities from the start, said its efforts are not ephemeral.

“That’s a consistent group of young people really committed to social change and the common good,” he told Crux.

Bezerra is the founder of a Church social movement in São Paulo called Igreja Povo de Deus em Movimento (Church People of God in Movement), connected to Liberation Theology.

Brasileiro has since childhood served at his parish as an alter boy and later got involved with the IPDM’s operations.

“The Church has left behind its preferential option for the poor in Brazil and decided to focus on its large churches. The Economy of Francis points to that Church of the Poor again, and we owe that new impulse to Pope Francis,” he said.

Bezerra added that the initiative is also working to bring young people back to the Church with a “renovated kind of spirituality.”

Brasileiro said that the existence of divergences concerning the new economic possibilities for the world that are being discussed in The Economy of Francis is not a problem.

What he considers impossible is to hope that “great economic agents will do some kind of change in their priorities” to allow for systemic transformation.

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