Catechesis of the General Audience of S.S. Francisco

By: Pope Francis

Audiencia General de este 23 de septiembre

Dear brothers and sisters, it seems that the weather is not very good, but I say good morning to you anyway!

To get better out of a crisis like today, which is a health crisis and at the same time a social, political and economic crisis, each of us is called to take its share of responsibility, that is to say share responsibility. We have to respond not only as individuals, but also from our group of belonging, from our role in society, from our principles and, if we are believers, from faith in God. But often many people cannot participate in the reconstruction of the common good because they are marginalized, excluded or ignored; certain social groups fail to contribute because they are drowned economically or politically. In some societies, many people are not free to express their own faith and values, their own ideas: if they express them they go to jail. Elsewhere, especially in the Western world, many self-suppress one’s own ethical or religious convictions. But that way you can’t get out of the crisis, or in any case you can’t get any better. We’ll get worse.

In order for all of us to participate in the care and regeneration of our peoples, it is right that everyone has the right resources to do so (cf. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church [CDSC], 186). After the great economic depression of 1929, Pope Pius XI explained how important the principle of subsidiarity was for true reconstruction (cf. Enc. Quadragesimo anno, 79-80). Such a principle has a double dynamism: from top to bottom and from bottom to top. We may not understand what this means, but it’s a social principle that makes us more united.

On the one hand, and especially in times of change, when individuals, families, small associations or local communities are not able to achieve primary goals, then it is right that the highest levels of the social body, such as the state, intervene to provide the necessary resources and move forward. For example, due to coronavirus confinement, many people, families, and economic activities have found themselves and are still in serious difficulty, so public institutions are trying to help with appropriate social, economic, health interventions: this is their role, what they must do.

But on the other hand, the vertices of society must respect and promote intermediate or lower levels. In fact, the contribution of individuals, families, associations, businesses, all intermediate bodies and also the Churches is decisive. These, with their own cultural, religious, economic or civic participation resources, revitalize and strengthen the social body (cf. CDSC, 185). That is, there is a collaboration from top to bottom, from the central state to the people and from the bottom up: from the formations of the people upwards. And this is precisely the exercise of the principle of subsidiarity.

Each must have the possibility of taking responsibility for the healing processes of the society of which he is a part. When a project that refers directly or indirectly to certain social groups is activated, they cannot be left out of participation. For example: “What are you doing? “I’m going to work for the poor. “How pretty, and what are you doing? “I teach the poor, I tell the poor what to do.” “No, this doesn’t work, the first step is to let the poor tell you how they live, what they need: Let everyone talk! So the principle of subsidiarity works. We cannot leave these people out of participation; their wisdom, the wisdom of the humblest groups cannot be set aside (cf. He exhorted ap. postsin. Dear Amazon [QA], 32; Enc. Laudato si’, 63). Unfortunately, this injustice is often verified where great economic or geopolitical interests are concentrated, such as certain extractive activities in some areas of the planet (cf. QA, 9.14). The voices of indigenous peoples, their cultures and world visions are not taken into consideration. Today, this lack of respect for the principle of subsidiarity has spread like a virus. Let us think of the major financial aid measures carried out by States. Big financial companies are heard more than people or those that move the real economy. Multinational companies are heard more than social movements. Wanting to say this in the language of ordinary people: we listen more to the powerful than to the weak and this is not the way, it is not the human way, it is not the path that Jesus has taught us, it is not to realize the principle of subsidiarity. Thus we do not allow people to be “protagonists of the rescue itself”[1]. In the collective subconscious of some politicians or some trade unionists is this motto: all for the people, nothing with the people. From top to bottom but without listening to the wisdom of the people, without implementing this wisdom in solving problems, in this case to get out of the crisis. Or let’s also think about how to cure the virus: large pharmaceutical companies are heard more than health workers, who are engaged on the front line in hospitals or refugee camps. This is not a good way. Everyone has to be heard, the ones upstairs and the ones below, all of them.

To get better out of a crisis, the principle of subsidiarity must be implemented, respecting the autonomy and initiative capacity of all, especially the latter. All parts of a body are necessary and, as St Paul says, those parts which might seem weaker and less important are actually the most necessary (cf. 1 Cor 12:22). In the light of this image, we can say that the principle of subsidiarity allows each to assume one’s own role for the care and destiny of society. Applying it, applying the principle of subsidiarity gives hope, gives hope for a healthier and fairer future; and this future we build together, aiming for the greatest things, broadening our horizons [2]. Either together or it doesn’t work. Either we work together to get out of the crisis, at all levels of society, or we’ll never get out. Getting out of the crisis doesn’t mean giving a brushstroke of varnish to current situations to make them seem a little fairer. Getting out of the crisis means changing, and true change is done by all the people who make up the people. All professionals, all of them. And all together, all in community. If they don’t all do, the result will be negative.

