Pope Francis assumed the papacy amidst a serious culture problem for the Catholic Church. Viewed as corrupt, antiquated and unable to control its own priests, the Church’s message was received with more than a grain of salt by many. However, the “apostolic exhortation,” released by Francis Nov. 26, deserves universal recognition for its promotion of basic human equality and economic support.

In his 224-page document, Francis condemns the consumer culture that creates unfair disparities by which individuals are systematically dehumanized and deprived of basic goods and services and condemns that these things are accepted as a valid trade-off. He asks questions like, “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” These questions deserve consideration from us all.

The document connects the need to change this world system with biblical values and Catholic social teaching, but Francis’s message isn’t exclusively religious. Calling for better care and compassion for the homeless, unemployed, underemployed, elderly and other disadvantaged groups is a message that students — regardless of faith — should consider.

As university students, we fall within a small minority of educated young people. Regardless of socioeconomic background, being students — and probably future graduates — of the University places us in an advantaged position compared with much of the world. According to the Huffington Post, in 2010, only 6.7 percent of the world had a college degree. We’re among that fortunate small percentage and therefore have an obligation to use some of what we learn here to help others. We’re part of — and near the top — of a complex, global economic system that disadvantages many. Our education gives us the privilege to change it. It’s important that we take that opportunity.

Francis’s document brings much needed attention to a problem that’s often overlooked by world leaders. Endemic poverty often receives very little attention compared to other economic issues, and the global reach of the papacy has already forced the issue back into the international spotlight. After the release of the document, the Pope met with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the welfare of Russian citizens.

The Pope also called for more politicians that are “genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people and the lives of the poor.” And while he didn’t list specific parties or countries that need to make these political changes first, I’d be willing to bet that the United States is on the shortlist.

The document is clearly a step in the right direction for the Catholic Church. The push for greater economic equality is a good move for an institution that spent several centuries as a key player in the detrimental economic system that this document deplores.

But there’s more work to be done. As a Catholic, I’m deeply disturbed by the state of the Church — even now. A deep-seated intolerance for LGBTQ lifestyles is problematic for a new papacy that wants to promote equality, a value that’s not solely economic in nature. In the document, Francis wrote that he isn’t interested in changing the Church’s stance on gay marriage. True equality has cultural, political and social implications, and they all need to be addressed if the Church wants to successfully emerge from the shadows of past scandals.

The document also lacks a specific, credible plan of action that will really shake up a world of economic, political and social unfairness, a culture of massive spending and a lack of appreciation for the lives of the disadvantaged. But that’s our job. Catholic or not, the problem highlighted by the Pope is real and affects us all. Hopefully our University educations will enable us to craft creative solutions to some of the world’s most difficult problems of inequality.

Victoria Noble is an LSA freshman.

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