By Mario Galgano
This year’s World Economic Forum is once again taking place in Davos, Switzerland, with the global situation completely changed since the last “in person” meeting two years ago.
“Everywhere you hear about crises. The world is somehow in crisis mode,” says Father Kurt Susak, the local Catholic pastor, in an interview with Vatican News.
In the face of challenges such as the climate crisis, various financial crises, energy crises, or supply change issues, among others, Fr Susak says he has the impression that WEF participants are “quite consciously” banking on this year’s conference “presenting solutions.”
He goes on to say, “This World Economic Forum would somehow also lose its credibility and legitimacy if this meeting did not now also present solutions that are recognizable to the people and lead to an improvement in the many conflicts and challenges.” He noted that during the conference, the local Catholic community in the village of Davos is praying for that same intention.
‘Working together in a fragmented world’
The motto of the World Economic Forum for 2023 is “Working together in a fragmented world.” Father Susak remarks that we all experience this fragmentation, both “globally and personally”, adding, “We also experience fears, fears for the future.”
With regard to Russia’s war against Ukraine, he says there is a “real danger of a third world war,” and that, from that perspective, “the Church has a very important, central, and hopeful message here.”
“We should live unity in diversity, but then also, diversity in a unity,” he says. “And this ideal, this we of the Church in Davos also accompany with our prayer, which is more urgently needed than ever.”
Silence and Prayer
Father Susak recalls how, twenty-five years ago, a pastoral assistant in Davos created a “wonderful format”: the so-called “Silence and Prayer,” which gathered people together to pray precisely for the intention that good decisions might be made for a more just and peaceful world,” he explains.
This “Silence and Prayer” format is once again being embraced, under the aegis of the Association of Christian Churches in Davos.
“Catholics, Reformed Christians, and evangelical churches are invited to pray together in the evenings, to seek solutions starting from the Gospel.” In times past, the church in its diversity, in its moral theology, and in its social ethics, has repeatedly found ‘wonderful answers’ to the challenges of different ages. “It is only necessary to call them to mind again and again,” says Fr. Susak.
In the past, the Vatican has sent representatives of the Church to the World Economic Forum every year. In recent years, Cardinal Peter Turkson or Cardinal Michael Czerny, and once even Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, were present for the WEF in Davos.
This year, for the first time, the Vatican has not sent any official representatives or cardinals to the event. “That, I think, is something of a statement that Rome is making to the World Economic Forum,” Fr. Susak says. He speculated that it could be related to the fact that Pope Francis, in one of his most recent messages to the WEF, said: “Everything has been said, now act; that’s what it’s all about.”
Father Susak is clear that critical voices have been raised concerning the Davos meeting. He notes that everything is overpriced; there is an enormous amount of traffic with accompanying traffic jams and long waiting times; and says the usual way of life in the area is seriously disrupted during the time of the WEF.
At the same time, “the enormous economic costs” associated with the World Economic Forum and the necessary security arrangements – which are borne by the Swiss federal government, the canton, and the municipality – are also called into question. Fr. Susak explains that people wonder “whether it is worth the cost, whether it is necessary, and what the ultimate outcome of the meeting should be.”
He also notes complaints that many things are not done transparently, that many things are discussed and debated behind closed doors, and that very little ultimately is made public.
Positive side of the WEF
For a part of the local population, however, the whole thing also has a positive aspect. The schools, for instance, have several days of skiing on the schedule during the week.
“This always gives the students a great deal of pleasure. I’m always amazed at what the people of Davos come up with during the holiday,” Fr. Susak says. Previously, Christmas was associated with Christmas and ski tourism, he said. “Before that, work is done, preparations are made, all the security measures are organized, carried out. The hotel industry, the restaurant industry, the craft companies, everything is working at full speed. And this testifies to the great cohesion that Davos presents here.”
From the WEF to “The Economy of Francis”: Father Susak recalls that one of the purposes of Pope Francis’ project is to promote “an economy” that “should serve peace and not war”; that “preserves creation and does not plunder it”.
In other words, “an economy in which care replaces casting things aside and indifference,” Fr. Susak explains. And, he adds, an economy in which finance is a friend and ally of the real economy and labour, and not its enemy.
This, he says, is not a utopian dream. “If each individual does his or her part, then the economy of today and tomorrow can become an economy of the Gospel,” says Fr. Susak. “I hope this will be possible at this WEF, in this challenging year, in this changing of the times with all the crises.”