In a recent seven-paragraphed short document dated December 8, 2018, His Holiness Pope Francis had ventured on highlighting the topic of politics as the central theme of his January 1 customary Peace Day Message for this New Year 2019. Continuing in the tradition launched by Pope Paul VI who introduced the International Day of Peace in 1968 with a message to all men and women of goodwill, inviting them to celebrate January 1 as a “Day of Peace”, Pope Francis had broached on this controversial subject for very good reasons in order to insist on politics as a service to peace based on ensuring social justice to all and respect for human dignity without any distinction and that, in the context of various political situations that are in vogue around the world at the moment as we enter the new year.
Politics - A service for Peace
He says: “We know that the thirst for power at any price leads to abuses and injustice. Politics is an essential means of building human community and institutions, but when political life is not seen as a form of service to society as a whole, it can become a means of oppression, marginalization and even destruction”. These adverse manifestations can be seen all over the world in its many forms judging from the kind of politics that is concretely being practiced today. Reflecting further, Pope Francis sees political activity as a social action that is inspired by the Christian virtue of charity. We know very well that this concept is not just a matter of compassion or indeed even of sympathy or empathy. If from charity, it is directly linked to the love of God that boomerangs in the love we have for our neighbour, whoever or in whatever condition that neighbour may be.
To quote him directly: “Political office and political responsibility thus constantly challenge those called to the service of their country to make every effort to protect those who live there and to create the conditions for a worthy and just future. If exercised with basic respect for the life, freedom and dignity of persons, political life can indeed become an outstanding form of charity. When animated by charity, commitment to the common good has greater worth than a merely secular and political stand would have…Man’s earthly activity, when inspired and sustained by charity, contributes to the building of the universal city of God, which is the goal of the history of the human family. This is a programme on which all politicians, whatever their culture or religion, can agree, if they wish to work together for the good of the human family and to practice those human virtues that sustain all sound political activity: justice, equality, mutual respect, sincerity, honesty, fidelity”.
"Pope Paul VI who introduced the International Day of Peace in 1968"
Pope Francis makes us take note of the so-called vices in politics that make this noble profession lose its social value and deprives it of its eminent lustre as had been exhibited by great and noble statesmen of yore in the modern history of international politics. In his own words: “Sadly, together with its virtues, politics also has its share of vices, whether due to personal incompetence or to flaws in the system and its institutions. Clearly, these vices detract from the credibility of political life over all, as well as the authority, decisions and actions of those engaged in it. These vices, which undermine the ideal of an authentic democracy, bring disgrace to public life and threaten social harmony.
Going into specifics, the Pope states: “We think of corruption in its varied forms: the misappropriation of public resources, the exploitation of individuals, the denial of rights, the flouting of community rules, dishonest gain, the justification of power by force or the arbitrary appeal to raison d’état and the refusal to relinquish power. To which we can add xenophobia ,racism, lack of concern for the natural environment, the plundering of natural resources for the sake of quick profit and contempt for those forced into exile”. Thus he has given us the full litany of modern evils that scar politics and depriving thereby the people of the immensely large quantum of benefits and blessings that can be accrued from the just exercise of political power and authority as a genuine and noble service to society at large.
Peace and Justice Issues today
Referring to modern evil of intimidation of others, Pope Francis observes very strongly that we are more conscious than ever of the terrible lesson taught by fratricidal wars: peace can never be reduced solely to a balance between power and fear. He is courageous enough to state that: “To threaten others is to lower them to the status of objects and to deny their dignity. This is why we state once more that an escalation of intimidation, and the uncontrolled proliferation of arms, is contrary to morality and the search for true peace. Terror exerted over those who are most vulnerable contributes to the exile of entire populations who seek a place of peace. Political addresses that tend to blame every evil on migrants and to deprive the poor of hope are unacceptable”.
"Thirst for power at any price leads to abuses and injustice"
Directly linking political activity with social peace, the Pope states that: “Peace, in effect, is the fruit of a great political project grounded in the mutual responsibility and interdependence of human beings. But it is also a challenge that demands to be taken up ever anew. It entails a conversion of heart and soul; it is both interior and communal”. He explains how the experience of peace is many faceted with each facet running into the other: “It has three inseparable aspects:– first, peace with oneself, rejecting inflexibility, anger and impatience; in the words of St. Francis de Sales, showing “a bit of sweetness towards oneself” in order to offer “a bit of sweetness to others”; second, peace with others: family members, friends, strangers, the poor and the suffering, being unafraid to encounter them and listen to what they have to say; third, peace with all creation, rediscovering the grandeur of God’s gift and our individual and shared responsibility as inhabitants of this world, citizens and builders of the future.
Some Significant Gestures
His peace letter begins with the following observation: “We know that the thirst for power at any price leads to abuses and injustice. Politics is an essential means of building human community and institutions, but when political life is not seen as a form of service to society as a whole, it can become a means of oppression, marginalization and even destruction”. We know that politics calls for great sense of responsibility since it concerns the life of people and that for politicians, their genuine, sincere and authentic service is not only just a matter of duty but one of conscience and moral concern. Good politicians are an asset to the people as they journey towards social peace and material prosperity while bad politicians are the bane of the people for they will certainly fall short of the ideals and the hopes that people at large have placed in them.
It is a very serious and morally reprehensible breach of trust, the bad effects of which will disrupt the entire social fabric of a people or a country. If politicians are genuinely committed to the service of the people and be catalysts in their journey to economic prosperity, social cohesion working towards building political stability, the path to progress of a country is clearly assured. Bad politics will disrupt peace, create divisive conditions and stagnate growth. It is therefore the bounden duty of the people to choose good politicians to ensure their common good and all-round well-being. Pope Francis’s reflection on politics as a service to peace is a timely theme for all who are engaged in this noble profession to give it a serious thought.
"Sadly, together with its virtues, politics also has its share of vices, whether due to personal incompetence or to flaws in the system and its institutions"
In his annual New Year address to the Diplomatic Corps this January 7, the Pope came back to this peace message with the words: “There is a close relationship between good politics and the peaceful coexistence of people and nations. Peace is never a partial good, but one that embraces the entire human race. Hence an essential aspect of good politics is the pursuit of the common good of all, insofar as it is “the good of all people and of the whole person and a condition of society that enables all individuals and the community as a whole to achieve their proper material and spiritual well-being. Politics must be farsighted and not limited to seeking short-term solutions. A good politician should not occupy spaces but initiate processes; he or she is called to make unity prevail over conflict, based on “solidarity in its deepest and most challenging sense”. Politics thus becomes “a way of making history in a life setting where conflicts, divisions and oppositions can achieve a diversified and life-giving unity”.