May 8, 2013

From John XXIII to Francis

The gentelness of God and the pillars of peace

Published in the magazine New Life (Southern Cone) 9 (2013) 33.35, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Carlos Maria Galli
Doctor of Theology

On March 13, 2013, Francis was elected Bishop of Rome. He came from the end of the world. On June 3, 2013, the 50th anniversary of the death of Pope John XXIII, The Good Pope, will be marked. Right before his death, on April 11, 1963, on his last Holy Thursday, he read the Encyclical Pacem in Terris (PT). The name of the Encyclical itself shows that its message is an echo of the Good News of Christmas: “Glory to God in heaven and on earth peace to men” (Lk 2:14). Kindness, love, mercy, gentleness, and peace are words that express the Gospel and unite the two pontiffs. Both show the humanity of our gracious God. On October 11, in the inaugural speech at Vatican II, John XXIII called for the use of the medicine of mercy. On March 17, 2013, in his first Angelus, Francis called for the discovery of the gentle nature of God. In these two centuries, marked by so much hatred and violence, the pontiffs urge the Church to exhibit a heart full of kindness, to be the Church of Charity.

John and Francis

The two pontiffs have many common characteristics: they were elected at age seventy-six, they combine an approachable personality with firm convictions  and decisions, and they come from modest families. John was born in Sotto il Monte, a rural town in Bergamo, Italy, in the late nineteenth century, while Francisco descends from middle class, Italian-born immigrants who emigrated to Argentina in the thirties. Despite different paths, both were bishops who were close to their people: Angelo Roncalli in Venice (1953-1958), Jorge Bergoglio in Buenos Aires (1998-2013). Their names reflect their intentions. Angelo took the name of John the Baptist, the precursor, and of John the Evangelist, the disciple; Jorge decided to call himself Francisco for the poor of Assisi, one of the men who most resembles Christ. John XXIII was a devotee of Saint Francis and secular Franciscans. With their names, they try to get closer to Blessed Jesus, as John used to call him.

Both began their ministry by responding to the word of the Lord: “I was in prison and you visited me” (Mt 25:36). On Christmas of 1958, John XXIII visited a Roman prison; on his last Holy Thursday, Francis washed the feet of boys and girls in a juvenile reformatory. In a radio message on September 11, 1962, a month before the Council, John XXIII said that the Church in underdeveloped countries should embody “the Church of the poor”. On March 20, before the international press, Francis advocated for “a poor church and for the poor.”

The two have led an austere life that validates their apostolic authority. Poverty, humility, austerity, and service to the poor are all eloquent signs of ecclesiastic credibility. The two popes express universal brotherhood, as well as a call to return to the heart of the Gospel and to promote the reform of the Church. John XXIII was the prophet who called for and initiated the Second Vatican Council; Francis is a Pope who pursues reconciliation and he leads the new evangelization by testimony, service and dialogue. The two draw hopeful crowds and open the Church to the future. Each one, from his historical experiences, encourages ecumenical commitment for unity among Christians and interreligious dialogue with Judaism and Islam. From the papal headquarters at St. Peter and with different challenges, they both assume the cause for peace.

John never came to our country and the current generations do not know him. Francis emerged from Argentina, and everyone is currently discovering him. Paul VI was the first Pope to set foot on North (1965) and South America (1968). John Paul II visited us during the War of the Malvinas, (Falklands, 1982); he led us to the Treaty of Peace and Friendship with Chile (1984), and he initiated the meetings of Assisi for peace (1986). He again visited us in 1987; he was opposed to all wars, and in 2002 he sent the Decalogue of Assisi for Peace to the Heads of State.  All twentieth century popes worked for peace, as they followed the path paved by Benedict XV during the First World War. For thirty years, Roncalli was the papal representative in Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece and France. He had a lively sense of the unity of the human family and a great respect for cultural differences. That was one of the roots of his broad ecumenical spirit. Many witnessed his efforts to save Jewish brothers from the Holocaust. Ever since the future John XXIII continued to contribute to Jewish-Christian dialogue.

His Pontificate (1958-1963) evolved in the middle of the Cold War, which generated heated conflicts in the South. John XXIII sought détente between the superpowers led by J. F. Kennedy and N. Khrushchev. Before the Cuban missile crisis, he called for negotiations to try to avoid atomic warfare. He was convinced that in the nuclear age any war is unjust. For his efforts he received the prestigious Balzan Prize for Peace. Don Loris Capovilla was his secretary from 1953 to 1963. Today he is ninety-seven years old. In November he told me that the Pacem in Terris was originated in October of 1962 when they were facing the Cuban crisis. The text was developed confidentially with the help of Pietro Pavan the theologian. It was the first document addressed not only to Catholics but to “all men of good will.” Hence he sent it to all Heads of State and to UN Secretary General U. Thant. Roncalli had confidence in the ability of reason and the goodwill that God placed in every human being. In its five parts, the Encyclical states that the dignity of the human person is the source of the rights and responsibilities that regulate coexistence (8-34) and that it determines the relations between the citizens and public authorities (35-66) while analyzing the constitution of the democratic and republican State (67-79). In its most innovative section, it provides the principles that guide the relations between the States (80-162), and reflects on peace as a gift of God and a human responsibility (163-172).

