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Reflecting on the Economy of Francesco Conference

Meghan Fleming, C'24

Meghan Fleming and Alejandro Canadas in Assisi

Meghan Fleming, C'24, and Associate Professor of Economics Alejandro Cañadas, Ph.D., were among more than 1,000 young economists, entrepreneurs and change makers who came together to help give a new soul to the global economy at the third (and first in-person) Economy of Francesco summit in Assisi, Italy in late September. Cañadas served on the planning committee for the conference.

The natural world often inspires awe and wonder, a response to the incredible Earth that God has gifted to us. It’s an incredible gift we have been given.

meghan-francesco-in-text.jpegWith any remarkable gift, however, comes great responsibility. A responsibility to preserve and protect, to embrace and appreciate, and in the case of our earth, to “cultivate and care for” (Genesis 1:15). Yet our consumer-obsessed society has replaced consideration and care with exploitation and abuse, actions that have had extremely negative impacts on our environment.

In his worldwide wake-up call, a 2015 encyclical titled Laudato Si’, Pope Francis shone a light on the dangers we will one day meet if we continue to damage our earthly home. He addressed an urgent call to tackle the current ecological crisis specifically to the young adults of today, for Pope Francis believes that they are the face of a brighter future. In an effort to provide them with a platform to turn these ideas into a reality, he organized an international event through which passionate young people could come together and engage in inclusive dialogue about the changes that need to be implemented in our global economy to make it more sustainable. After two long years of waiting, brought about by the pandemic, the Economy of Francesco conference took place for the first time in person in Assisi, Italy, where over a thousand business leaders, company owners, economists, entrepreneurs, students and many others gathered together to work toward a more integrated economy.

pope-economy-of-francesco-3-in-text.jpegOn September 21, I traveled to Assisi to take part in the Economy of Francesco summit. Participants from diverse walks of life spent four days listening to one another’s stories, becoming informed about the incredible projects that are already going on around the globe, offering ideas for new strategies that will contribute to the betterment of our economy, and discovering ways in which we can live out the spirit of the Economy of Francesco in our everyday life. Broken up into 12 key topics of the economy, participants were assigned to “villages,” which served as spaces of conversation and reflections.

The 12 villages included Finance and Humanity, Business in Transition, CO2 of Inequality, Agriculture and Justice, Energy and Poverty, Women for Economy, Business and Peace, Life and Life-Style, Work and Care, Policies for Happiness, Management and Gift, and Vocation and Profit. As a Policies for Happiness villager, I had the opportunity to engage in productive conversation about human life, and how governments and economies can promote life. After several days, the 12 villages assembled and offered ideas from the areas that they specialized in. These ideas were organized into a pact that would be presented to Pope Francis.

I will never forget the anticipation we felt in the auditorium as we eagerly awaited the Pope’s arrival, and the emotional moment when he walked onto the stage, as his name was being chanted in dozens of languages. Pope Francis greeted and applauded the participants of the Economy of Francesco. With the aid of God and the determination that he saw in the crowd, Pope Francis stated he is confident that this generation holds the power to transform an enormous and complex system like the current global economy. The Pope reminded the audience that the ideas we formulated must become flesh. He sent us forth with the intercession of Saint Francis, to work toward a world that values all living things, and the natural resources of the earth, an economy that fights poverty in all its forms and reduces inequality, an economy at the service of the human person, rooted in love.

The location of this conference could not have been more perfect, as it was held in the birthplace of a man who was described by Pope Francis as among the best examples of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology, lived out joyfully and authentically–St. Francis of Assisi.

Over the years, in any conversation where I’ve tried to describe my mom to someone who has not met her, I often find myself referring to her as the female version of St. Francis. As a lover of animals and admirer of nature, my mom resembles him in ways that I have not encountered in any other person. Caring for the life of every kind, from the birds and squirrels that live in our backyard to the plants that grow in our parish grotto, makes my mom’s soul truly selfless and charitable. She is not consumed by the man-made items of this world, but rather, captivated by our Lord’s creation and concerned about how she can care for it.

This commitment to a cosmic sense of brotherhood and sisterhood with all of God’s creatures that is embodied by my mother was preached by St. Francis of Assisi in the early 13th century. My experience of learning about St. Francis during my upbringing and watching my mom over the years, combined with the outstanding education that I have received thus far as a business major at Mount St. Mary’s University, led me to become overcome with excitement when I learned about the Economy of Francesco. I eagerly answered the Pope’s call to join this international effort of economic integration.

Although he was born to a wealthy family, St. Francis walked away from his inheritance and voluntarily entered into a state of physical and spiritual poverty. As he departed from the wealth of his former life, he began finding his identity in Christ. And just as God called St. Francis to answer the cry of the Church, so too is Pope Francis calling us to address the cry of our Earth. What will your response be?

“…You yourself have to choose between a consumerist lifestyle and a life of beauty. You can’t have both. Beauty will require a lot of sacrifices. But the alternative is banality and boredom, punctuated by guilty pleasures in the disordered. We can do better than that.”  - Beauty: What It Is and Why It Matters by John-Mark Miravalle, Meghan Fleming’s theology professor in her sophomore year

Meghan Fleming, C'24