Saturday, February 3, 2018

Encouragement for the fight against usury

At noon today (6:00am EST), in the Clementine Hall at the Vatican Apostolic Palace, the Holy Father, Pope Francis received in audience the members of the National Anti-usury Council.

Greetings of the Holy Father, Pope Francis
for members of the National Anti-usury Council

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am pleased to welcome you and to share with you some moments of reflection about a wound which is unfortunately widespread and still very much misunderstood: the scourge of usury.  I thank your President for his courteous words and I offer a thought for Father Massimo Rastrelli, who is not here because he is sick.  In 1991, he assembled the first Anti-usury Foundation.

With particular attention, I am following the course of your struggle against usury, which becomes more and more qualified and concrete with the experience and the creation of new Foundations spread across the nation through hundreds of welcoming centres.  They are precidia - schools of humanity and sources of eduction about legality, the fruit of a sensitivity that finds its illuminating inspiration in the Word of God and that works silently and tirelessly in people's consciences.

In your first twenty-six years of service, you have saved more than twenty-five thousand families from the grip of usurious debt; you have helped them to keep their homes, and sometimes their small businesses, you have helped them to rediscover the dignity that in some cases had been expropriated from them.  And this is deserves great gratitude; thank you, thank you very much.

Usury humiliates and kills people.  Usury is an old and unfortunately still hidden evil which, like a serpent, strangles its victims.  It must be prevented by eliminating people from the pathology of debt that is incurred so that they can subsist or in order to save their businesses.  And it can be prevented by teaching people to live sober lives, so that they will know how to distinguish between that which is superfluous and that which is necessary, that which gives them the power not to be obliged to enter into debt in order to obtain things that they can do without.  It is important that people be able to rediscover the virtues of poverty and of sacrifice: the virtue of poverty, in order not to become slaves to things; and the virtue of sacrifice, because life cannot give us everything.

We need to formulate a mentality based on legality and honesty in individuals and in institutions; we need to increase the presence of volunteers who are motivated by and available to the needy, so that they too can feel that they are welcome, advised, guided ... in order that they can recover from their conditions of humiliation.

Beneath the economic and financial crises, there is always a conception of life that puts profits first and not people.  Human dignity, ethics, solidarity ad the common good should always be the focus of economic policies put into effect in public institutions.  These can be expected to discourage, through adequate measures, instruments that either directly or indirectly are the cause of usury, as for example gambling which is another scourge.  I have seen, I have known elderly women in Buenos Aires who would go to the bank and withdraw their pensions, and from there, they would go directly to the local casinos.  This is a pathology that takes hold of people and kills them!

Usury is a serious sin: it robs people of life, it tramples on the dignity of people, it is a vehicle for corruption and an obstructs the common good.  It also weakens the social and economic foundations of a country.  In fact, with so many poor people, so many families in debt, so many victims of serious crimes and so many corrupt people, no country can plan for serious economic recovery or even feel safe.

Dear brothers and sisters, I am well aware that the service you provide is taxing: it is a question of collaborating so that the socio-economic system remains human and so that the gospel message can illuminate people's hearts and souls, just like it happened to Zachaeus one day.  He was a rich ad corrupt leader of the publicans of Jericho (cf Lk 19:1-10), and to his colleague Matthew, who Jesus looked at with mercy and chose as one of his disciples (cf Mt 9:9-13).  For a year now, these have been the patron saints of the Anti-Usury Foundation.  A beautiful pilgrimage that you can undertake is to see the soul of a man who is attached to money and to usury, a man such as San Luigi dei Francesi, the Conversion of Matthew by Caravaggio.  Matthew does this (makes a gesture) with money, as though money were his children.  This is a good depiction of the attitude of a man who is attached to money.  May the Lord inspire and support public authorities so that people and families can enjoy the benefits of law like any other reality; may the Lord inspire and sustain those who are responsible for banking systems, so that they may monitor the ethical qualities of banking activities.  It is worth pointing out that many banks are created and spread throughout the world precisely in order to take the poor out of situations of usury by granting them loans without the need for pledges and loans that bear no interest charges.

Dear friends, your service requires you to be men and women of encounter, of welcome, of closeness.  For this reason, I urge you to keep your eyes and hearts fixed on Jesus, to stand on the pages of the gospel where he meets the poor, the beggars, the leprous and the paralyzed and helps them to get back on their feet, restoring their dignity and their future.  In the face of usury and corruption, you too can communicate hope and strength to victims, so that they can rediscover their confidence and recover from their needs.  For institutions, I encourage you to provide concrete responses to those who are disoriented, sometimes desperate and who do not know how to help their families to move forward.  To benefit the money lenders themselves, you can remind them of the sense of humanity and justice, so that they can become aware of the fact that we should never be willing to kill our brothers and sisters for the want of money!

In addition, I encourage you to dialogue with those who have responsibilities in the fields of economics and finance, encouraging them to promote initiatives that contribute to the prevention of usury.  It is not my place to provide you with concrete examples: you already have them in mind; but it is always a matter of having respect for the faces, of truly placing people and families at the centre of our focus, not so much in words as in truth.

Those people who have been rescued from usury can bear witness to the fact that the darkness inside the tunnel they have passed through is profound and distressing, but there is also a stronger light that can illuminate and provide comfort.  For the poor, for people who are indebted, for companies in difficulty, you can be a source of hope.  Continue your service with perseverance and courage: it is a precious leaven for all of society.  Victims of usury and gambling who have come here with their groups are well aware of this.  I greet them and encourage them all because I know that they have accepted a new journey with the help of God and te solidarity of many of their brothers and sisters.  Pass on your courage to all those who are still in that tunnel by sharing your experiences with them, by bearing witness to the fact that they can come out from their usury, that they can survive the wear and tear that they are experiencing.

Together, let us call for a new economic humanism, which puts an end to economics of exclusion and of inequality, to the economics of killing, to an economic system in which men and women are no longer persons, but simply reduced to the scope of instruments of disposable logic which creates profound inequality (cf Message to the International Symposium on the Economy, 26 November 2016).

I thank you for your presence, for your work and with all my heart I bless you and your work.  And please, do not forget to pray for me.  Thank you.

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