U of M economics student to share his perspective this fall at pope’s conference

| March 12, 2020 | 0 Comments

Sergio Barrera pauses for a photo on the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis. Barrera is among 2,000 young economists and entrepreneurs invited by Pope Francis to a conference on the global economy this fall. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

Sergio Barrera is a fourth-year doctoral candidate in economics at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Beyond his educational achievements, he will soon embark on the opportunity of a lifetime.

Barrera, 30, is one of about 2,000 young economists and entrepreneurs from more than 115 countries invited to a  Nov. 19-21 conference on the economy called by Pope Francis. On Nov. 17 and 18, Barrera also will join about 500 others in finalizing details for the gathering.

Titled “The Economy of Francesco,” the conference will be in Assisi, Italy, home of St. Francis, who advocated for the poor and care of the natural world. Originally slated for March 26-28, the conference was rescheduled because of coronavirus concerns.

Barrera, a member of Our Lady of Lourdes in Minneapolis, said he was ready to go this month. On the plus side, in addition to helping prevent spread of the virus, a fall conference will allow his wife, Keilyn, to accompany him, he said.

In a letter issued by the Vatican May 11, 2019, Pope Francis said the conference’s goal is to build and promote a different kind of economy — “one that brings life not death, one that is inclusive and not exclusive, humane and not dehumanizing, one that cares for the environment and does not despoil it.”

“He wants to think of an economy that’s life-giving, inclusive, serves the poor and cares for our planet,” Barrera said.

Pope Francis invited people under age 35 to the conference, writing in his letter, “And above all I trust you young people, capable of dreaming and ready to build, with the help of God, a fairer and more beautiful world.”

Barrera has focused on economics for years — to the point that he realizes he compartmentalized his faith and his professional life in a way that wasn’t healthy. Participation at a 2019 conference in Jerusalem about economics and Catholic social teaching helped remedy that, he said.

“It really allowed me to think about reintegrating these two sides of my life again in a way that was whole and beneficial,” he said. 

While in Jerusalem, he met a priest who told him about the conference in Assisi and encouraged Barrera to apply. 

Barrera said he is not certain how he earned his invitation, but his education, economic research and fluency in several languages probably played a role. Before studying economics, he served five years in the Marine Corps as a linguist.

Barrera said he decided to study economics because he enjoys the field and he saw the difference that economic opportunities made in his family’s life, and the difference it could have made in the lives of people living in some of the poorest regions of the world.

“Growing up as the son of a Mexican immigrant, I learned at a young age the importance of economic opportunities in terms of employment — not only for livelihood but for their ability to enable people to live ‘truly human lives,’ ” he said.

He also saw the effects of a poor economy during his military service in Afghanistan. Because he knows Farsi and a tribal language spoken in Afghanistan, he could talk directly with Afghans and learn more about their circumstances, Barrera said.

“In addition to the violence and war, many people suffered from lack of resources and were motivated … by the need to provide for their loved ones,” he said, “whether they were village elders, politicians, soldiers in the Afghan army or members of the Taliban.”

Barrera said he wants his studies, especially in the fields of labor and education, to contribute to helping others, particularly people on the margins, who want to find their way in the global economy and have opportunities for their families.

Learn more about the conference 

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