The New Peripheries. Geopolitics and Evangelization

 

 By Antonio Spadaro, S.J.

In January 2016 during the traditional annual meeting with the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, the pope mentioned mercy 8 times. And he said clearly: “Mercy was the common thread linking my Apostolic Journeys in the course of the past year.” 

And in his Message for the 50th World Communications Day Francis said: “Our political and diplomatic language would do well to be inspired by mercy, which never loses hope.”

This clearly shows the strong links Francis sees between his vision of the world, international politics, diplomacy and mercy. So here are some important questions on this matter:

  • How can mercy be understood as a form of political and diplomatic action?
  • What does “diplomacy of mercy” mean within the pontiff’s geopolitical vision?
  • How does it unfold in his apostolic voyages?

For Francis mercy is not an abstract concept. It is the action of God within the life of this world: in societies, in human groups, in families and individuals. God not only acts through the lives of individual people, but through the historical processes of peoples and nations. Even the most complex and intricate ones.

The Church itself is described by Francis as being fully part of our cities, its borders demarcated only by the permeable, flexible, tent-like walls of a “field hospital.”

What, then, does mercy as a political category mean? We could say: never consider anyone or anything as definitively “lost” in relations between nations, peoples, and States. This is the heart of the political significance of mercy.

 

My address to you today seeks to spell out the geopolitical significance of Francis’ diplomacy of mercy through some specific aspects in his vision.

1. An “incomplete” and “open” diplomacy

The dynamic of mercy obliges us – even conceptually – to operate in a way that allows for “open thought” or “incomplete thought” as Pope Francis defined it when I interviewed him in 2013 for Civiltà Cattolica.

Addressing the writers of our magazine on an occasion to mark our 4000th issue, the pope told us: “the crisis is global.” And he added: “Only truly open thought can face the crisis, understand where the world is going, and handle the most complex and urgent crises.” Open thought is flexible thought; it understands the situations as they are taking place and knows how to evaluate meaning and consequences, even beyond appearances.

There are countless situations where the Holy See has given a major contribution to international politics using this “open thought.” 

 

I. Consider, for example, how important is for the Holy See not to fall into the trap of putting Sunnis and Shiites, Riyadh and Teheran, as the opposing forces and taking one or other sides.

We recall, among other things, that the Iranian president was received by the pope on January 26, 2016. The Vatican’s Press Office drew attention after the meeting to “the important role that Iran is called to carry out, together with other countries in the region, to promote adequate political solutions to the problems hitting the middle East, countering the spread of terrorism and arms sales.” With Iran the Holy See has established regular diplomatic relations, which instead do not exist with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. However, it should be remembered that on 22 November 2017 Pope Francis received an official delegation from the Saudi Kingdom led by Dr Abdullah bin Fahad Allaidan – adviser to the Minister of Islamic Affairs, – and composed of about ten representatives of the Ministry of the Interior, Justice, Culture and the Media. We read on the website of the Embassy of Arabia to Italy that “The delegation conveyed the senses of the Kingdom’s deep esteem to His Holiness for the noble positions taken and for the declarations in which the Holy Father calls for peace and coexistence, rejecting any link between religion and extremism.

II. Or think of Francis’s desire for a bridge with Xi Jinping’s China, symbolized by the bridge in airspace that has allowed the pope to fly over the territory of the People’s Republic on three occasions.

An important element of the journey to Myanmar and Bangladesh in December 2017 was the fact that the pope was the first to consider explicitly the new role that China wants to have – and already has – in the international context. This is a fact that Francis himself summarized during the press conference returning to Rome from Dhaka with these words: it’s true that China today is a world power: if we look at it from this side, it can change the panorama.”

Besides, we know all too well that we cannot think about peace in the world without considering the role played by China. In our age, with our commercial wars and inflamed souls, this reflection attains even greater value.

The signing of a provisional agreement between the People’s Republic of China and the Holy See was announced by the Press Office of the Holy See on September 22, 2018.

The agreement between China and the Holy See is radically and essentially pastoral. The aim is to let the Church better preach the Gospel without losing itself in internal conflicts that could be overcome with the goodwill of all concerned. Certainly, this agreement also represents a message of hope in a world where conflict and fear dominate the horizon.

We should not see the agreement as a point of arrival, but as a starting point. There are no automatic guarantees the quality of Chinese Catholic religious life will improve. The challenges remain, but certainly the process of remodeling the relationship between the two parties is a positive one for Chinese Catholics. 

