At a time when there is much antagonism, polarization, pain, and inequity in the world, at a time when socially responsible leadership at all levels of society is lacking and there are “unrestrained ambitions and collective forms of selfishness,” the visit of Pope Francis to the United States is a breath of fresh air. His touch is a light shining in darkness; his voice echoes with compassion, love, and wisdom. Pope Francis’ several speeches—especially in front of a joint session of the U.S. Congress, the United Nations General Assembly, and Independence Hall in Philadelphia—spell nothing short of a treatise on human politics. As head of the Holy See and of Vatican City State, he shifts the focus from the value of power to the power of values, thus enabling the humanization of politics, not the politicization of humanity.
Pope Francis’ ideas, anchored in Catholic social teaching, have universal relevance. Each human being embodies “transcendent dignity” and is entitled to basic freedoms—religious, intellectual, and individual. Paramount is “peace, tolerance, and respect for the dignity and rights of others,” and the adherents of the various religions and others are urged to embody them and promote them. For Pope Francis, the main goal of political activity is not to become all powerful or to aggrandize but to “serve and promote the good of the human person and be based in respect for his or her dignity.” Each citizen and public official has “a mission” and “a personal and social responsibility.”
When addressing America’s Hispanic population in Philadelphia, for example, Pope Francis called upon them “to be responsible citizens and to contribute, like others, with so much resilience before you—to contribute fruitfully to the life of the communities in which you live.” Public officials are urged to be responsible as well, and are obligated “to defend and preserve the dignity of … fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good….” Power cannot be total or unqualified. It must be properly distributed, and supported by the rule of law, so as to actualize fairness and justice. The dignity and rights of others must always be protected. Hence, politics is the means not to disempower or dispossess but to fulfill potential. It is “an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good….” A good political leader is not an absolute sovereign or an immoral prince but a humble shepherd, a servant leader who has “the interests of all in mind,” and who chooses “to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces.” The task of leaders is not to engage in rhetorical flourish and deliver little to nothing on promises, but to have a will that is “effective, practical, and constant” and “concrete steps and immediate measures” to effect positive change.
To actualize humane politics is to live dreams that “lead to action, to participation, to commitment.” It is to shy away from “the simplistic reductionism” that bifurcates human acts into “only good or evil” and human beings into “righteous” or “sinners.” It is to dialogue with others—younger and older, richer and poorer, men and women—so as to sustain “the life of society.” It is to follow the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It is to cooperate for the common good in “a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity.” This spirit of cooperation and reciprocity for the common good must find expressions in creative solutions or remedies to serious challenges facing humanity. Mother Nature, our common home, is suffering because of human activity. An ecological crisis is brewing and the loss of biodiversity is on the rise.
It is people’s minds and hearts that can develop and live a “culture of care,” while directing technology toward a “healthier, more human, more social, more integral” progress. Global inequality runs rampant, backed by unchecked power—financial, political, and otherwise. Poverty, socioeconomic exclusion of the weak and the disadvantaged, and dependence are some of its manifestations. Drug trafficking violates society as it often generates “trafficking in persons, money laundering, the arms trade, child exploitation, and other forms of corruption.”
Correctives for the above ills include more effective institutions, friendly lending systems, right to education, sustainable human development, and spiritual freedom. The scourge of war and the systematic violence against “ethnic and religious minorities” continue to cause untold death and destruction in various regions of the world. The way forward is to “protect and defend human life,” secure Mother Nature, as well as adhere to “the uncontested rule of law and tireless recourse to negotiation, mediation, and arbitration,” as enshrined in the UN Charter.
A critical need in this regard is to stop the spread of arms, especially weapons of mass destruction, which are creating anxiety, tensions, and distrust. The solution is a nuclear-free world, “in full application of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, in letter and spirit, with the goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons.” Pope Francis shares a laudable vision, a roadmap of humane principles and practices. Obviously, he is aware of the complexity of the issues at hand, and the many obstacles that must be overcome to resolve them. Citizens and public officials alike—we—must heed the call so as to journey together toward a better future for all, including Mother Nature!
Saliba Sarsar is Professor of Political Science at Monmouth University and Chair of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation’s Research and Publication Committee.
Source: Catholic News Agency