Monday, 2 September 2013

Pope Francis appeal: "Humanity needs to see these gestures of peace and to hear words of hope and peace!"

Reuters would appear to be carrying the story: Pope asks other faiths to join day of prayer for peace in Syria. So far as I can tell, the main stream news outlets in the UK are still running with the build up to American led attacks on Syria. [UPDATE: The Times is reporting the Pope's appeal on an inside page.] The BBC news front page, for example, is here (but if you are reading this retrospectively it will obviously have changed).

The full English text of Pope Francis address at the Angelus yesterday, Sunday 1st September 2013, is at the Vatican website. Reading the Italian text alongside the English is worthwhile, since there is a certain force expressed in the Italian grammar that does not quite come through in the English - though that is powerful enough in itself. Do read it in its entirety, and also watch the CTV video report that is linked from the page with the text.

This Angelus address strikes me as being one of those moments that will be seen as a key moment of Pope Francis' pontificate. It is an impassioned plea for peace and an unqualified condemnation of the evil of war, and in particular of the use of chemical weapons.

Pope Francis words ...
War never again! Never again war! Peace is a precious gift, which must be promoted and protected.
... have a profound echo of Pope Paul VI speaking to the United Nations in October 1965:
..jamais plus la guerre, jamais plus la guerre! C'est la paix, la paix, qui doit guider le destin des peuples et de toute l'humanité!  [War never again! War never again! It is peace, peace, that must direct the future of peoples and of all humanity!]
It is tempting to think that an appeal such as this from the Pope is unrealistic and will not have any influence on events that are instead being determined by major political powers. However, history has, many years after the event, revealed the influence that a similar appeal made on the radio by Pope John XXIII had on the leader of the Soviet Union, Nikita  Kruschev, at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis: John XXIII and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The other major content of Pope Francis Angelus address was his call for a day of prayer and fasting on Saturday, for peace in Syria, the Middle East and throughout the world:
I have decided to proclaim for the whole Church on 7 September next, the vigil of the birth of Mary, Queen of Peace, a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and throughout the world, and I also invite each person, including our fellow Christians, followers of other religions and all men of good will, to participate, in whatever way they can, in this initiative.

On 7 September, in Saint Peter’s Square, here, from 19:00 until 24:00, we will gather in prayer and in a spirit of penance, invoking God’s great gift of peace upon the beloved nation of Syria and upon each situation of conflict and violence around the world. Humanity needs to see these gestures of peace and to hear words of hope and peace! I ask all the local churches, in addition to fasting, that they gather to pray for this intention.
At another level, Pope Francis Angelus address can be studied as an exercise of the Papal Office, both ad intra, towards the Church and ad extra, towards the whole world. Ad intra, he has called the universal Church to a time or prayer, fasting and penitence in repentance for the evil of war that is committed and threatened at a particular moment in time. In this context, the use of an inclusive "we" in the wording of the address, a use which does not remove the fact that moral responsibility for the use of chemical weapons rests with those immediately involved, indicates at the same time a certain duty of penance for others. As Pope Francis indicates, citing John XXIII's encyclical Pacem in Terris, it brings to the fore that the building of peace is a responsibility at the level of the individual human person in relation to his or her neighbour, and so involves all of us, not just those immediately involved in the events of warfare.

Ad extra, the Angelus address is an activity of diplomacy on the part of the Holy See, and it is quite fascinating to analyse it in this context. No doubt it is also being followed up by activity on the part of the Papal representatives in different parts of the world. The use of the language of an inclusive "we" has a completely different significance seen in this context. It has allowed Pope Francis to condemn evil actions with all due force whilst at the same time not naming names. The moral condemnation of those responsible for the use of chemical weapons is unmistakeable; and the urgency of the appeal against foreign interventions is equally clear.

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