III. Another important action to remember is the improvement in relations between Cuba and the North American continent. This is how the Cardinal Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, described Francis’ engagement in this case: “The Pontiff did not want to rewrite history, but to move it forward.”

IV. Or again, the way the Holy See has contributed to the historic peace between the government of Colombia, and its longstanding guerrilla groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN).

V. We saw also this process of peace and reconciliation at work in the case of the Rohingya. In his trip to Myanmar, he wanted «to hold ever present the building of the country», as he said on the return flight.  Because of this, he knew how to talk about the Rohingya — and a lot! — in a way to be listened to, without sharpening tensions and provoking restrictions or polarizations that would have only complicated their situation. And then he encountered them in Bangladesh, face to face: 16 people, who he listened to and with whom he asked to pray.  There he was able to call their ethnic group by name.

As these and other cases show, the pope’s position consists not in saying who is right and who is wrong, for at the root of all conflict is a fight for power or regional dominance, or what the pope calls a “vain pretext.” There is no need to take sides for moral reasons.

This is the lesson we can learn from this open thought: the pope rejects the mixing of politics, morals and religion that leads to the use of a language that divides reality between the absolute Good and the absolute Evil, between an axis of evil and an axis of good, between goodies and baddies. For Francis the history of the world is not a Hollywood movie, in which “our boys” come to save us from “those people.” He knows there are always different interests at stake, and that different sides act out of standpoints that are usually morally ambiguous.

Pope Francis wants to meet the major players in the action, to create an encounter in which all sides can think together seek the greater good, exercising a soft power that is the specific characteristic of his international politics.

An example: In the afternoon of November 27th, Francis accepted receiving privately the highest military authority, General Min Aung Hlaing, with whom he spoke about the situation of the country in this time of transition. The Pope knows perfectly that a politics of national reconciliation cannot avoid also involving the military of the government, and this is why he accepts — if asked — to meet all the parties involved. Here’s the Pontiff’s comment about that meeting: «Speaking, you lose nothing, you always gain». And he clarified: «I did not negotiate the truth, I assure you. But I did it in such a way that he understood a bit that a path, as it was in the bad times, renewed today, is not navigable». The meeting corresponds to the logic of Bergoglio: accepting it, if it is requested by one side involved in a conflict, and always considering «dialogue more important than suspicion».

2. A geopolitics that dissolves fundamentalisms and fear of chaos

Francis never gives into the temptation to identify religion with fundamentalism. The pope is light years away from the theorists of a “clash of civilizations.” and religions.

What underlies the persuasive temptation for a spurious alliance between politics and religious fundamentalism? Fear of chaos. Indeed, it functions thanks to the chaos perceived.

The political strategy for political success becomes one of amplifying the rhetoric of conflict, exaggerating disorder, agitating the souls of the people by painting worrying scenarios that bear no relation to reality.

This is why Francis is carrying forward a systematic counter-narrative to the narrative of fear. There is a need to fight against the manipulation of this era of anxiety and insecurity. In his address to the Korean Council of Religious Leaders Francis said: “we are called to be heralds of peace, proclaiming and embodying a nonviolent style, a style of peace, with words clearly different from the narrative of fear, and with gestures opposed to the rhetoric of hatred.”

Francis is courageous here in giving no theological-political legitimacy to terrorists, while avoiding any reduction of Islam to Islamic terrorism. Nor does he give credence to those seeking a “holy war”.

Francis even manages in a provocatively Gospel manner to describe terrorists as “poor criminal folk.” It is an expression that expresses at the same time condemnation and compassion. Francis used it when meeting the refugees and young disabled persons at the Latin Catholic church in Bethany, May 24, 2014. In the background we see the sinner – here the terrorist – as the “prodigal son” and never as the incarnation of the devil. He makes the singular affirmation that stopping an unjust aggressor is not only a right for the community, but it is also a duty towards the aggressor in the sense that he has a right “to be stopped from doing evil.” In this way we see that reality has a double perspective: it includes the enemy and does not exclude the enemy’s own greater good.

The love typical of the Christian is not only love for the “neighbor,” but also love for the “enemy.” When we look at those doing evil through the eyes of pietas, then what triumphs is something that is humanly inexplicable – and perhaps also “scandalous.” It is the force of the Gospel of Christ: love of our enemies. This is the triumph of mercy.

