I had the opportunity last week to attend a portion of the Napa Institute conference in Rome and participate in several interesting meetings at Santa Croce University. My trip started with attending Pope Francis’ Sunday mass in St. Peter’s Square, from which I’ve included some pictures below.

Businesspeople who believe they face complex issues should compare their challenges to those faced by the Catholic Church! Take a moment to reflect on the challenges of leading a global institution that has existed for nearly 2,000 years with 1.2 billion members!! This is exactly what Pope Francis is doing.

At the conference we had very open discussions with several cardinals and bishops on Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, “Laudato Si” (Praise Be to You), subtitled “On Care for Our Common Home”. In the encyclical, Pope Francis “critiques consumerism and irresponsible development, laments environmental degradation and global warming, and calls all people of the world to take ‘swift and unified global action.'” Our discussions with the clergy proved to be a great example of the need for “balance” when examining issues and “understanding all perspectives”. On one hand, it can be argued that in a free market economy like the U.S., there exist substantial economic, social, and environmental challenges. Clearly there are areas of the free market system that are far from perfect and require a certain amount of government intervention.

However, we also engaged in a wonderful dialogue with Cardinal Turkson from Ghana on how free market principles can work to eliminate poverty and provide every human being with dignity in accordance with the teachings of the Gospels. In the past 10,000 years, I don’t believe anyone has come up with a better economic system, and we can make a list of the many failed attempts at alternative systems. Also, it is helpful to look at the progress that has been made. For example, farmers around the world have significantly increased their productivity in the past century as a result of free markets and entrepreneurship. Look at the work of the One Acre Fund as a wonderful example of “teaching a man to fish rather than giving him a fish”.

Yes, “balance” is definitely required….no system is perfect. Each of us who has been fortunate is called to provide for those less fortunate and treat each human being with dignity. How we do that is a matter of personal conscience. Governments can help, but we must make sure that “well-intentioned” welfare systems don’t result in providing less dignity than more dignity.

I was very impressed by all of the participants’ willingness to truly listen to one another and consider what each of us can do to truly make the world a better place.