The national and international community

John XXIII contributed to the new developments on the subject of national society in the social doctrine of the Church. He postulated that human dignity is the foundation of a fair coexistence; the assumption of modern logic of human rights without its individualistic stamp is meaningless; that there are a variety of rights from the religious freedom to family income; that there must exist a balance between rights and duties; that it is important to found a responsible citizenry; that there exists the natural right to the freedom of movement of all migrants; there is a need to analyze the three important indicators of this time: the raising prominence of women in society, the workers’ rights and the emancipation of all nations; the choice of a democratic political system and the legitimacy of representative authority; the balance between the powers of the three magistrates in a republican system; the need for transparency and control of government’s acts.

His doctrine regarding the international community anticipated considerations of the global era: the recognition of individuals  as subjects of mutual rights and duties; equality between countries without dominant authorities; the right to cultural identity of majorities and minorities; the free trade of goods, services and money according to fair rules; a criticism of the arms race as deterrence strategy through balance of terror (in 1963!), the impracticality of war in the atomic age and the questioning of the just war theory; the standards of creating global institutions with some authority in favor of peace; an active international solidarity that Paul VI developed in the Populorum Progressio of 1967.

The four pillars of peace

The universal ethical core of his doctrine asserts that social peace – national and international – is built on four pillars: truth, freedom, justice, and love. Coexistence “is founded in truth, it should be practiced according to the precepts of justice, and it requires to be invigorated and accompanied by mutual love, while fully respecting freedom” (PT 37). The relations between states “should be regulated by the rules of truth, justice, active solidarity and liberty” (PT 80); these pillars govern the ties between people, between the citizens and the states, and between individuals, families, intermediate communities, individual states and the world community (PT 163). This doctrine has been taught by subsequent Popes, and Benedict XVI recalled it last January 1.

John XXIII made ​another great contribution to political dialogue by distinguishing historical movements and their differences in comparison to original philosophical theories. Reasonable discernment in each circumstance can inspire political agreements between different parties for the common good. He expressed this ideological belief at the time when Aldo Moro Christian Democrats and the

Socialist Party started coexisting in Italy. So too this doctrine can inspire people of good will in our Argentina.

For John XXIII, public authorities are primarily responsible for establishing the foundations of peace. But all the citizens must engage with responsibility for the cause of social peace, which builds up with truth, freedom, justice and love.

Rebuilding social friendship

This peace becomes the core of social friendship, and it is one of the tenets of the commongood.

* Peace is the work of truth and freedom. Truth requires reliable data on poverty and inflation, freedom of information without state or private lies, transparency of state action and funds at the national, provincial and municipal levels, dialogue between the official party and the opposition to solve problems affecting the citizens, recognition of the fact that there was a violation of human rights in the past and that currently there remains violations of the rights of the poorest, a system of political parties that do not become factions, and respect for individual rights before hegemonic states.
* Peace is the fruit of justice and love. It requires a change in the consumerist and individual attitude that encourages private consumption but does not provide necessary public goods. It requires cutting the knots of corruption: in 1995, at the first reelection, I wrote the article Corruption as a Social Sin, demonstrating that corruption always harms the lives of the poor. It involves dropping the language of the military and any confrontation, because the opponents are not enemies. Peace encourages dialogue and collaboration among parties in order to shape state policies based on differences. Since 1973, the philosopher Paul Ricoeur denounced both false reconciliations and conflictive ideologies, in a text entitled The Conflict, Sign of Contradiction or Unity? that is so popular nowadays. This type of ideology reduces political action to a struggle to defeat the enemy by removing him symbolically. Such a policy of death is the death of politics.

From John to Francis

Peace demands respect for the truth, the truth of the past and of the present, free dialogue among the citizenship, social justice and judicial justice, love to ensure more love among us, as the solidarity shown by the people who helped others who were affected by the big flood in Buenos Aires and the surroundings. The pillars of peace are the recognition of truth, the promotion of freedom, the building of justice, and living with love.

John XXIII stated these foundations for peace, included them in the doctrine and passed away in Rome in 1963. A year later, in 1964, a young Jesuit in Buenos Aires, Jorge, began his career as a professor of literature at the College of the Immaculate Conception in Santa Fe, Argentina. Surely, in one of his classes, he must have quoted Martin Fierro, our transcendent national poem, which says ‘the brothers are united’. In 2002, as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he wrote a pastoral letter to educators based on that poem, using it as a symbol of a culture of meeting and a school of civic virtues. Since March 13, 2013 Jorge is called Francesco (Francis). He is the first Pope to take the name of the Saint of Peace.

Translation: IRWF