Pope laments "culture of waste and depopulation" in Italy

By Lisa Zengarini

Innovative social practices, “which rediscover forms of mutuality and reciprocity” and help safeguard  our common home “should be recognized and supported ,” to foster an “alternative paradigm” to today’s pervasive culture of waste, Pope Francis said.

Indeed, marginalized areas of society can become “laboratories of social innovation” offering “new opportunities where others only see constraints,”  or” resources that others consider waste”,  the Pope remarked as he addressed on Saturday members of the Italian Association for Subsidiarity and the Modernization of Local Bodies (ASMEL).

ASMEL

The association was founded in 2010 to support  small municipalities in remote  and often disadvantaged areas of Italy promoting their economic and social development.

The Pope noted that the areas in which ASMEL operates are often neglected  by central authorities, due to to limited public financial resources which only contribute to deepen social and economic inequalities between the poorer and the richer parts of the country.

Vicious circles

“Here ,” he said, we see a concrete example of a culture of waste where ‘everything that is not useful for profit is discarded’”. This triggers “a vicious circle”, as the lack of opportunities often pushes the most enterprising part of the population to leave , making these neglected communites  more and more abandoned to themselves. “Consequently, the need for a welfare state is growing in these territories, while the resources to respond to this need are decreasing,” he noted.

Pope Francis also drew attention to another aspect linked to this negative trend: the progressive depopulation of these territories makes it more difficult for them to take care of their often rich natural heritage, leading them to be more exposed to natural disasters which are now more frequent due to recurrent extreme weather events.

The cry of the poor and the cry of the earth are connected

“Looking at these territories,” he remarked, “we can confirm that listening to the cry of the earth means listening to the cry of the poor and the discarded, and vice versa”

“[ In the vulnerability  of people and the environment we recognize that everything is connected.]”

Participation and artificial intelligence

Thanking ASMEL for its commitment to protecting the dignity of people and taking care of our common home, even amid scarce resources and difficulties, Pope Francis highlighted two promising strategies endeavoured by the association: a closer collaboration between the public and private sector, and in particular the social private sector which, he said, offers new opportunities for grass root participation, and the use of new technologies, including artificial intelligence.

“We are discovering how powerful they can be as instruments of death, he said. “We can imagine how beneficial this power could be if used not for destruction, but in the logic of care: the care of people, communities, territories and the common home.

Concern for demographic crisis

Concluding, Pope Francis again expressed his concern for the demographic crisis, or as he called it, the  ‘culture of depopulation’, facing Italy and other European countries. “We must take the birth problem seriously because the future of the country is at stake here”, he said speaking off the cuff. “Having children is a duty to survive, to move forward”, the Pope concluded.