3. A geopolitics that does not see Catholicism as a political guarantor of power

Francis strongly resists also the allure of Catholicism seen as a political guarantor, “the last empire,” inheritor of a glorious past, pillar against the decline seen in the crisis of global leadership in the Western world.

He removes Christianity from any temptation to continue to be the heir to the Roman Empire. Sacerdotium is clearly separated from imperium. Francis empties spiritual power of its temporal baggage, its rusty armor and rotten breastplates. And he gives back to God his true power, which is the power to integrate. This is the unique, true power of God. 

Francis recalled this in his meeting with the US bishops: be careful not to fall into the temptation of confusing “the power of strength with the strength of that powerlessness with which God has redeemed us.” And “never make of the Cross a banner of worldly struggles.” Bergoglio wants to liberate pastors from the feeling of being at war, “surrounded and dismayed” under a sort of “Masada complex” by which the Church feels enclosed by a society it must fight against. The so-called “Benedict option”, as Rod Dreher describes the withdrawal of the Church into enclaves, would be an error, just as it is an error to be nostalgic for “bygone times” by preparing “harsh responses” today.  So there is a clear difference between:

  • a “Constantinian” theopolitical imperial vision that seeks to establish a divine Kingdom here and now, where the divine is obviously just the ideal projection of the established power.
  • a “Franciscan” theopolitical vision that is eschatological, that is it looks to the future and intends to guide history toward the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice and peace.

The first vision generates an ideology of conquest. The second vision generates a process of integration.

The pope on May 9 in an interview with the French daily La Croix said: “Yes, Europe has Christian roots. Christianity has the duty of watering them, but in a spirit of service as in the washing of feet. The duty of Christianity for Europe is that of service.” And again: “The contribution of Christianity to a culture is that of Christ washing the feet, or the service and the gift of life.”

So Francis firmly opposes a Catholicism understood as the last empire, the last surviving and glorious heir to the past while the Western world faces a crisis of leadership. Bergoglio knows that when the “chosen people” becomes a “party” it enters into an intricate web of religious, institutional and political dimensions that makes it lose the meaning of its universal service and sets her up against those who are far off, who do not belong, who are the “enemy.” Being “party” creates an enemy: we need to escape this temptation.

 

4. A diplomacy of the peripheries 

What vision does the pope have of the world? Normally maps and globes offer us a global vision. Which Atlas does Pope Francis look to? I’ll give a real example to describe it: his European travels. Has he visited Paris, London, Berlin or Madrid? No.

The itinerary of his travels on the European continent began with Lampedusa – “gateway to Europe” – and Albania, a land that is not yet part of the European Union and has an Islamic majority. From these peripheries the pope passed through the center, that is Strasburg and the European institutions, before visiting other borders: Turkey, Bosnia, Lesbos, which is another tragic European “gateway.” And his travels continued to the South Caucasian region, lands of ancient Christian roots at the edge of Europe, where its heart is beating and the injuries are open and still bleeding.

His route has been strongly directed eastwards: Poland, Lettonia, Estonia and Latvia and Bulgaria, North Macedonia and Romania. So he touched Europe through its wider eastern borders.

And he went on to Lund in Sweden, Fatima, not the capital Lisbon, Geneva and Dublin for specific events not for visiting the Countries.

Francis sees how the world’s heart beats by putting his hand on the extremities, the pulse, where the blood can be felt pumping. Francis is like a doctor who seeks to understand if the heart works by observing if and how blood reaches around the body, examining the circulation in the limbs.

To understand better what Francis mean for peripheries, let us read what Francis declared in an interview released to La Carcova News, a popular magazine produced in an Argentinian villa miseria: “When I speak of the peripheries, I speak of borders. Normally we move in spaces we somehow or other control. This is the center. When we move out from the center and away from it, we discover more things and when we look at the center from these new things we have discovered, from the new places, from these peripheries, we see that reality is different.” Francis provided an example: “Europe seen from Madrid in the 16th century was one thing, but when Magellan reached the end of the American continent, he saw Europe from another perspective and understood something else.”

5. Field-hospital diplomacy 

Bergoglio’s travels follow this route through the peripheries. And these places are also those of open wounds. Apostolic journeys allow the pope to touch open wounds with his own hands, carrying out a therapeutic gesture.

