San Juan Capistrano, California

by Rachel de Souza

As a Canadian and a Catholic coming from a background in the health care sector, the Acton Institute Toward a Free and Virtuous Society conference in San Juan Capistrano was very helpful in providing me with several new perspectives.

A few months ago, I left the practice of physical therapy to return to university and start my MBA degree. I moved from an environment where weakness and vulnerability was met with compassion and sincere efforts of helping others so that they would be able to help themselves, to an environment that rewards achievement, competition and exclusivity. In the transition to the business world, there has been little emphasis on service, personal integrity or virtue. Although it is fashionable in the post-Enron world, to speak of “corporate governance,” “business ethics” and “social responsibility,” the requirements of human behavior upon which the corporate identity rests are rarely mentioned. The TFAVS readings, lectures and discussions offered a different perspective. I was introduced to the view that the business world is an arena where persons exercise their economic freedom so they may grow in virtue to help themselves and others.

This view is increasingly foreign to current Canadian thinking on political and economic questions. Canada is a country in which our generous state-funded programs are proving to be unsustainable, yet private entrepreneurial initiatives are not encouraged. Policies proposing alternate models are criticized as favoring the wealthy. The idea promoted by Acton – that an economic system placing greater responsibility on free enterprise rather than government control – is an argument that needs to be heard not only in the wider spheres of politics, economics and business but also among individuals who must be convinced of our own personal responsibility to our fellow man.

The weekend conference also gave me a beautiful introduction to Christian Anthropology which can answer such fundamental questions as Who is the human person? What is liberty? What is a human right? Is there objective truth? There was time to think, discuss and gain further understanding into these searching questions. Rich and cohesive answers were explored. The failings of secularism were laid bare. More than anything, the conference impressed upon me that freedom is FOR the truth, not FROM the truth. This has given me a better ability to engage others in discussion here, in Canada, where same-sex marriage legislation is currently before the Parliament and has been presented as a “fundamental human rights issue.”

Other topics of interest over the weekend included the role of the Church in Civil Society, Private Charity, Theories of Government and Meeting the Needs of the Poor and Globalization. The international flavor of my fellow TFAVS participants was invaluable in enriching the discussion on these topics. Those from countries beyond North America shared their experience and helped us to understand the particular challenges in their own countries be it Chile, Nigeria or Ethiopia.

The ecumenical aspect of the conference also allowed a fruitful sharing of our common Christian experience. The mutual respect among Catholics, Evangelicals, Lutherans and Baptists and others was inspiring and fostered an environment of learning. Especially rewarding for me was the opportunity to interact with articulate, like-minded individuals, many of whom are in preparation for the ordained ministry.

My fellow participants, bolstered by the encouragement from the speakers, confirmed the fact that there is reason for hope in the future. We left the conference with the generous gift of more books that will deepen our knowledge in the subjects introduced throughout the weekend. We bid our new friends goodbye, strengthened by the conviction that Christians must continue, each of us in our own way, to PROPOSE, not IMPOSE the truth.

Thank you to the Acton Institute for their work and for the conference. The weekend of February 17-20, 2005 is one I will not soon forget.

Rachel de Souza completed her honours degree in physical therapy at Queen's Univeristy in Kingston, Ontario, Canada in 1996. After several years of clinical work, primarily in outpatient orthopedics, she started an MBA degree at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada in 2004.