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Cecilia Shin (in black polka-dot top) convincing a customer to buy the pre-loved hot pot at the Feast of St Padre Pio bazaar in Ulu Tiram, Johor in Sept 2019. This is a typical scene at pre-lockdown feast days. Catholic entrepreneurship is a lot more than this.

What the world needs now is Catholic entrepreneurs

OCT2, 2020: News that Selangor is seeing a spike in Covid cases has just emerged and with it a sense of mild panic. There was also a rumour that Selangor might consider imposing a lockdown – which I doubt will happen, but still a sense of hopelessness is there and I was finding it hard to shake it off. And then I read this:

“Lives have, of course, been the greatest casualty of the disease but to despair and sit on our hands is to forget that there will be life after the virus. For people of faith and ability the question is, could we make life post Covid-19 better than before it? I know we will.”

My faith got the jolt it needed and my eyes shifted to God, the Creator of heaven and earth. Then I continued reading what Dr Adah-Kole Emmanuel Onjewu had to say in his essay called Covid-19, Livelihood, and Our Church published in Hope For Humanity: Spiritual Immunity in a Pandemicised World. (PDF version here)

This is the first publication by CHRISTE, edited by Deacon Dr Sherman Kuek, OFS. The e-book, released on Sept 27, is a compilation of essays and studies by academics and the religious on what we can learn from this global pandemic, personal reflection and how we can move forward in our faith and our lives.

Onjewu, a Nigerian who is lecturing in Business Strategy at the Coventry University in UK, is one of the research fellows of this institute. He talks about the need for Catholic entrepreneurship to emerge and now is the best time.

“Why is Catholic entrepreneurship of importance? Because we can design an economy that serves our divine purpose. Because we can replace public services with religious services in education, health, and social care. Because we can, through our own work, employment, and production, consecrate our ideals of family, compassion, hope, and love in the world. This is our new evangelisation which can no longer be outsourced to the government or our clergy.”

He points out how we have allowed work to order our lives, even our spiritual and sacramental lives, and that we are in essence merely consumers and have little control over our lives. By redesigning our own lives to be producers, we can truly enjoy God’s abundance.

“Sacramental leniency to accommodate work has become the order instead of the other way around because models of employment have been designed by a parallel civilisation that forecloses our faith. We are consumers (both as employees and customers) in the current system rather than producers in it or of it. Our Catholic ministry needs to evolve into production. When we realise that abundance is nature’s way, and that wealth is not a sin but our attachment to it, then the shackles will come off.”

Onjewu says that the gig economy and financial technology firms offer us a template to initiate Catholic entrepreneurship and that we can learn from the methods and business models used by Amazon, Uber and Airbnb which are readily available. “Now is a particularly interesting period to mobilise in the advent of the fourth industrial revolution. Opportunities abound in artificial intelligence, robotics, machine learning, augmented/virtual reality, blockchain and cryptocurrency solutions.”

Onjewu does give a compelling argument that we need to have a crop of Catholic entrepreneurs who think outside the old land-production-capital-labour box and embrace present-day digital-fueled development. However, he could have padded his essay with examples of Catholic entrepreneurship so we know what it looks like. To help us see how we can bring Biblical principles into business operations and how “we can replace public services with religious services in education, health, and social care” which are essentially seismic chances.  

What now needs to be done is to start discussions on how God’s precepts can be translated in today’s business world.

Dr Pauline Leong’s research talks about social media usage among Catholics during the lockdown and the emerging Catholic media in Malaysia. Her study is called Communicating Faith Digitally During Covid-19: An Overview of the Catholic Community in Peninsular Malaysia. She is associate professor, specialising in political communication, at Malaysia’s Sunway University.

Her respondents talked about: how the lockdown gave the time, that was earlier lacking. for faith-building; how non-believers could also participate in online masses, opening the door to evangelism; the lure of overseas online masses and faith formation classes; the platforms they used for faith-formation; and the online sites which were their main sources of information and updates on masses, announcements and such.

Leong also talked about the Catholic media that emerged during the lockdown – Catholics@Home, Catholics Go Live! and also Journey With Us which has been around for more than a year.

Deacon Sherman has the last say in this e-book that also has personal reflections from different writers. In his essay, he talks about the grip modern capitalism has on our lives. He also says that now that the pandemic is breaking down the mechanism which perpetuates greedy accumulation of wealth, people are suffering.

“Many are suffering because they have no money to pay for all the debts they have incurred over the years, and at a more basic level, they have no money to support their daily survival and that of their families. Christians too are not spared, for many of us have become complicit in this capitalistic system and its doctrine of continuous acquisition.”

He ends by talking about the hope that we, believers of Jesus Christ, have. The only thing that can keep us going at a time like this.