In fact, Francis touches barriers as if they were the head of a sick person. He wants to touch the injured lands one by one. He does not want to give a speech that is general and abstract and valid always and everywhere. This is why in his journey to the Holy Land he touched the injuries of the wall of Bethlehem, placing his head on it in prayer. He did so to heal. And the same gesture he carried out at Auschwitz on the wall of executions. When the pope touched the wall of the church in Cairo where innocent Christians had died, the blood was clear to see. 

Francis explained the importance of “healing” in his address to the US Congress: “Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice. We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises.”

This is what happened when Francis visited Korea speaking neither of North or South, but of a country united by a “mother tongue.” This is why he visited Sarajevo, as we mentioned, and also Albania and Lampedusa, to which he donated the Crucifix he had received from Raul Castro in Cuba. This is why he visited Lesbos. This is why he flew over the Florida Straits that both separates and unites Cuba and the United States. The pope had to touch these open wounds where mercy must take on political form. This is why he wanted to visit Bangui, despite the strong diplomatic and journalistic pressure applied on him and on those organizing the visit. But we think too of Sri Lanka where for years the Sinhalese and the Tamil groups have fought a fratricidal war. And the pope has touched the Christian roots of Europe in the ancient lands of the south Caucasus, touching with hands the open wounds between Georgia and Russia and between Armenia, Turkey and Azerbaijan.

We recall the voyage to Mexico and the stop in Ciudad Juarez at the US-Mexican border. The papal altar was 80 meters from the border. Behind the pope was Mexico, before him was the United States. And people were gathered there, behind a dividing fence to listen to Mass. The wall became a virtually crossed bridge.

The pope travels to touch injuries and place his hands on those injuries, as Christ placed his hand on the wounds of his time. This is the deeper meaning of the diplomacy of mercy.

In a few days Pope Francis will fly to Thailand and Japan. The theme of Pope Francis’s Visit to Japan is «Protect all life» quoted from the Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’. The theme is related to life and peace, economy, environment and relations with neighboring countries. Recovery from natural catastrophes and nuclear plant accidents is still a priority.

Pope Francis will meet atomic bombing victims, survivors of the earthquake and tsunami and nuclear power plant explosion in northern Japan (2011). Japan is a place of great natural beauty. But, nature can also be unexpectedly dangerous, with volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis and typhoons floods.

Pope Francis will address a message about «protecting all life» to support your sensitivity about postwar nuclear “allergy” and about the environmental issues. He could also affirm the concerns for the marginalized of society and the problems of immigrants.

We know that the fight against the proliferation of nuclear weapons is a very urgent topic for Pope Francis. Pope Francis “not only condemned the use of nuclear arms” but also their “possession,” in an address he gave in 2017. This journey would also mark the path toward the 2020 International Nuclear Non-Proliferation Conference. International peace and stability cannot be based on a false sense of security, on the threat of mutual destruction or total annihilation, or on simply maintaining a balance of power. Peace must be built on justice, on integral human development, on respect for fundamental human rights, on the protection of Creation, on the participation of all in public life, on trust between peoples, on the support of peaceful institutions, on access to education and health, on dialogue and solidarity.

6. A diplomacy of solidarity

So Bergoglio’s experience and understanding of history stop him from being an abstract pacifist and ideologue. He knows that “pure” peace does not exist and that humanity will always face conflict. Conflict cannot be eliminated either from human relations or from international relations. Indeed, peace itself “entails real and true battles” (Pope Francis, Angelus, January 1, 2016.) be won.

Peace, for Bergoglio, means acting on the most delicate areas of international politics in the name of the outcast and the weak. So peace initiatives in a world living a dramatic “piecemeal third world war” – there are more than thirty around the world – must always be connected to the two great social themes that concern the pope: social peace and social inclusion of the poor. Armed conflicts have their roots in these issues.

For example, Pope Francis focused on the theme of migration many times, as it produces outcasts, abandonment and vulnerability. 

As he said in his trip to Colombia, «recourse to real reconciliation cannot merely serve to accommodate unjust situations». Francis does not want to propose a “peace” understood as “tranquillity” at the cost of ignoring the injustices and defense of the poor. The eschatological power of his vision stops the pontiff from proposing even a “false neutrality that is an obstacle to sharing.” (Pope Francis, Homily, Mass of January 1, 2016). Returning to Saint Paul VI’s Populorum progressio, he knows that a “peace which is not the result of integral development will be doomed; it will always spawn new conflicts and various forms of violence” (EG 219). 

