As the crisis over debt in Greece comes to a head, Pope Francis’ address to the Second World Meeting of Popular Movements could not be more relevant. His comments are a reminder that there is “a globalization of exclusion and indifference” that can lead to despair, but can also give way to a globalization of hope. It is a reminder that any Christian approach to change must be focused on real people. But what does this have to do with Greece?
The Pope firsts asks that we always listen to the people affected when considering how to resolve the many issues facing our world. In a world where the majority of the news we get is sprinkled with figures and dollar signs, Francis’ call to listen to the experiences of real people challenges us to dig deeper. This great article in the Guardian outlines all of the reasons why so many young Greeks voted against bailout terms and highlights the pain felt by so many people affected by the proposed austerity measures. One young Greek voter said of the current state of affairs, “This situation was caused by the administration mechanisms in Europe who favour finances and not humans.” That sounds just like Pope Francis! “The first task is to put the economy at the service of peoples. Human beings and nature must not be at the service of money.” Both the experience of the Greek people and the words of Pope Francis call us to move toward an economy that is based not on money but on people.
As the Greek bailout summit progressed, the trending Twitter tag #thisisacoup showed the way people saw some of the larger economies as forcing humiliating terms on the Greek government. These tweets show many people to be particularly concerned by close monitoring by outside organizations and pressure to immediately pass stringent laws imposed by foreign creditors. The Pope warns about this type of bullying which shows “the anonymous influence of mammon: corporations, loan agencies, certain ‘free trade’ treaties, and the imposition of measures of ‘austerity’ which always tighten the belt of workers and the poor.”
It seems as though all Greeks, whether they support this new deal or not, agree that it will be an uphill battle to implement these new austerity measures. They have experienced similar terms in the past and have failed to see change, and so are crying out for real solutions now. The Pope told the assembly in Bolivia, “We desire a positive change for the benefit of all our brothers and sisters. We know this. We desire change enriched by the collaboration of governments, popular movements and other social forces.” The Greek people share in this same desire that Francis identified. Because of this desire, they are dissatisfied with this third bailout, seeing it as another patch, concocted overnight (albeit a very long night), which fails to address the root causes of the problem.
I see this crisis as a sign of things to come. It has brought to the world stage the issues presented by our existing system. The Pope’s words are consoling and encouraging as he reminds us that change must start with the people, rather than the economic policy-based approach we’re presently seeing with the Greek situation. It won’t be one government or organization that will come up with the solution. It is our responsibility both as Christians and as citizens of the world to consider the effects of a mammon-centric society.
How will we respond when presented with similar problems coming from other places fed by the same corrupted roots? Pope Francis tells us, and all those seeking change, “the future of humanity is in great measure in your own hands.” The pope reminds us that change is possible and most importantly urges us, “Don’t lose heart!”
Cover image “Change?” courtesy Flickr CC user SomeDriftwood, found here.