Vatican City, 12 July 2015 (VIS) – The Leon Condou Sports Centre in Asuncion was the location of the Pope's meeting with the so-called “society-builders” in Paraguay – that is, school and university professors, artists and businesspeople, journalists, women's associations, agriculturalists and indigenous groups. The Holy Father answered various questions from those present, whom he greeted first with the following words:
“Seeing all of you together, each coming from his or her own sector or organisation within beloved Paraguayan society, each bringing his or her own joys, concerns, struggles and hopes, makes me grateful to God. In other words, it seems that Paraguay is anything but dead, thank God. When a people is unengaged and listless, passively accepting things as they are, it is a dead people. On the contrary, I see in you great vitality and promise. And God always blesses this. God is always on the side of those who help to uplift and improve the lives of His children. To be sure, problems and situations of injustice exist. But seeing you and listening to you helps renew my hope in the Lord Who continues to work in the midst of His people. You represent many different backgrounds, situations and aspirations; all together, you make up Paraguayan culture. All of you have a part to play in the pursuit of the common good. In the present condition of global society, where injustices abound and growing numbers of people are deprived of basic human rights and considered expendable, to see you here before me is a real gift.
The first question was from a young person who expressed his concern regarding the construction of a society characterised by fraternity, justice, peace and dignity for all.
“Youth is a time of high ideals”, said the Pope. “I often say that it is really sad to see a young person who is out of work. It is important that you, the young, and there are indeed many young persons here in Paraguay, realise that genuine happiness comes from working to make a more fraternal country! It comes from realising that happiness and pleasure are not synonymous. Happiness, joy, is one thing, but fleeting pleasure is another. Happiness is built up, it is something solid which edifies. Happiness is demanding, it requires commitment and effort. … Paraguay has a large population of young people and this is a great source of enrichment for the nation. So I think that the first thing to do is to make sure that all that energy, that light, does not disappear from your hearts, and to resist the growing mentality which considers it useless and absurd to aspire to things that demand effort. … Be committed to something, be committed to someone. This is the vocation of young people so don’t be afraid to take a risk on the field, but play fairly and give it your best. Don’t be afraid to give the best of yourselves! Don’t look for easy solutions beforehand so as to avoid tiredness and struggle. And don’t bribe the referee. I ask you not to fight the good fight alone. Try to talk about these things among yourselves, profit from the lives, the stories of your elders, of your grandparents, for there is great wisdom there. 'Waste' lots of time listening to all the good things they have to teach you. They are the guardians of that spiritual legacy of faith and values which define a people and illumine a path. ... Jesus extends to you an invitation through the memory of your people. … Fraternity, justice, peace and dignity are concrete and real, otherwise they are useless. They are constructed with the work of each day. And so, how do you shape those ideals, daily and concretely? Even if you make mistakes, make amends, get up again and move forward – make progress with concrete steps. I confess to you that I feel somewhat allergic … to very eloquent discourses; those who know the speaker end up saying, 'What are liar you are!' This is why words on their own are not enough. If you give your word of honour, then make sacrifices each day to be faithful to that word, to be committed!
The second question related to dialogue as a means to advance the project of a fully inclusive nation. “Dialogue is not easy. There exists also a 'theatrical dialogue' by which I mean that we rehearse dialogue, play out the conversation, but it is subsequently all forgotten. ... For example, I think about that dialogue we have in the Church, interreligious dialogue, where different representatives of religions speak to each other. We sometimes meet to speak and share our points of view, and everyone speaks on the basis of their own identity: 'I’m Buddhist, I’m Evangelical. I’m Orthodox, I’m Catholic'. Each one explains their identity. They do not negotiate their identity. This means that, for there to be dialogue, that fundamental basis of identity must exist. And what is the identity of a country? – and here we are speaking about a social identity – to love the nation. The nation first, and then my business! … That is identity. That is the basis upon which I will dialogue. If I am to speak without that basis, without that identity, then dialogue is pointless. Moreover, dialogue presupposes and demands that we seek a culture of encounter; an encounter which acknowledges that diversity is not only good, it is necessary. Uniformity nullifies us, it makes us robots. The richness of life is in diversity. For this reason, the point of departure cannot be, 'I'm going to dialogue but he’s wrong'. No, no, we must not presume that the other person is wrong. I dialogue with my identity but I'm going to listen to what the other person has to say, how I can be enriched by the other, who makes me realise my mistakes and see the contribution I can offer. It is a process of going out and coming back, always with an open heart. … This is the culture of encounter. Dialogue is not about negotiating. Negotiating is trying to get your own slice of the cake. … Dialogue is about seeking the common good. Discuss, think, and discover together a better solution for everybody. … During dialogue there is conflict. This is logical and even desirable. Because if I think in one way and you in another and we walk together, there will be conflict. But we mustn't fear it, we mustn’t ignore it. On the contrary, we are invited to embrace conflict. … Conflict exists: we have to embrace it, we have to try and resolve it as far as possible, but with the intention of achieving that unity which is not uniformity, but rather a unity in diversity. … True cultures are never closed in on themselves – cultures would die if they closed in on themselves – but are called to meet other cultures and to create new realities. ... Without this essential presupposition, without this basis of fraternity, it will be very difficult to arrive at dialogue. If someone thinks that there are persons, cultures, or situations which are second, third or fourth class surely things will go badly, because the bare minimum, a recognition of the dignity of the other, is lacking. There are no first, second, third, fourth categories of persons: they are all of the same lineage”.
