Media CenterCRS President Carolyn Woo Remarks on Pope Francis' Encyclical
Read the full text of Dr. Woo’s remarks or watch the video below.
“What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to the children who are now growing up?” Catholic Relief Services President & CEO Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo asked at the Vatican press conference launching Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, "Laudato Si'" or "Praised Be."
One of five presenters in Rome at the launch of the widely anticipated document, Dr. Woo was dean of the Mendoza School of Business at the University of Notre Dame before coming to CRS in 2012. She reflected on the meaning and message of the encyclical for business.
“While this encyclical points out major challenges, and I think heartbreaking evidence of devastation and destruction from our collective action, I actually take it as a very hopeful document because it talks about the potential for us to reverse the course and, particularly, also the potential of business to do the right thing,” she says. “It actually invites business to be part of the solution, reminds us that business can be a noble vocation. You know a lot of people think of business as a necessary evil. This is an invitation to business to be a necessary good—and the choice is up to us.”
Joining Dr. Woo as presenters were Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, climate expert Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Metropolitan John Zizioulas of the Eastern Orthodox Church and Valeria Martano of the lay Catholic community of Saint’Egidio. The encyclical takes its name from the title of a poem written by the pope’s namesake, St. Francis of Assisi. Called in English “The Canticle of the Sun,” in it St. Francis speaks of brother sun and sister moon praising the Creator.
Dr. Woo has often noted that the climate change Pope Francis decries in the encyclical is an important issue as the 70-year-old humanitarian agency she heads deals with its effects every day, whether from changing rain patterns that impact subs istence farmers in Africa or more powerful storms taking unexpected routes in Asia or crop failures because of rising temperatures in Central America.
“The pope warns us about the dangers of short-term thinking and a selfish mindset … that the focus on the short term is self-defeating,” Dr. Woo says of the encyclical’s message to business. “If we stop investing in people in order to gain short-term financial gain, it is bad business for society and, if the pope allows me to add one line, I would say it is actually bad business for business also.”
Dr. Woo also says that the encyclical calls for sustainable development. “That is development that does not put economic growth as the only metric,” she says. “Unlimited growth at the cellular level causes cancer. Unlimited growth in economy and society will cause us to run into planetary boundaries."
“So we need to rethink the priority we give to unlimited growth. That in the end it might actually do us harm rather than give us growth," she says.
Dr. Woo says many business leaders are now recognizing that sustainability can be a win-win situation. “They recognize the cost that comes with catastrophic failures, whether they are coastal disasters or what we see in California right now, where there is not enough water for agricultural production,” Dr. Woo says. “We have also seen the benefits in terms of increased efficiency, reduced uses of resources and materials, acceptance of customers and increased morale of employees. So the pope is absolutely right to remind us that investing in sustainability is a prudent economic decision in addition to all the other moral reasons.”
She notes that no one should be left out as businesses succeed. “The pope reminds us that development must be inclusive,” Dr. Woo says. “What that means is that everyone should gain from it, not just some people, and particularly not at the cost of others.”
Dr. Woo concludes by saying, “We have to remember that business is not just an economic undertaking, it is a human enterprise. Because it is a human enterprise, business must be by the people and for the people, and that if it is business as usual, not many of us will be around to really enjoy its benefits.”