It was again a pleasure for me to chair the “Faith and Liberty Lifetime Tribute” ceremony and session during the 2019 Estoril Political Forum in Estoril, Portugal. The Forum, a three-day program organized by the IEP (Institute for Political Studies) at the Catholic University of Portugal, attracts almost one hundred academic, think tank, and public intellectuals from both sides of the Atlantic. It is also attended by over one hundred students. It is conducted in association with twenty organizations around the globe, groups as diverse as the Brookings Institution, the Heritage Foundation and the Universidad Francisco Marroquín.
The Faith and Liberty award recognizes people of faith who have had exemplary careers in the defense and practice of liberty. Given that the mission of the Acton Institute is to promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles, it is always a privilege for us to be part of this annual event and learn from our Portuguese peers.
This year’s award went to João Alberto Ferreira Pinto Basto, a businessman with a varied and fruitful career. Educated as a medical doctor, he rose through the ranks at the Vista Alegre Group, and for more than two decades was on the board of Millennium BCP, a leading Portuguese bank. In the nonprofit world, he was president of the Catholic University Youth at the Faculty of Medicine in Lisbon. He was the president of ACEGE (the Association of Christian Entrepreneurs and Managers), within the UNIAPAC federation, headquartered in Paris. In many countries, UNIAPAC groups attract business leaders who are friendly to the Acton Institute’s mission. Just a couple of weeks ago, the President of the Board of UNIAPAC, Rolando Medeiros, attended our Acton University and agreed to provide advice to Acton’s efforts in his native Chile and in other regions as well. In my native Argentina, one of the most esteemed businessmen, Enrique Shaw, was the first president of ACDE (Asociación Cristiana de Dirigentes de Empresa), the UNIAPAC affiliate. The cause for the beatification of this exemplary Christian manager is advancing in the Vatican.
In my short remarks before Manuel Braga da Cruz, former rector of the Catholic University, introduced the speaker, I shared with the audience some of Acton’s work such as The Call of The Entrepreneur, released in 2007. I mentioned that in the Vatican document The Vocation of a Christian Business Leader (2012), there was considerable common ground with Acton’s view highlighting the role of businessmen such as João Alberto Ferreira Pinto Basto.
The award was given on June 26, 2019, the day that the Roman Catholic Church celebrates the feast of Saint Josemaría Escrivá De Balaguer, who stressed that Christians “must particularly cherish personal freedom.” I therefore used the occasion to focus on some of St. Josemaría’s writings on freedom. Echoing Tocqueville, he wrote that only if a Christian defends “the individual freedom of others — with the personal responsibility that must go with it — only then can he defend his own with human and Christian integrity.” In addition to the great supernatural gift of divine grace, the saint stressed “another wonderful human gift, personal freedom.” But cautioned: “To avoid this degenerating into license, we must develop integrity, we must make a real effort to conform our behavior to divine law, for where the Spirit is, there you find freedom.”
He also made a statement that many of us at Acton can use to reflect on our own lives: “Some of you listening to me have known me for a long time. You can bear out that I have spent my whole life preaching personal freedom, with personal responsibility. I have sought freedom throughout the world and I’m still looking for it, just like Diogenes trying to find an honest man. And every day I love it more. Of all the things on earth, I love it most. It is a treasure which we do not appreciate nearly enough” [italics mine].
The efforts of entrepreneurs such as João Alberto Ferreira Pinto Basto to live and practice their liberty and responsibility are never easy, but “God wants us to cooperate with him in this task which he is carrying out in the world. He takes a risk with our freedom.” In a way, St. Josemaría concludes, “God respects and bows down to our freedom, our imperfection and wretchedness.”
Learning to see work, including managerial and entrepreneurial work, as prayer is a truly liberating experience which fills each moment of our lives with purpose. The standing ovation that João Alberto Ferreira Pinto Basto, and his wife of more than 60 years, received was an uplifting moment for all those who value the vocation of business leaders.
(Homepage photo: João Alberto Ferreira Pinto Basto receives the Faith and Liberty Tribute award from Catholic University of Portugal Vice Rector José Manuel Pereira de Almeida and IEP founder João Carlos Espada. Photo credit: IEP.)