So here we see emerging a political name for mercy: solidarity, understood as a commitment and responsibility for the common good of our globalized world.

And this is also the approach that the pope has had since the beginning with President Donald Trump, with whom Francis has always sought to build strong bonds of peace and solidarity. He had done it since the beginning in a telegram offering best wishes when Trump took office as the 45th president of the USA. Francis had written: “I offer you my cordial good wishes and the assurance of my prayers that Almighty God will grant you wisdom and strength in the exercise of your high office.” And he went on: “Under your leadership, may America’s stature continue to be measured above all by its concern for the poor, the outcast and those in need who, like Lazarus, stand before our door.”

So here we see emerging a political name for mercy: solidarity, understood as a commitment and responsibility for the common good of our globalized world.

7. Diplomacy as expression of human fraternity

Perhaps the trip of Pope Francis that is most emblematic to understand his geopolitical vision based on the Gospel was to Abu Dhabi. Here emerged the fundamental and warm core of his vision of human brotherhood that is the fruit of faith that we are all children of God. 

At 1 p.m. on February 3, 2019, Pope Francis flew to the United Arab Emirates for his 27th apostolic journey. It was the first visit of a pontiff to the Arabian Peninsula, so close to the holy places of Islam: Medina and Mecca.

The occasion for the trip to the United Arab Emirates was the Global Conference of Human Fraternity, promoted by the council. Before the arrival of the pope, 500 religious leaders from all over the world had already joined together. They had discussions in 21 workshops with 60 presenters, and 30 involving Christians, Jews and other Muslims.

The pope signed there a document with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmad el-Tayeb.

The grand imam first visited Francis on May 23, 2016. And el-Tayeb welcomed the pope during the apostolic visit to Egypt on April 28-29, 2017, on the occasion of the International Conference for Peace, organized by Al-Azhar and the Muslim Council of Elders. The pontiff was described by his host as “Great guest and dear brother.”

The year 2019 marks the 800th anniversary of the meeting between Francis of Assisi with Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil, nephew of Saladin. The memory of this embrace from the past has become today the icon of a possible future.

“There is no alternative,” the pope said on that occasion: either “the civility of encounter” or the “incivility of conflict.” Future generations have to develop as trees that are well rooted in the soil of history, which, “growing up high and next to others,” transform “the polluted air of hate into the oxygen of brotherhood.” And it is precisely this “oxygen” that is the linchpin of the document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Coexistence, signed by the pope and the imam, February 4, in Abu Dhabi.

In this document we note that the two leaders express themselves “in the name of God,” but they do not posit theological premises. They begin with the experience of their meeting and the fact that various times they have shared “the joys, sorrows, and problems of our contemporary world.” It is the situation of the world – and not a theoretical setting of interreligious dialogue – that has pushed Francis and el-Tayeb to say something together that may be a “guide for future generations to advance a culture of mutual respect in the awareness of the great divine grace that makes all human beings brothers and sisters.”

There is already here an important point about method: encounter is born from listening to reality. For this reason, the two leaders speak “in the name of” the poor, orphans, widows, and embattled peoples, that is, the throwaways of the world. But, also “in the name of” liberty, justice, mercy, and all persons of good will.

The recognition of fraternity changes our perspective. It turns it upside down and becomes an important religious and political message. Not by chance, this brings us immediately to reflect upon the meaning of “citizenship”: we are all brothers and sisters, and therefore all are citizens with equal rights and duties; under its shade all enjoy justice. What disappears therefore is the idea of a “minority,” which brings with itself the seeds of tribalism and hostility that sees in the face of the other the mask of the enemy.

The pope and the grand imam have taken a decisive step toward overcoming resentment and ideological pitfalls. They have beaten down the walls built by cultural warriors who crave a clash of civilizations thanks to an ideological reductionism of religions. The foundation of all is seen in a single expression: “The faith brings the believer to see in the other a sister or brother to support and love.”

The Catholic Church shows itself to be today, in our broken world, a powerful geopolitical factor for mending and regeneration based on the fundamental and universal values of fraternity.

It is time to draw our conclusions…

It is time to draw our conclusions. Francis is a pope who takes up courageous positions, sometimes risky ones, under a specifically diplomatic perspective. Traditional Vatican prudence can give way, under Francis, to parrhesia, made of frankness, clarity and sometimes challenging statements. It is enough to think of his criticism of speculative financial capitalism, the memory of the Armenian “genocide,” the further formalization of relations with Palestine. 

