EDMONTON — An economist and a philosopher got together with teachers and businesspeople to take steps toward building a civilization of love.
“One person at a time can make a difference in the world,” said Marc Sanscartier, a teacher enrolled in the May 28-29 workshop on economies of communion at Newman Theological College.
Sanscartier was impressed with what he learned about Chiara Lubich, founder of the worldwide Focolare movement.
“Chiara Lubich started this movement when she was working in Sao Paulo, and she saw the poverty of the people living in the slums. This movement now encompasses five million people.”
The philosopher, Jim Penna of Saskatoon, and the economist, University of Alberta business prof Mark Anielski, spoke of Focolare’s efforts to promote the ideals of unity and brotherhood.
Focolare has sometimes been compared with communism. But while communism and socialism emphasize individuals being subordinate to the group, that’s not the case with Focolare.
The economy of communion is closely related to pre-Babylonian Jewish ethics that includes both individual entrepreneurship and shared responsibility.
“There is this very powerful notion of relation, but a relation modeled on the person of Jesus,” said Penna.
“This is central to what Pope Benedict is saying and it’s central to the Focolare movement. What is it I see in my neighbour? I see Jesus, and I try to manifest Jesus in myself so my neighbours see Jesus.”
As businesspeople or neighbours show this reciprocal, loving relationship with each other, Jesus is present in their midst, he said.
The workshop centred on the notion of a civilization of love promoted by recent popes. Pope John Paul II once said: “Only a humanity in which there reigns the ‘civilization of love’ will we be able to enjoy authentic and lasting peace.”
Penna and Anielski opposed the civilization of love to the civilization of consumerism and the maximization of profits, two notions predominant in developed nations, including Canada.
About 15 students from various walks of life attended, including a lawyer, university professor and schoolteachers.
“Even as children we’re taught to play to win,” said Anielski. “In business, play to win, play for keeps. Don’t consider the impacts of your actions on the well-being of others.”
Anielski shared a quote on the secret of happiness, “To want what you already have and to live the life you have already been given.”
Instead of striving for more stuff and more money, one should be grateful for what one already has, he said.
Workshop participant Sharon Pasula had concerns about the notion of Jesus being present in the midst of reciprocal, loving human relationships.
Pasula was concerned that a total surrender to God would result in her losing her identity, something she has struggled to gain. She was against the idea of having God overwhelm her, and blot out her own existence.
“I want to be who God wants me to be and I want them to see Jesus, so there are two of us. But if I ever cease to exist, who would I be?” asked Pasula.
“I don’t think that’s a Christian thought from my perspective, and that really sounds scary to me. I have been dealing with self-identity my whole life.”
Penna countered by saying, “When you are immersed in the love of God, we are like hot coals in a fire. We are not the fire, just the hot coals. As God takes over, we sort of lose our identity in the fire but we still remain who we are.”
The workshop explored Focolare-inspired concepts such as spiritually-based entrepreneurship, reciprocity, cooperative business practices and a culture of love.
“Some of these concepts in the course are the wave for the sustainability of our whole planet. Some of these concepts, we need to start living them,” said Pasula, a non-Catholic who is vice president of the Metis Regional Council.
Sanscartier enrolled in the course to earn credit for his graduate diploma in religious education “and continue my growing process.”
“I am learning something new about the economy of communion, so it’s opening me up more to the way we’re supposed to live as Christians,” he said.
Sanscartier hopes to develop a greater connection with underpaid farmers.
“In southern Mexico and South America, the farmers are being paid $2 a day and they’re having a hard time surviving. Yet over here we have an overabundance of products,” he said.
“We need to be more caring about what it is that’s going on in the farming industry. What is our impact?”
Canadians buy food in supermarkets, and most do not know who produced that food and under what conditions, he said. Buying food locally, we know who produced it and we know the people here are getting fair wages.
Local consumers are compounding problems in other parts of the world when they buy food from countries that do not have fair regulations on wages.