PONTIFICATIONS

Pope Francis Gives a TED Talk—and a Warning

Among the pieties, some down-home wisdom for world leaders: Power is ‘like drinking gin on an empty stomach.’

ROME—It wasn’t exactly your usual TED talk with the narrator moving suavely around a carpeted stage, a radio mic poised at his cheek. Instead, in what was Pope Francis’s first TED talk, the pontiff stared into a fixed camera in a very Italian ornate chair in front of a not-so-neatly-arranged book shelf that looked entirely like it might have come from IKEA.

“Good evening,” he said, as his talk beamed to the surprised audience in Vancouver who had not expected to hear the perorations of a pontiff. “Or good morning, I’m not sure what time it is there.”

The theme of TED2017 is “The Future is You,” which touches on favorite themes for Francis. He used the opportunity to warn that commercialism and products should not rule the development of technology, which could be used to make people’s lives better, not replace the human touch. And to warn politicians not to get punch drunk on power.

He first compared himself to the many migrants and refugees of today, explaining that he was also the son of Italian immigrants to Argentina and wondering if he could have ended up like so many who are now living in the margins.

“I often find myself wondering: ‘Why them and not me?’ I, myself, was born in a family of migrants; my father, my grandparents, like many other Italians, left for Argentina and met the fate of those who are left with nothing. I could have very well ended up among today's ‘discarded’ people,” he said. “And that's why I always ask myself, deep in my heart: ‘Why them and not me?’.”

He then moved on to the importance of the development of new technology. “How wonderful would it be if the growth of scientific and technological innovation would come along with more equality and social inclusion,” he said. “How wonderful would it be, while we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters orbiting around us.”

Francis then embraced one of his favorite themes: changing the culture of waste. “Only by educating people to a true solidarity will we be able to overcome the ‘culture of waste,’ which doesn't concern only food and goods but, first and foremost, the people who are cast aside by our techno-economic systems which, without even realizing it, are now putting products at their core, instead of people.”

Midway through his 18-minute talk, he introduced another favorite theme: hope. “To Christians, the future does have a name, and its name is Hope. Feeling hopeful does not mean to be optimistically naïve and ignore the tragedy humanity is facing,” he said. “Hope is a humble, hidden seed of life that, with time, will develop into a large tree. It is like some invisible yeast that allows the whole dough to grow, that brings flavor to all aspects of life.”

“A single individual is enough for hope to exist, and that individual can be you. And then there will be another ‘you,’ and another ‘you,’ and it turns into an ‘us.’ And so, does hope begin when we have an ‘us?’ No. Hope began with one ‘you.’ When there is an ‘us,’ there begins a revolution.”

Francis, who will be taking a lightening-speed trip to Egypt on Friday, considered by a many a very dangerous trip, then ended with remarks he hoped the world leaders would take to heart. He wasn’t specific, but his listeners in Vancouver—and around the globe—could make their own inferences.

“Please, allow me to say it loud and clear: the more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more responsible you are to act humbly. If you don’t, your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other,” said Pope Francis.

“There is a saying in Argentina: ‘Power is like drinking gin on an empty stomach.’ You feel dizzy, you get drunk, you lose your balance, and you will end up hurting yourself and those around you, if you don’t connect your power with humility and tenderness.”

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“The future of humankind isn't exclusively in the hands of politicians, of great leaders, of big companies. Yes, they do hold an enormous responsibility. But the future is, most of all, in the hands of those people who recognize the other as a ‘you’ and themselves as part of an ‘us.’ We all need each other.”