“Let your ideas and dreams emerge and through them bring to the world, to the Church and to other young people, the prophecy and beauty of which you are capable. You are not the future: you are the present. Another present. The world needs your courage. Now". - Pope Francis

The Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar (JCAM) through its Jesuits Justice and Ecology Network Africa (JENA) organised a two-day event in Nairobi, Kenya from September 28-29 bringing together young people from across Africa to discuss the future of African economies. The event was held ahead of the global meeting of the Economy of Francesco, organised in collaboration with the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. The young people gathered under the auspices of the Economy of Francesco Africa Hub Regional Meeting. The countries represented were Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Nigeria, Benin, South Africa, and Zambia.

This meeting was in response to Pope Francis’s call in his second encyclical letter, Laudato Si': On the Care of Our Common Home, that “Business is a noble vocation directed to producing wealth and improving our world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the areas in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (LS 129). This call emphasizes the importance of a holistic approach to economic practices, calling on the business world to embrace “economic ecology” a model that is integral in respect to humanity, the environment and the overall common good “capable of appealing to a broader vision of reality”. He asserts that “we urgently need a humanism capable of bringing together the different fields of knowledge, including economics, in the service of a more integral and integrating vision”. [LS 141].

The Economy of Francesco Africa Regional Gathering held in Kenya therefore, follows in the footsteps of the 3-day virtual event of young economists, entrepreneurs, and practitioners with Pope Francis in November 2020 where more than 1,500 people from 115 countries participated, with an aim to commit to building a new, more inclusive, and sustainable economy. Echoing Pope Franci’s call to an integral economy, in an interview with ACI Africa the Director of the Jesuits Ecology Office, Fr. Charles Chilufya stated that “The Pope, through this framework of Catholic Social teachings is calling us to help advocate for an economy that gives life rather than kill, an economy that takes care of our common home rather than destroying it, an economy that takes care of the needs of the poor rather than neglect them and an economy that promotes justice rather than injustice.” The Economy of Francesco Africa Regional Gathering therefore was held to help the youth “reflect on the situation of the world, especially paying attention to the fact that in the world we live, the economy matters.” Speaking about the future of African economies, Fr. Chilufya pointed out the significance of including youth voices in the world economy, saying that the “time has come for us to engage them and give them the opportunity to shape the kind of world that we want, that they are the ones who are going to lead in the future.”

A Jesuit scholastic who participated in the forum, and the Global Policy and Advocacy Officer of the Jesuits Justice and Ecology Network Africa (JENA), Fernando Saldivar, also in an interview with ACI Africa described the Economy of Francesco as a call by Pope Francis to rethink economic structures and infuse them with the reality that the world is interconnected. We are all interconnected and as Pope Francis says, “to give a soul to the economy, to breathe life into it so that we are really able to care for and provide for all of humanity”. The vision of the Holy Father, he further said, is important for Africa which has a large population and unique challenges. “This is such a young continent and the numbers create its own set of pressures and it is a recognition that the more people there are, it puts pressure on a very limited set of resources”. According to Fernando it is important for the young people to address the challenges now because these are problems that we cannot say we will address in the future “the time is now, the moment is here. Young people see these problems in their communities, countries, homes and they ask themselves what they can do.”

Fernando also correlated the forum’s agenda to “Pope Francis’ larger vision for synodality in the Church. In a comment to ACI Africa, he said "as we gather together, we are listening to each other, learning how to listen and before we step out and try to change the world, one skill is listening because each one of us comes with their own experiences, hope and strength. We are channelling all that in faith and as St. Ignatius of Loyola says, to set the world on fire," the Jesuit Scholastic explained.” Dominic Chai, SJ, a representative of the Vatican Dicastery for Integral Human Development who attended the event continued to echo Pope Francis’s vision for a Synodal church, describing the Economy of Francesco Africa Regional Gathering as one happening “in the spirit of synodality to discern what our own local communities can do to bring the Economy of Francesco vision to life.” In an interview to ACI Africa, he noted that the gathering of the young Africans was an opportunity to provide “a space for the young change-makers to gather in their local communities to share their hopes for the economy of tomorrow.”

The Economy of Francesco (EoF) a worldwide movement for economic justice initiated in 2020, following an invitation launched by Pope Francis who, on 1 May 2019, convened young economists, entrepreneurs, scholars and practitioners the city of Assisi, is indeed an urgent call and invitation to economists, entrepreneurs, and practitioners to transform their economic thinking which is based on neoclassical economics to a mindset that embodies what Pope Francis infers to as a more just, sustainable and solidarity-based economy rooted in the spirituality of Saint Francis of Assisi.

Pope Francis’s invitation to create an Economy of Francesco and his Laudato Si's spotlight of the world’s growing deep economic inequalities, ecological degradation, and social unrest has had an impact on young people across the globe. We can only hope that the young people’s courage and commitment to act on Pope Francis’s message that “common ideas and projects can help find solutions to energy poverty, putting the care of common goods at the center of national and international policies, promoting sustainable production, circular economy, the sharing of appropriate technologies,” and also that “wise decisions based on past years’ experiences to help make a culture of care and responsible sharing possible.” will spill over to the upcoming COP26 gathering in Glasgow, Scotland.

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