ROME—Pope Francis has called on the world’s most powerful business people to work towards a more inclusive and equitable economic model, not just for the poor but with the poor, putting a human face on those in need.
“I pray that you may involve in your efforts those whom you seek to help; give them a voice, listen to their stories, learn from their experiences and understand their needs,” Francis said on Saturday.
“See in them a brother and a sister, a son and a daughter, a mother and a father. Amid the challenges of our day, see the human face of those you earnestly seek to help.”
Francis was addressing the participants of the Fortune+Time Global Forum taking place in Rome December 2-3. The list of VIPs taking part, both from the corporate and non-profit sectors, include IBM’s Ginni Rometty, Darren Walker of the Ford Foundation, Yang Yuanqing of Lenovo, Richard Branson, of Virgin Group, Cathy Engelbert of Deloitte, Hugh Grant of Monsanto and Fisk Johnson of S.C. Johnson & Son.
Although the forum took place at a Roman hotel, Francis welcomed the group at the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace on Saturday morning, where he thanked them for promoting the “centrality and dignity of the human person” within their institutions and economic models and for drawing attention “to the plight of the poor and refugees, who are so often forgotten by society.”
When the cries of so many go ignored, the pope said, they’re not only being denied their “God-given rights and worth,” but people are also rejecting “their wisdom and prevent them from offering their talents, traditions and cultures to the world.”
Preventing the poor and marginalized from being part of the solution makes them suffer even more, he said, and makes those in a position to help them grow impoverished, “not only materially, but morally and spiritually.”
Francis then said that in a world marked by “great unrest,” where inequality continues to rise, many communities are affected by war, poverty, migration and displacement, “people want to make their voices heard and express their concerns and fears.”
The marginalized, the pontiff insisted, “want to make their rightful contribution to their local communities and broader society, and to benefit from the resources and development too often reserved for the few.”
Yet the state of “great unrest” is, according to Francis, also a moment of hope: “For when we finally recognize the evil in our midst, we can seek healing by applying the remedy. Your very presence here today is a sign of such hope, because it shows that you recognize the issues before us and the imperative to act decisively.”
The pope then said that there’s a need for institutional and personal conversion, “a change of heart” that prioritizes humanity, cultures, religious beliefs and traditions.
This renewal, he then added, doesn’t only imply a change in market economies and improvements made to infrastructures.
“No, what we are speaking about is the common good of humanity, of the right of each person to share in the resources of this world and to have the same opportunities to realize his or her potential, a potential that is ultimately based on the dignity of the children of God, created in his image and likeness,” he said.
After his remarks, Francis greeted each of the participants.
This is far from being the first-time Francis has called for the empowerment of the marginalized as a way to fight global inequality. In his by-now famous addresses to Vatican-sponsored gatherings of Popular Movements, the pontiff often has called for grass-root movements to fight for the just distribution of wealth.
Addressing one of these gatherings in 2015, during his visit to Bolivia as part of a wider tour through Latin America, Francis said that a just distribution is not “mere philanthropy,” but about giving to the poor “what is theirs by right.”
He’s also been outspoken against welfare programs, saying they are to be considered “temporary responses” to certain emergencies, but these programs would never replace true inclusion.
Among the participants of the Fortune-Time forum was Cardinal Peter Turkson, head of the new Vatican Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development.
Turkson, a cardinal from Ghana, has long been Francis’s point-man on issues of economic equality. For instance, he’s one of the minds behind an impact development conference organized by his office and Catholic Relief Services last June.
His presentation at the forum, described as a “call to action,” was a conversation with talk show host Charlie Rose. The program of the event previewed this segment acknowledging that while free markets have delivered economic freedom and prosperity to billions, millions have been left behind.
When through the conversation Rose brought up the fact that a billion people have been lifted from extreme poverty in recent years, Turkson responded by saying that although this is true, so is the fact that inequality has also grown.
His challenge was for the close to 100 CEOs present in the forum to generate creative ways of doing business so that lifting people out of poverty doesn’t increase inequality.
Addressing the forum on Friday, also Turkson called on business leaders to recognize themselves in their roles as “co-creators and partners with God.”
“God created a tree,” Turkson said. “He did not create furniture. This is what we [the Church] believe business is: A partner with God in creation.”
The prelate urged corporate leaders to take a more “holistic view of business and its activities,” putting the well-being of the human person, not profits, at the center of their strategies.
The video of Turkson’s full talk is available at Fortune.
Adam Lashinsky, Assistant Managing Editor of Fortune, wrote that it was Francis who called for the gathering: “The pope asked us to convene a group of business leaders so they could assist him in one of his core missions, alleviating global poverty.”
Lashinky described their task to ask a cohort of elite executives who typically devote their time to making money to suggest how those with the least can get “just a little bit more” to be “counterintuitive.”
Yet as the man who during the conference hosted a working group on technology and innovation as boosters of employment put it: “Never has it been truer than in this time of global political turmoil that businesses can’t thrive if consumers, current and future, aren’t prospering too.”