By Devin Watkins
Pope Francis sent a video message on Thursday to participants in the 8th Festival of the Social Doctrine of the Church, taking place in the Italian city of Verona on 22-25 November.
The Holy Father said the event’s theme – “The risk of freedom” – invites reflection on what has always underpinned the experience of men, women, societies, and civilizations. “As Christians,” he noted, “we are called to be attentive and vigilant so that the ‘risk of freedom’ does not lose its highest and most demanding meaning.”
“To risk means getting involved.”
The Pope said Christians must work together to overcome “whatever deprives men and women of the treasure of freedom.”
Pope Francis then spoke about three situations in which people have difficulty living their God-given freedom: extreme poverty, technological domination, and reduction of the person to a consumer.
The Holy Father said indigence, or extreme hardship and poverty, is caused by “great injustices” that come from the culture of waste, which views people as “leftovers”.
“If a man or woman is reduced to ‘surplus material’… they are robbed of the very possibility of ‘risking’ their own freedom to better themselves, or their family, in search of a good, just, and dignified life.”
Domination of technology
Pope Francis said technological development can also negatively impact human freedom, “when it is not accompanied by adequate improvements in responsibility, values, and conscience.”
“The sense of limits is lost,” the Pope said, “resulting in an inability to perceive the epochal challenges with which we are faced. The absolutization of technology can turn against humanity.”
Lastly, Pope Francis said there is a danger of reducing people to mere consumers. He said the freedom to risk becomes an illusion.
“This paradigm leads people to believe that they are free as long as they have the supposed freedom to consume. But those really free are the minority who wield economic and financial power (LS 203).
He called this illusion of freedom a type of slavery: “daily life comes to be marked by resignation, distrust, fear, and closure.”
Risk of freedom
Pope Francis also invited participants in the Social Doctrine Festival not to lose the desire to “risk” their freedom.
He said Festival participants will hear testimonies of people who have rediscovered their freedom after escaping from situations of prostitution and usury. “They are stories of liberation in act, which give strength and hope. They help us to say ‘Yes! The risk of freedom is possible!’”