This is not a classical diplomatic approach that can provide the interpretative key to the world political vision of Francis. His visionary gaze has suggested the possibility of a new global role for Catholicism.  

As one ambassador has noted, “Benedict used the language of western modernity that recognized a pluralism of worldviews in contemporary society while denouncing the ‘dictatorship of relativism.’ Francis, while facing up to the many challenges of cultural modernity, challenges the dominant process of social and economic polarization spreading across the globe with increasing intensity and marked progression.”

My address to you tonight has sought to spell out the geopolitical significance of Francis’ diplomacy of mercy through some specific aspects in his vision. 

These aspects are the faces of today’s hope, a hope for our world that faces mounting tensions and troubles, yet finds in no one political leader the hope it needs to deal with them. In his geopolitical vision and diplomacy, Francis offers us paths to another future, ways that refuse to let conflict have the last word, ways in which God comes alongside our hurting world.

 

“There is no alternative,” the pope said on that occasion: either “the civility of encounter” or the “incivility of conflict.” Future generations have to develop as trees that are well rooted in the soil of history, which, “growing up high and next to others,” transform “the polluted air of hate into the oxygen of brotherhood.” And it is precisely this “oxygen” that is the linchpin of the document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Coexistence, signed by the pope and the imam, February 4, in Abu Dhabi. 

In this document we note that the two leaders express themselves “in the name of God,” but they do not posit theological premises. They begin with the experience of their meeting and the fact that various times they have shared “the joys, sorrows, and problems of our contemporary world.” It is the situation of the world – and not a theoretical setting of interreligious dialogue – that has pushed Francis and el-Tayeb to say something together that may be a “guide for future generations to advance a culture of mutual respect in the awareness of the great divine grace that makes all human beings brothers and sisters.” 

There is already here an important point about method: encounter is born from listening to reality. For this reason, the two leaders speak “in the name of” the poor, orphans, widows, and embattled peoples, that is, the throwaways of the world. But, also “in the name of” liberty, justice, mercy, and all persons of good will. 

The recognition of fraternity changes our perspective. It turns it upside down and becomes an important religious and political message. Not by chance, this brings us immediately to reflect upon the meaning of “citizenship”: we are all brothers and sisters, and therefore all are citizens with equal rights and duties; under its shade all enjoy justice. What disappears therefore is the idea of a “minority,” which brings with itself the seeds of tribalism and hostility that sees in the face of the other the mask of the enemy. 

The pope and the grand imam have taken a decisive step toward overcoming resentment and ideological pitfalls. They have beaten down the walls built by cultural warriors who crave a clash of civilizations thanks to an ideological reductionism of religions. The foundation of all is seen in a single expression: “The faith brings the believer to see in the other a sister or brother to support and love.”  

The Catholic Church shows itself to be today, in our broken world, a powerful geopolitical factor for mending and regeneration based on the fundamental and universal values of fraternity. 

It is time to draw our conclusions… 

It is time to draw our conclusions. Francis is a pope who takes up courageous positions, sometimes risky ones, under a specifically diplomatic perspective. Traditional Vatican prudence can give way, under Francis, to parrhesia, made of frankness, clarity and sometimes challenging statements. It is enough to think of his criticism of speculative financial capitalism, the memory of the Armenian “genocide,” the further formalization of relations with Palestine. 

This is not a classical diplomatic approach that can provide the interpretative key to the world political vision of Francis. His visionary gaze has suggested the possibility of a new global role for Catholicism. 

As one ambassador has noted, “Benedict used the language of western modernity that recognized a pluralism of worldviews in contemporary society while denouncing the ‘dictatorship of relativism.’ Francis, while facing up to the many challenges of cultural modernity, challenges the dominant process of social and economic polarization spreading across the globe with increasing intensity and marked progression.” 

My address to you tonight has sought to spell out the geopolitical significance of Francis’ diplomacy of mercy through some specific aspects in his vision. 

These aspects are the faces of today’s hope, a hope for our world that faces mounting tensions and troubles, yet finds in no one political leader the hope it needs to deal with them. In his geopolitical vision and diplomacy, Francis offers us paths to another future, ways that refuse to let conflict have the last word, ways in which God comes alongside our hurting world.