In Africa, efforts to attain economic freedom are not working since they have only widened the gap between a few rich individuals and the majority poor, religious experts who met to discuss Pope Francis’ new Encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, have said.

The leaders, including economic, political, and security experts from African countries and the Vatican, reiterated Pope Francis’ call for “a new economic model” that is all-inclusive in his new Encyclical.

“We need a new economic model, not because Pope Francis is asking for one. We need a new model because we have no choice except to develop a model that promotes life both now and in the future,” the organizers of the Tuesday, October 13 virtual event said in a statement shared with ACI Africa.

The leadership of the Africa Task Force for the Vatican COVID-19 Commission that organized the meeting added, “In Fratelli Tutti Pope Francis speaks to how we can create a model that is inclusive and sustainable. We can do it!”

In his keynote address during the virtual session, the Deputy Secretary of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development (DIHD), Fr. Augusto Zampini said that true freedom is all-inclusive.

“Neoliberalism is a dogma that is repeating itself without any solutions. It isn’t working,” said Fr. Zampini.

He added, “It is ridiculous to think that we are free when only a few people are free.”

Fr. Zampini who is at the helm of the Vatican COVID-19 Commission further said that economic disparities in the global South made up of Africa, Latin America, and the developing countries in Asia is manifested in the provision of public services, including health.

“Heath is better looked at as a public service that requires investment. We shouldn’t look at it in terms of an individual need. COVID-19 has taught us that health is an issue of public concern because if my neighbor has it, I may end up having it as well,” he said.

The Vatican official insisted that public money in all countries, “not just those in the Global south,” should be put to good use in developing public amenities and not remain up with the small elite group.

Over 80 people logged into the virtual discussion that was moderated from Nairobi, allowing speakers to deliberate on ways to end “global injustices affecting African economies” as highlighted in Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti.

In the Encyclical published on October 4, the Holy Father urges people of goodwill to promote fraternity through dialogue, renewing society by putting love for others ahead of personal interests.

He starts by cautioning against a “culture of walls” in the world that is characterized by manipulation and deformation of democracy, the loss of social community and history, selfishness, and indifference toward the common good among other trends, which Pope Francis says, hinder the development of universal fraternity.

He goes ahead in subsequent chapters to envisage a society where people embrace and care for each other regardless of their social, political, and religious affiliations.

Pope Francis further describes politics as one of the most valuable forms of charity that should be placed at the service of the common good, a notion that the president of the Jesuit Conference of Major Superiors of Africa and Madagascar (JESAM), Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator, agrees with.

Unfortunately, according to Fr. Orobator who spoke at the two-hour webinar, politics in Africa only serve the interests of a few individuals while placing a majority on the fringes of society.

“Politics serves the needs of the elite group and excludes the poor and the vulnerable,” Fr. Orobator said, and added, “In fact, it distorts the very word ‘people’ which is supposed to elicit the idea of Ubuntu in the African context.”

The Jesuit Theologian further said that Catholics serving in positions of power in politics have fallen short of Pope Francis’ description of politics as a vocation of charity and urged them to either mend their ways or to resign to avoid giving the Church a bad name.

“We need new models of politics not just in the Global South but on the whole group because we are all one; politics with a heart, healthy politics as Pope Francis proposes, offering us something new, something that has not been tested but one that is workable,” the Nigerian-born Jesuit Cleric said during the October 13 webinar session.

Other speakers included Ms. Noluthando Honono, a student activist who decried bureaucracies in African governments that she said hinder equal access to services.

Also speaking at the event was Dr. Teresia Wachira, a peace and security expert who reiterated Pope Francis' message that focus by governments to invest in nuclear weapons was denying the world resources that would have been put to better use.

“Investment in a single nuclear weapon can be used to manufacture 200 million vaccines to prevent a disease in a particular country. We need to start rethinking on how to better invest our resources,” said Dr. Wachira.

The security expert’s sentiment was echoed by Fr. Zampini from the Vatican office who decried the misplaced priorities by countries that he said were busy investing in nuclear weapons when the rest of the world was fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There is no way that we can justify the possession of nuclear weapons,” Fr. Zampini said, and added, “I find it especially baffling that most powerful countries are investing in nuclear weapons today, during the pandemic, when the focus should be in creating an efficient public health system.”

In his opening remarks, Mr. Siddharth Chatterjee, the UN Resident Coordinator in Kenya said that Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti is “an opportunity for us to pause and to rethink our development models.”

Giving the example of Kenya’s approach to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UN expert encouraged the East African country to remain enthusiastic in the efforts to achieve the goals.

“Kenya was a leader in the SDGs, convening the rest of the world in 2013 to ensure that the SDGs happened. It is important to note that today, we have a lot of unfinished business on the list of the development goals,” he said.

In one of the final sections of Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis explains that the role of religion is to be at the service of fraternity in our world.

The Holy Father observes that terrorism is erroneous interpretations of religious texts. He then speaks about the possibility of peace among religions, which he sees as necessary means to guarantee religious freedom.

Reiterating Pope Francis' call to embrace religious inclusion, the Secretary-General of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), Fr. Henry Akaabiam said that interreligious dialogue, aimed at ensuring that people of different religions live together as brothers and sisters, will be attainable when people are moved to realize that they are neighbors.

“We need to realize that we are all children of one father, whether Christians or not,” Fr. Henry said.

The Nigerian-born Ghana-based Cleric added, “We need to engage with each other as pilgrims on a journey to meet God and to see all things the way God sees them. God sees everything through the heart.