“Less Inequalities, More Differences” is a title that highlights the multiple richness of people as an expression of personal talents and avoids the mortification of uniformity which paradoxically increases inequality. I would like to translate the title into an image: the sphere and the polyhedron (a solid in three dimensions with flat faces and straight edges). The sphere can represent uniformity, as a sort of globalization: it is smooth, without facets, equal to itself in all its parts. The polyhedron has a form similar to the sphere, but is made up of many faces. I like to imagine humanity as a polyhedron, in which the many forms, expressing themselves, constitute the elements that make up, in plurality, the one human family. And this is real globalization. The other globalization – that of the sphere – is a uniformity.
A second thought is addressed to young people and the elderly: the acknowledgement of difference accords value to people, unlike uniformity, which bears the risk of discarding them since it prevents their significance from being recognised. Noawadays, the young and the elderly are considered dispensable as they do not correspond to the productive logic of a functionalist vision of society, they do not respond to any useful criterion of investment. They are described as 'passive', they do not produce but rather in the market economy they are subjects of production. We must not forget, however, that the young and the elderly both bring great richness: they are both the future of a people.”
The young people are the strength to go forward; the elderly are the memory, the wisdom of the people. There cannot be genuine development or harmonious growth of a society if the strength of young people and the memory of the elderly is denied. A nation that does not take care of young people, of the elderly, does not have a future. It is because of this that we must do everything possible to avoid our society producing social rejection and we must all commit ourselves to keep the memory alive, with our look turned to the future.
We think of the percentage of young people that at this moment are without work: in some countries there is talk of 40% or more of young people without work. This is a mortgage, it is mortgaging the future. And if this is not resolved soon, it a very weak future or a non-future is certain.
A thought goes to the Social Doctrine of the Church: the social magisterium is a great reference point which forms a guideline, the result of reflection and virtuous practice. It is very useful to avoid disorientation. Those who work in economics and finance are certainly attracted by profit and, if they are not careful, they risk placing themselves in the service of profit itself, thus becoming slaves to money. The Social Doctrine contains a great patrimony of reflections and hope that is able, even today, to guide people and preserve their freedom. It takes courage, thought and the strength of faith to stay within the market while guided by a conscience that places at the centre the dignity of the person, not the idol of money.
In practice, all this is not always immediately evident, but if we help one another to pursue the common good it becomes the choice that finds confirmation also in the results. When the Social Doctrine is lived it generates hope. In this way each one finds within himself the strength to promote, with work, a new social justice. It could be affirmed that that the implementation of the Social Doctrine contains in itself a mysticism. I repeat the word: mysticism. It seems to take something away immediately; it seems that to apply it leads you outside of the market, of the current rules. Looking at the total results, this mysticism leads instead to great earnings, because it is able to create development itself in as much as – in its comprehensive vision – it requires taking care of the unemployed, of the fragilities, of the social injustices so as not to be under the distortions of an economistic vision.
The Social Doctrine does not tolerate that the useful are the ones who produce and the social question is left to the State or to welfare actions or volunteer work. See why solidarity is a key word of the Social Doctrine. But we, in this time, risk having it removed from the dictionary because it is an uncomfortable word, but also – allow me – it is almost a “dirty word.” For the economy and the market, solidarity is almost a dirty word.
And a thought also about cooperation: I have met with some representatives of the world of cooperatives. Here, in this room, we had a meeting some months ago. I was very consoled and I think it is good news for all to hear that, in responding to the crisis, the useful has been reduced, but the employment level has been maintained. Work is too important. Work and the dignity of the person walk the same path together, side by side. Solidarity applies also to guaranteeing work: co-operation constitutes an important element for ensuring the plurality of employers in the market. Nowadays this is the subject of some misunderstanding, also at the European level, but I maintain that not regarding as current this form of presence in the world of production is a form of impoverishment that allows space for the encroachment of uniformity and does not promote differences and identity.
I remember – I was a boy – I was 18: the year 1954, and I heard my father give a talk on the Christian cooperative movement and in that moment I was filled with enthusiasm about this subject, and I saw that the path lay there. It is in fact the way for equality, but not uniformity, equality in differences. It is also slow economically. I also remember that reflection of my father: go forward slowly, but be safe. When I hear some other economic theories, such as that “of copper” – I don’t know how it is said well in Italian – [the Pope is referring to the theories on raw materials drawn in the economic cycles]. Experience tells us that that way is not right.
I wish all those who are committed and are actors of cooperative reform, to keep alive the memory of their origins. Cooperative ways are, for Catholics, like a translation of Rerum Novarum; they give witness to the strength of the faith which, today as then, is able to inspire concrete actions to respond to the needs of our people.
Today this is extremely timely and pushes cooperation to become a subject able to think of new forms of welfare. My hope is that you be able to clothe continuity with novelty. And in this way we also imitate the Lord, who always makes us go forward with surprises, with novelties. I accompany you with my blessing, and do not tire of praying for me, because I really need it. Thank you.