Churches and the economic crisis. What message should be given to Europe at a time of recession? Is there a margin today for listening to the Church amidst interest rates and spread and offer concrete proposals? Maria Chiara Biagioni interviewed economist Luigino Bruni in Lisbon, where the Third European Catholic-Orthodox forum on "The Economic Crisis and Poverty. Challenges for Europe today" is under way (ongoing until June 9).What message are European Churches conveying by dedicating a symposium to the economic crisis? "It’s evident that for the leaders of Christian Churches in Europe the crisis is an important phenomenon as it is perceived as a priority on the pastoral and ecclesial plane. People realize that if they aren’t happy they’re without a job and live in a state of insecurity, it means that their entire lives aren’t going as they should. It is clear that the religious leaders convened in Lisbon wish to convey relevant proposals, and most importantly, their proposals ought to be acknowledged. Every once and a while the crisis is addressed, and tentative solutions are conveyed. Entering this debate with a voice that may reach the perception threshold is a real challenge". How pervasive has the economic crisis if European Christian leaders put it at the centre of their symposium? "Undoubtedly, as said, the crisis isn’t only economic. Rather, it’s the crisis of a development model based on debt, consumption and individualism. The Churches are also inevitably involved".What is expected from the Churches?"I think important messages should be given. The first is that respond the needs of individuals should no longer be fulfilled by promising goods in return. This request conceals much more. Peoples have always felt the need for wide horizons. This crisis makes us understand that there hasn’t been an appropriate answer to people’s quest for meaning. Thus let’s try to take stock of the questions, since the answers given until now have been disappointing. Churches have always been places for the community, marked by meaning. The crisis could turn out to be an opportunity to fill this gap and fill it with meaningful proposals. Secondly, the economy is far too important not to tackle it. I hope that the Church will not farm out economy and finance to pundits. The economic crisis involves the Churches as it involves people and communities". On these themes the Church risks remaining on the plane of good intentions. How can this hurdle be overcome? With which proposals? "There are two issues that should be addressed. For example, when talking of taxing financial transactions, or fighting unemployment it should be said that combating unemployment has the priority over financial questions. The indicators are different: spread is less important than unemployment rates since unemployment means there are millions of people without a job; it means that our children won’t be able to live the future they want, it means widespread insecurity. In my opinion, this is much more serious that the spread. In short, it is expected that the Churches highlight certain questions. Indeed, the common good is measured by the number of poor people and how they are treated. This is the yardstick. The rest is just titter tatter". How many chances do European Churches have of being listened to? "Firstly, it depends on what they say. I believe that if the message provides concrete proposals on finance, or employment it may reach its recipients. It is also necessary to show Europe what already exists inside the Churches in terms of answers. There is great vitality in the world of the Churches: cooperatives, projects, different credit institutions, alternative enterprises. It’s an economic world that already exists and longs to be communicated and spread". Are economists willing to listen?"Perhaps economists aren’t. But great changes do occur today. And they can come from the people. Today there is great space for manoeuvre among the youth and the social networks. So perhaps if the European Central Bank won’t listen but the message passes in certain circuits, mechanisms leading to change will be triggered". As an economist do you believe in hope? "Hope exists because human beings have extraordinary resources. We should never be pessimistic also because there are already exemplary works. There are people who are concretely committed to exit the crisis with new jobs and new enterprises. The population will be always an answer to the crisis since persons and not money – are the capital".
Catholic-Orthodox Forum: interview with economist Luigino Bruni