In a previous catechesis we have seen how solidarity is the way out of the crisis: it unies us and allows us to find solid proposals for a healthier world. But this path of solidarity needs subsidiarity. Some may say to me, “But Father is speaking with difficult words today! But that’s why I’m trying to explain what it means. Solidarity, because we are on the path of subsidiarity. In fact, there is no true solidarity without social participation, without the contribution of the intermediate bodies: families, associations, cooperatives, small businesses, expressions of civil society. Everyone must contribute, everyone. Such participation helps to prevent and correct certain negative aspects of globalization and action by States, as is also the case in the care of people affected by the pandemic. These contributions “from below” should be encouraged. But how nice it is to see the volunteers’ work in the crisis. Volunteers who come from all over the social parties, volunteers who come from well-to-do families and come from the poorest families. But all of them, all together to get out. This is solidarity and this is the principle of subsidiarity.

During confinement, the gesture of applause for doctors and nurses and nurses was spontaneously born as a sign of encouragement and hope. Many have risked their lives and many have given their lives. Let us extend this applause to every member of the social body, to everyone, to each, for his valuable contribution, however small. “But what can that one do over there? “Listen to him, give him room to work, consult him.” We applaud the “discarded”, those who call this culture “discarded”, this culture of discarding, that is, we applaud the elderly, children, people with disabilities, we applaud workers, all those who put the the service. Everyone’s working together to get out of the crisis. But let’s not just stop at the applause! Hope is bold, so let’s encourage ourselves to dream big. Brothers and sisters, let’s learn to dream big! Let us not be afraid to dream big, seeking the ideals of justice and social love that are born of hope. Let us not try to rebuild the past, the past is past, new things await us. The Lord has promised, “I will make all things new.” Let us encourage ourselves to dream greatly in search of these ideals, let us not try to rebuild the past, especially the one that was unjust and already sick. Let us build a future where the local and global dimension enrich each other—each one can do their part, everyone must give their share, their culture, their philosophy, their way of thinking—where the beauty and richness of the smaller groups, also of the discarded groups, can flourish because there is also beauty there, and where those who have the most commit to serving and giving more to those who have less.

Then, as he greeted the Spanish-speaking pilgrims, the Pope said:

Dear brothers and sisters:

The current crisis is not only health crises but also social, political and economic crises. To get out of it we are all called, individually and collectively, to assume our own responsibility. But we note, however, that there are people and social groups who cannot participate in this reconstruction of the common good, because they are marginalized, excluded, ignored, and many of them without freedom to express their faith and values.

The Word of God we have heard reminds us how all parts of the body, without exception, are necessary. In the light of this image of St Paul, we also see how subsidiarity is indispensable, because it promotes social participation, at all levels, which helps to prevent and correct the negative aspects of globalization and the action of governments.

Therefore, the way out of this crisis is solidarity, which needs to be accompanied by subsidiarity, which is the principle that encourages everyone to play their part in the task of caring for and preparing the future of society, in the process of regenerating the peoples to which it belongs. No one can stay out. Injustice caused by economic or geopolitical interests must end, and give way to equitable and respectful participation.

Saludo del Santo Padre a los fieles presentes
Saludo del Santo Padre a los fieles presentes

I cordially greet the Spanish-speaking faithful. There are so many of them today! These days are five years of my apostolic journey to Cuba. I greet my Brother Bishops and all the sons and daughters of that beloved land. I assure you of my closeness and prayer. I ask the Lord, through the intercession of Our Lady of Charity of Copper, to free and relieve them in these times of difficulty that they go through because of the pandemic. And to all, may the Lord grant us to build together, as a human family, a future of hope, in which the local dimension and the global dimension enrich each other, beauty flourishes and a present of justice is built where everyone commits to serve and share.

God bless you all.


[1] Message for the 106th World Migrant and Refugee Day 2020 (May 13, 2020).

[2] Cfr. Address to the youth of the Padre Félix Varela Cultural Center, Havana – Cuba, September 20, 2015.

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