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Pope Francis gives a surprise TED Talk, calls for a ‘revolution of tenderness’

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VANCOUVER — Pope Francis used an international forum dedicated to promoting cutting-edge ideas to spread his own revolutionary message: “We all need each other.”

“When there is an ‘us,’ there begins a revolution,” the world’s most powerful religious leader told the room of scientists, academics, tech innovators, investors and cultural elites in a surprise videotaped message at the international TED conference Tuesday evening.

Keeping with the intent of the week-long conference to share strategies to make the world better, Francis’s contribution to that conversation was to urge the people gathered here to use their influence and power to care for others.

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

When Francis appeared on screen, the room erupted in applause, and one woman exclaimed, “No way.” Though he wasn’t standing center stage in front of TED’s signature red blocks letters, but rather seated at a desk at the Vatican, his speech had all the hallmarks of a TED Talk. His began with a personal narrative and wove in big ideas around hope, inclusion and starting a “revolution of tenderness.”

He shared that he often wonders “why them and not me?” when he travels the world meeting with the poor and the sick — society’s “discarded people.” That question drives his belief that it is the responsibility of the fortunate to take care of those who are less so.

“First and foremost, I would love it if this meeting could help to remind us that we all need each other, none of us is an island, an autonomous and independent “I,” separated from the other, and we can only build the future by standing together, including everyone,” the pope said. “People’s paths are riddled with suffering, as everything is centered around money, and things, instead of people. And often there is this habit, by people who call themselves “respectable,” of not taking care of the others, thus leaving behind thousands of human beings, or entire populations, on the side of the road.”

Pope Francis has gained fans even among the nonreligious for speaking out on issues like poverty, immigration and the environment. According to a Pew Research Center poll, more than 70 percent of people without a religious affiliation view him favorably. He’s also known for his media savvy: he has 10 million followers on Twitter alone, and regularly records videos for specific audiences. But the TED world, with its heavy focus on science and technology, is an interesting choice and signals his willingness to spread his message far and wide.

Bruno Giussani, TED’s international curator who organized the pope’s talk, said it took more than a year of asking and several trips to Rome to make it come to fruition.

“In this complicated and often confusing world, Pope Francis has become possibly the only moral voice capable of reaching people across boundaries and providing clarity and a compelling message of hope,” Giussani said.

The pope’s TED talk dovetailed with another religious leader who spoke here on Monday evening. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks suggested substituting the word “self” with the word “other.” “Instead of self-help, other-help. Instead of self-esteem, other-esteem,” he said. “We can face any future without fear so long as we know that we won’t face it alone.”

This theme of inclusion comes at a time when a growing number of politicians all over the world are promoting isolationism and fear of the other. As is his style, Francis referenced what is going on in the world, but with subtlety. “Thank God, no system can nullify our desire to open up to the good, to compassion and to our capacity to react against evil, all of which stem from deep within our hearts,” he said.

But he also did not shy away from criticizing “techno-economic systems,” which he said, “are now putting products at their core, instead of people.”

“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,” he said to more applause. “If you don’t, your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other.”

Near the end of his remarks, the pope told the TED conference goers, many of them founders of major companies or start-ups, that “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.'”

Sarah Pulliam Bailey contributed to this article. 

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