ROME — The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development has announced in their 2016 report that developing countries are beginning to feel the impact of the global economic slowdown resulting from the financial crisis of 2007-08.
In response, a close collaborator of one of Pope Francis’s senior Vatican officials has sent a reminder that as the global community looks for solutions, the Christian perspective is to ensure these answers don’t forget the impact on the poor.
“We absolutely need to learn to hear the voices of those who are not at the table. The voices of those who often carry a disproportionate burden from the decisions that are made, but who say, ‘look, this is what this decision is actually costing us’,” Father Michael Czerny, a spokesman of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, told CNA Sept. 22.
The exclusion of those who bear the burden of decisions made from the discussion is something that “has to be overcome,” he said, adding that Christians have an obligation “not only to become a bit knowledgeable, but also to dialogue with their representatives.”
Policies are frequently “in our name,” he said, explaining that Christians have the duty to speak up and tell their representatives, “we’re not satisfied with decisions that are short-term or self-interested.”
Czerny moderated discussion during the Sept. 22 launch of the 2016 United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report, titled “Structural Transformation for Inclusive and Sustained Growth.”
In a summary of the report provided by UNCTAD officials, it was explained that the economic slowdown in advanced economies has steadily continued to decline since the economic crisis of 2008, and is the “biggest drag on global growth.”
However, the novelty found in 2016’s report is that while the slowdown has previously impacted mainly advanced nations, developing countries “are now caught in the downdraft,” and are starting to feel the impact.
Held at the Rome headquarters of Vatican Radio, the news conference presenting the report was hosted by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, which is headed by Cardinal Peter Turkson.
The cardinal was scheduled to speak at the presentation but was unable to attend due to a last minute commitment. His speech was read aloud by Czerny, who collaborates with the pontifical council.
In his speech, Turkson noted how the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace was established in 1967 as a result of the Second Vatican Council, just three years after the U.N. had instituted the UNCTAD.
Recalling Pope Paul VI’s words at the founding meeting for UNCTAD, Turkson said that “Development (is) the new name of peace,” but stressed that true development “must foster the development of every person and of the whole person.”
This not only means each individual man, woman and child, but “each human group, and humanity as a whole,” the cardinal said.
He noted how in the 52 years since the founding of UNCTAD, new technologies have broken down the traditional borders between nations and helped open new areas of economic opportunity.
“A less polarized political landscape has provided new possibilities for worldwide trade,” he said, noting that economic power “has become more dispersed, mostly due to globalization and to industrialization and rapid growth in East Asia, with corresponding changes in the workings of the international trading system.”
However, the cardinal asked what forms of trade, growth and development would be able to meet the “pervasive challenges of poverty, of inequality and lack of progress,” adding that the answer must always focus on the good of the human person, including that of future generations.
When it comes to safeguarding the environment and ensuring that economic affairs are ordered to the well-being of everyone, “human leadership or governance still seems to have a lot to learn,” he said.
Turkson stressed that world governance, including that of institutions belonging to the U.N., needs “to appreciate the poor,” viewing them “not as a problem, but as people who can become the principal builders of a new and more human future for everyone.”
Turning to the financial crisis of 2008, the cardinal said it has left “a long shadow” resulting from “a combination of ethical and technical breakdowns,” which are seen in the 2016 UNCTAD report.
“Have the right lessons been learned yet?” he asked, insisting that it is not yet evident that “the organizations, institutions and decision-makers responsible for ethical and technical breakdowns have acknowledged their role, much less made the necessary repairs.”
“We must do better,” he said, adding that our societies must find ways of exercising greater corporate, financial and governmental responsibility for both the economy and the environment.
“The world economy has been marooned in growth doldrums for the past six years, and this state of affairs is in growing danger of becoming accepted as the ‘new normal,’” he observed.
Both dialogue and cooperation are needed in response, Turkson said, but noted that these aren’t always easy to achieve. However, “the ‘old normal’ of isolated sectors and competing institutions will not meet the challenges.”
Integrated policies are needed, and will require both persistence and generosity from various sectors of society, including those of banking, finance, commerce, business, and politics, as well as workers, the unemployed, migrants, youth, and the elderly.
Peace, the cardinal said, “is not the mere absence of violence. It bespeaks human fulfilment, integral in all its aspects – material, social, spiritual.”
Given this fact, “trade and development must aim at the fullest human flourishing if we are ever to have real peace.”
In his comments to CNA, Czerny said that while affairs surrounding economics and development are primarily the concern of politicians and world leaders, it’s important for religious institutions such as the Holy See to have a voice.
“Our most important role is to encourage our members, Christians in this case, and all people of good will, to get informed and get involved,” he said, adding that “too much of this stuff is happening behind our backs.”
“We can’t understand it, we know we don’t like the results, but we haven’t learned how to get in there and make our voices heard.”
The priest stressed that it’s the duty of Christians to be involved and informed about political issues, uniting their faith to what’s happening in the political, economic, and environmental sphere.
“We really need to learn to live our faith in daily life,” he said, explaining that “there are seven days in the week. Sunday is only one day.”
Czerny noted that “daily life is structured and marked so much by important economic, political, social, cultural decisions,” so to exclude our faith from any of these spheres “is to say that our faith has nothing to do with our life, and that’s exactly the opposite of what we want to say.”
“Our faith does have everything to do with our life, and we need to learn to live our faith in the public sphere.”