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The fire of mercy

The publication of the Bishop of Rome’s message for the World Day of Peace immediately following Time magazine’s decision to name Pope Francis “Person of the Year” is a coincidence. And yet the papal text, which again points to fraternity as the foundation and path of peace, explains the reason behind the choice of this world famous magazine.

In a year marked by such an unprecedented event as the resignation of Benedict XVI, the Pope emeritus’ successor, who was chosen from “the ends of the earth” has in a very short span of time been able to take the world’s attention simply by being, and thus revealing, himself: a man, a Christian, a bishop of the Church who is concerned only about witnessing to and proclaiming the Gospel through gestures and words that strike everyone by their authenticity.

There are so many examples, from the attention he pays to every person he meets to the various interviews he has granted, yet they are all pervaded by an interior fire — Pope Francis’ personal witness — whose credibility is immediately visible to everyone. So it is in Evangelii Gaudium, the true and proper summa of a pontificate that calls the Church to be in a permanent state of mission, so it is in the message for the World Day of Peace, and so it was in his recent address to the new ambassadors.

His message on peace opens by wishing individuals and peoples “a life filled with joy and hope”; for in every man and women he sees the longing for fraternity. However, it is not naïve optimism. For what follows is a forceful denunciation of the continuing offences against fundamental human rights, “especially the right to life and the right to religious freedom,” of visible armed conflicts and of “the less visible but no less cruel wars fought in the economic and financial sectors” which destroying lives and businesses.

The precision of his presentation of the evils which mark the present moment of history are matched by an equally clear exposition of the diagnosis. The message, in fact, bluntly states that “contemporary ethical systems remain incapable of producing authentic bonds of fraternity” since “the basis of fraternity is found in God’s fatherhood”. The text also reiterates a point often repeated by Pope Francis: life is not and can never be “disposable”.

Instituted by Paul VI nearly a half century ago, the World Day of Peace has since been an occasion for the Church to recall, around the globe, words which so often heard but for this no less true, on the need to renew fraternal relationships in families and in the human community. Through a sober lifestyle, through a timely rethinking of our models of economic development and by tackling shameful crimes such as human trafficking, which Pope Francis has untiringly denounced.

The Bishop of Rome is certainly concerned about making such clear condemnations; they are the fruit of a witness he has lived personally. But perhaps even more striking is his proclamation of God’s mercy, for men and women can always experience conversion and therefore “they must never despair of being able to change their lives”. And this desire likely lies hidden in the recognition of the Pope as “Person of the Year”.





St. Peter’s Square

Jan. 19, 2020