Pope Francis became the first pope in history to address the U.S. Congress on Thursday morning, Sept. 24.
He spoke in English for about 30 minutes, citing Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Catholic social activist Dorothy Day, and Trappist monk Thomas Merton as inspiring Americans. He also mentioned several topics that could be seen as challenges posed to any entrepreneur or business leader. Here are four highlights:
Business creates wealth that should be used to share prosperity.
"The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem," Francis said, as a prelude to his remarks on business. He continued, quoting from his Encyclical Letter Laudato Si' from May, 2015.
It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. "Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good" (Laudato Si', 129).
Interestingly, Pope Francis's remarks on this front are aligned with those that many tech leaders in Silicon Valley and academia recently made in an Open Letter on the Digital Economy.
Business, technology, and the academy all have environmental responsibilities.
Quoting extensively from various portions of Laudato Si', Francis proclaimed that "now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a 'culture of care' and 'an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.'"
He evoked principles of corporate social responsibility, and environmental themes which often come under the heading of the B Corp designation. He urged the audience "to put technology 'at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral' (Laudato Si'). In this regard," he added, "I am confident that America's outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead."
Great leaders use dialogue to build bridges.
Quoting from Merton's autobiography, Francis said: "I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers."
Francis honored Merton as "above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions."
Having introduced the importance of dialogue through Merton's example, Franics went on to note that he, as pope was "at the service of dialogue and peace." In his view, he added, a good leader is someone who has the courage to initiate open dialogues:
When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue--a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons--new opportunities open up for all. This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same as irresponsibility. A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism.
Great leaders inititiate action and don't just possess space.
When he spoke of the four inspiring Americans he'd cited--Lincoln, King, Day, and Merton--he evoked the power of dreams. "Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams," he said.
Of course, most entrepreneurs are keenly aware of how dreams can lead to action and commitment. But earlier in his speech Francis issued a more explicit challenge to political leaders that is just as relevant to business leaders: "A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces." In other words, take action that creates dialogue, changes the status quo, and lifts the human spirit.
Ending his speech on a positive, optimistic note, Francis said, "I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of 'dreams.' Dreams which lead to action, to participation, to commitment. Dreams which awaken what is deepest and truest in the life of a people."
You can find a full transcript of Francis's speech here.