Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Facing "the hardened heart of humanity"

Yesterday (January 12), His Holiness Pope Francis delivered his annual New Year's Address to the Diplomatic Corps, i.e., to the ambassadors accredited to the Pope by the states which maintain diplomatic relations with the Holy See. The exchange of New Year's greetings is a diplomatic tradition in many countries. Usually the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps makes an address on behalf of the entire group of ambassadors. Then the Head of State to whom they are accredited gives his or her response. In the case of the Holy see, this is usually one more opportunity for the Pope to survey the state of the world from the perspective of the policy of the Holy See and the worldwide mission of the Church.

As usual, the text of the papal address can be found on the Vatican website, and it can be read in English in its entirety at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2015/january/documents/papa-francesco_20150112_corpo-diplomatico.html

"The Christmas stories themselves," Pope Francis stressed, "show us the hardened heart of a humanity which finds it difficult to accept the Child." That "hardened heart" he sees exemplified, for example, in last month's murders in Pakistan, last week's killings in Paris, and "the never-ending spread of conflicts," which are like a "world war fought piecemeal." Among the conflicts he mentioned were Ukraine, Africa, and the Middle East, notably "the spread of fundamentalist terrorism in Syria and Iraq."

The Pope linked such conflicts to his already very familiar theme of what he calls "the throwaway culture," in which "people’s lives are deliberately crushed by those in power." He addressed the sufferings of the sick, notably this year the victims of Ebola, and he recalled his recent challenge to the European Parliament regarding he plight of refugees and displaced people. In words which could very easily be applied to out own US debate about immigration, the Pope spoke of the rejection migrants often face and the need for a general change of attitude, "moving from indifference and fear to genuine acceptance of others." Quoting his recent address in Stassbourg,  he called for “enacting adequate legislation to protect the rights of… citizens and to ensure the acceptance of immigrants.”

Continuing with his "throwaway culture" motif, the Pope mentioned the elderly, who are considered a "burdensome presence" (presumably a reference to the increasing popularity of euthanasia in Europe and the United States) and the young, who "are denied concrete prospects of employment to build their future." 

Another contemporary problematic the Pope highlighted in his Address was globalization, "which levels out differences and even discards cultures, cutting them off from those factors which shape each people’s identity and constitute a legacy essential to their sound social development. In a drab, anonymous world, it is easy to understand the difficulties and the discouragement felt by many people who have literally lost the sense of being alive." Referring to what he has been able to observe in his own Roman diocese and around Italy, he warned how the continuing economic crisis "fosters pessimism and social conflict." 

It wasn't all gloom and doom, to be sure. The Pope mentioned areas of progress, notably the recent agreement between the United States and Cuba to restore relations - a development, incidentally, in which papal diplomacy played a part.

What we might call the Pope's annual survey of the "state of the world" serves an important function in highlighting areas and issues of importance which might otherwise not be front and center on anyone else's radar screen. Africa, for example, usually tends to be peripheral at best to the developed world's consciousness. It is also a good reminder to those in the United States and Europe who inevitably tend to try to universalize their particular issues - as if the peculiar preoccupations of the rich should always rank as the world's major concerns.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Fr. Franco: "Happy New Year" 2015.... indeed ... to you. Saint Paul the Apostle "parishioners" will all remember your wise, intelligent poignant words that I again have read today! They were beautiful.

    Hope you are well! God Bless - Patrice NYC