The third question was, “How do we hear the cry of the poor in order to build a more inclusive society?”. The Pope responded, “It is important not to exclude anybody, and not to exclude oneself, because everybody needs everybody. A fundamental part of helping the poor involves the way we see them. An ideological approach is useless: it ends up using the poor in the service of other political or personal interests. Ideologies end badly, and are useless. They relate to people in ways that are either incomplete, unhealthy, or evil. Ideologies do not embrace a people. You just have to look at the last century. What was the result of ideologies? Dictatorships, in every case. Always think of the people, never stop thinking about the good of the people. … To really help people, the first thing is for us to be truly concerned for individual persons, and I'm thinking of the poor here, valuing them for their goodness. Valuing them, however, also means being ready to learn from them. The poor have much to teach us about humanity, goodness, sacrifice and solidarity. As Christians, moreover, we have an additional reason to love and serve the poor; for in them we see the face and the flesh of Christ, who made Himself poor so as to enrich us with His poverty. … Let us reflect carefully. The poor person is just like me and, if he or she is going through a difficult time for many reasons, be they economic political, social or personal, it could be me in their place, me longing for someone to help me. As well as desiring this help, if I am in their shoes, I have the right to be respected”.
Another theme was economic growth and the creation of wealth.
“Certainly every country needs economic growth and the creation of wealth, and the extension of these to each citizen, without exclusion. And this is necessary. But the creation of this wealth must always be at the service of the common good, and not only for the benefit of a few. On this point we must be very clear. For 'the worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose'. Those charged with promoting economic development have the responsibility of ensuring that it always has a human face. Economic development must have a human face. … They have in their hands the possibility of providing employment for many persons and in this way of giving hope to many families. … I ask them not to yield to an economic model which is idolatrous, which needs to sacrifice human lives on the altar of money and profit. In economics, in business and in politics, what counts first and foremost, in every instance, is the human person and the environment in which he or she lives”.
“Paraguay is rightly known throughout the world for being the place where the Reductions began. These were among the most significant experiences of evangelisation and social organisation in history. There the Gospel was the soul and the life of communities which did not know hunger, unemployment, illiteracy or oppression. This historical experience shows us that, today too, a more humane society is possible. You have truly lived this here. It is possible! Where there is love of people and a willingness to serve them, it is possible to create the conditions necessary for everyone to have access to basic goods, so that no one goes without. It is possible to seek solutions in every situation, through dialogue”.
The fifth question focused on the definition and importance of a country's culture.
“There exist enlightened cultures which are good and which must be respected”, said Francis. “But there is another culture, which has this same value, which is the culture of the people, of the earliest people, and represents different ethnic groups. I would dare to call this culture, in a positive sense, a popular culture. People possess their own culture and create culture”.
“Before ending, I'd like to make reference to two things”, he continued. “In doing this, as there are political authorities present here, I wish to say this fraternally. Someone told me: 'Look, Mr so-and-so was kidnapped by the Army, please do something to help! I do not know if this is true, or if it is not true, if it is right, or if it is not right, but one of the methods used by dictatorial ideologies of the last century, which I referred to earlier, was to separate the people, either by exile or imprisonment, or in the case of concentration camps, Nazis and Stalinists excluded them by death. For there to be a true culture of the people, a political culture, a culture of the common good, there must be quick and clear judicial proceedings. No other kind of strategy is required. Clear, concise judgements. That would help all of us. … And there is a second thing I would like to say: one method which does not bestow freedom upon people, and enable them to work responsibly towards the construction of society, is the method of blackmail. Blackmail is always corruption: 'If you do this, we will do this to you, and thus destroy you'. Corruption is the parasite, the gangrene of the people. For example, no politician can work and carry out a function, if they are being blackmailed by methods of corruption. … This happens in all populations around the world, and if a society wishes to maintain its dignity, it must banish such blackmail. I am speaking about something universal”.
The Holy Father concluded, “It is a great pleasure to see the number and variety of associations sharing in the creation of an ever more prosperous Paraguay. But if you do not dialogue, all is pointless. If there is blackmail, all is pointless. This great multitude of groups and persons are like a great symphony, each one with his or her own specificity and richness, yet all working together towards a harmonious end. That is what counts. And do not fear conflict, but speak about matters and look for paths that lead to solutions. Love your country, your fellow citizens, and, above all, love the poor. In this way, you will bear witness before the world that another model of development is possible. I am convinced, by virtue of your own history, that you possess the greatest strength of all: your humanity, your faith, your love. Being part of the Paraguayan people is what distinguishes you among the nations of the world”.
“I ask Our Lady of Caacupe, our Mother, to watch over you and protect you, and to encourage you in all your efforts. God bless you and pray for me. Thank you”.