In his address to a joint session of Congress on September 24, Pope Francis made appeals to the assembled politicians and dignitaries to uphold traditional marriage, the sanctity of life, welcome immigrants, and continue to strive towards putting an end to poverty. He quoted his recent encyclical letter, Laudato Si, which was both a plea for sharing the benefits of capitalism and caring for what he calls “our common home.” Released in May 2015, the Pope wrote in Laudato Si: “The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. The Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home.”
Here below is a relevant part of the Pope’s speech to Congress, in which he highlights parts of Laudato Si:
“How much progress has been made in this area in so many parts of the world! How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty! I know that you share my conviction that much more still needs to be done, and that in times of crisis and economic hardship a spirit of global solidarity must not be lost. At the same time I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.”
“It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. ‘Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good’ (Laudato Si’, 129). This common good also includes the earth, a central theme of the encyclical which I recently wrote in order to ‘enter into dialogue with all people about our common home’ (ibid., 3). ‘We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all’ (ibid., 14).”
In his native Argentina, Pope Francis as Archbishop of Buenos Aires witnessed considerable poverty in the midst of wealth. Argentina continues to be a major exporter of agricultural commodities such as wheat and soy, as well as beef. But the export of manufactures lags, as does the distribution of wealth. For example, according to a recent study by Argentina’s Ministry of Economy, 41.8% of the residents of Province of Buenos Aires – which surrounds the national capital city of the same name - living in homes with "Unsatisfied Basic Needs" (UBN) are under 14 years of age and are predominantly male. The latest census records that there are more females, however, in the capital of Argentina.
The study shows, however, that the portion of the population with UBN in the Province of Buenos Aires declined from 24.2% in 1980 to 17% in 1991 to 15.9% in 2001 and 11.2 % in 2010. In the early 1990s, under President Carlos Menem - a Peronist - Argentina saw the privatization of services such as refuse collection, railways, and a resurgence of the economy. This was followed by a series of currency devaluations and economic and political turmoil that continues to this day. The current Peronist president of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, has taken a decided turn towards the left during her tenure: she obtained funding and political support from Venezuela's socialist president Hugo Chavez who was aligned with Cuba's Fidel Castro.
As for the status of poverty, official figures revealed that the situation is particularly acute for the 0-14 age group (41.8%). For the 15-64 age group, it increased from 51.9% in 2001 to 55.4% in 2011.
In the Province of Buenos Aires, there are 700,000 adolescents and young people are either unemployed or not at school. About 2 million people live in precarious and overcrowded homes and slums (which in Argentina are called ‘misery villes’) of the Province that lack essential services such as water and sanitation. Many of these emerged as of the 1930s during the worldwide economic depression as largely illiterate peasants flocked to Buenos Aires seeking a better life. These are sometimes called ‘emergency villes’ that after many decades have yet to have basic services. In some cases, the title to the land on which they were established remains in dispute.
In the suburbs, there are 163 houses and 463 slums where each family group is composed by an average of 4.7 people. The study found that 42.6% of children and adolescents are poor, while 9.4% are extremely poor.
Ironically, during the first decade of the 1900s, Argentina was the 14th largest economy in the world. Considerable investment came from the United Kingdom in agriculture, transportation, and utilities.