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Pope Francis and the death of the global economy

Imagine the world economy actually collapses during Pope Francis’ visit to the USA. Okay, what I’m saying sounds really far-fetched. In fact, the statistical probability of this happening before Sunday must be close to zero. But let’s just suppose that something like this unfolds. As the world gets over the initial shock, all the best minds scramble to put everything back together. After a couple of weeks it becomes clear that life on planet earth has changed decisively: more frugal times lie ahead, with an air of divisive unease hanging over entire continents as governments find themselves unable to point a way forward.

Where could we find hope in all of this? Certainly not in the global economic meltdown itself: greed, selfishness, and dishonesty are the cause of this evil. But the hope would be represented by Pope Francis, by the fact that the Vicar of Christ is in the world’s financial powerhouse at the moment everything crumbles. That could just help us realize that the way out of such a disaster isn’t through rebuilding an unjust economic system, but through thinking outside the box, by turning to God, and by putting the true needs of human beings at the centre of everything. And Francis is just the kind of inspired leader who could galvanize others to take God seriously enough to bring about a new global society at the service of human beings. His calming influence could be a balm for everyone.

All complete fantasy perhaps. But interestingly, during an interview in June 2014 with the Spanish-language newspaper La Vanguardia, Pope Francis predicted that the world economic system would soon collapse. Admittedly even some of his admirers would say that although Francis may be a good Pope, he is not a good economist. However, you don’t need to be an economist to see that the global economy is a house built on sand, a vast amount of paper money with little that is solid underneath it. As Jesus reminds us, once the rain falls and the floods come and the winds blow, the house built on sand will fall, and its fall will be a massive one. (Matthew 7: 27)

Pope Francis is prophetic. His first official visit outside of Rome as Pope was in July 2013 to the island of Lampedusa in the Mediterranean, where over one hundred thousand refugees arrive in unsafe boats every year. And now 2 years later we’re all painfully aware of the plight of refugees. Pope Francis may just be prophetic about the global economy as well. This “soon” of which Pope Francis spoke last year when referring to a global economic meltdown is in reality getting “sooner” with every day that passes. The fact is that we are living on money we don’t really have. The debt burden continually grows. And the economic system is counting upon the day that is never supposed to come: the mythical “tomorrow” when everything will be repaid. But the truth cannot be postponed forever: tomorrow may be about to arrive.

The world economy is out of control, and so are violence, poverty and exploitation. There are far more losers than winners in our global economy, and yet some of us still believe this is a viable system. As Pope Francis would put it, we’ve been conned by the devil: “Friends, the devil is a con artist….He makes you put your hope in things that will never make you happy.” (12 July, 2015). It’s no wonder many people have forgotten their basic humanity: it’s because they have forgotten God. It’s time to return to God, not some petty, small God, but the real God, who is better than anything we can conceive.

Maybe what I’ve invited you to imagine will turn out to be pure fancy, and have nothing to do with the reality of what is going to dominate the headlines this week. The stock market may only have the occasional bumpy moment. As for the Pope, although he will undoubtedly make some pointed references to the unjust global economic system, these remarks may be quickly forgotten, and all that will be remembered after the wall-to-wall media coverage of his U.S. visit is a disarming spiritual leader with rock star status.

But we’re always allowed to imagine: something may just happen this week to make people believe that Francis’ predictions about the world economy aren’t pure make-believe. We may be in dire need of help from Our Lady, the Untier of Knots, to whom Pope Francis has a special devotion, in order to unknot the confused strands of our interconnected lives, and the entangled mess of our interdependent economies.

Perhaps imagining a full-blown economic crisis is imagining too much. But for all that, even the act of imagining it could provide us with the opportunity of figuring out how to fashion a different kind of world, with a compassionate logic at its heart, one that cherishes the poor, the homeless, the unborn, and the refugees.

And that’s a worthy object for everyone’s imagination.