File photo of Pope Francis at a weekly General Audience File photo of Pope Francis at a weekly General Audience  (VATICAN MEDIA Divisione Foto) Editorial

With Peter, always

Our Editorial Director reflects on the 11th anniversary of Pope Francis’ election to the papacy and his constant calls for the world to follow the path of mercy and peace.

By Andrea Tornielli

In the deafening silence of diplomacy, in a landscape marked by the increasingly evident absence of political initiative and leadership capable of betting on peace, while the world has begun a mad race to rearm, allocating sums that would suffice to ensure basic healthcare twice over for all the inhabitants of the earth and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the lone voice of Pope Francis continues to plead for weapons to be silenced and call for the courage to foster paths of peace.

The Pope continues to call for a ceasefire in the Holy Land, where the ruthless massacre of October 7 carried out by Hamas terrorists was followed by the tragic carnage that continues to be perpetrated in Gaza.

He continues to call for weapons to fall silent in the tragic war that erupted in the heart of Christian Europe, in Ukraine destroyed and martyred by the bombings of the aggressor Russian army.

He continues to invoke peace in other parts of the world where conflicts are fought with unspeakable violence, the forgotten conflicts that make up increasingly large pieces of a global conflict.

The Bishop of Rome enters the twelfth year of his pontificate in a dark hour, with the fate of humanity at the mercy of rulers incapable of assessing the consequences of their decisions, who seem to surrender to the inevitability of war.

With clarity and realism, he says that "he is stronger who sees the situation, who thinks of the people," that is, "who has the courage to negotiate," because "negotiating is a courageous word," of which one should not be ashamed.

Pope Francis, challenging the misunderstandings of those both near and far, continues to place the sanctity of life at the centre of attention, expressing closeness to innocent victims and denouncing the dirty economic interests that move the strings of wars cloaked in hypocrisy.

A quick look at these last eleven years of history makes clear the prophetic value of Peter's voice. The alarm, first raised two decades ago, about the third world war fought piecemeal.

The social encyclical Laudato si' (2015) showed how climate change, migrations, wars, and an economy that kills are interconnected phenomena that can only be addressed through a global perspective.

The great encyclical on human fraternity (Fratelli tutti, 2020) pointed the way to building a new world based on fraternity, once again removing any excuse for abusing the name of God to justify terrorism, hatred, and violence.

There is also the constant reference in his magisterium to mercy, which weaves the entire fabric of a missionary pontificate.

In secularized, "liquid" societies that lack certain foundations, nothing can be taken for granted, and evangelization – teaches Pope Francis – begins anew from the essentials, as read in Evangelii gaudium (2013): “We have rediscovered the fundamental role of the first announcement or kerygma, which needs to be the centre of all evangelizing activity and all efforts at Church renewal… The centrality of the kerygma calls for stressing those elements which are most needed today: it has to express God’s saving love which precedes any moral and religious obligation on our part; it should not impose the truth but appeal to freedom; it should be marked by joy, encouragement, liveliness and a harmonious balance which will not reduce preaching to a few doctrines which are at times more philosophical than evangelical. All this demands on the part of the evangelizer certain attitudes which foster openness to the message: approachability, readiness for dialogue, patience, a warmth and welcome which is non-judgmental.”

The testimony of mercy, therefore, represents a fundamental element of this "saving love of God" which is "prior to moral and religious obligation."

In other words, those who have not yet come into contact with the Christian reality, as Pope Benedict XVI had already lucidly observed in May 2010, will hardly be struck and fascinated by the affirmation of norms and moral obligations, by the insistence on prohibitions, by the meticulous lists of sins, by condemnations, or by nostalgic appeals to the values of the past.

At the origin of welcome, closeness, tenderness, and accompaniment, at the origin of a Christian community capable of embracing and listening, there is the echo of mercy that has been experienced and that one seeks – despite a thousand limitations and failures – to return.

If we read with these eyes the Pope's gestures, even those that have provoked in some the same scandalized reactions that Jesus' gestures provoked two thousand years ago, one discovers their profound evangelizing and missionary force.

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13 March 2024, 08:59