ROME – In an audience with Italian Traffic and Railway police, Pope Francis called law enforcement to “wisdom and self-restraint” and to exercise mercy instead of violence.
“Both in control actions and in repressive ones, it’s important to rely on a use of force that doesn’t ever degenerate into violence,” the pope said at the Clementine hall of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican Nov. 20. “To this end, it’s necessary to have great wisdom and self-restraint, especially when the policeman is seen with diffidence or felt as an enemy, instead of as a guardian of the common good.”
Francis recognized that the tension between police and society at large is “unfortunately a widespread evil” in certain areas. Drawing on the 2015 Jubilee of Mercy, the pope invited police officers to exercise mercy while performing their duties.
“Mercy is not a sign of weakness, nor does it require giving up the use of force,” he said, adding that instead it means not identifying the culprit with the crime he committed and making an effort to understand the motives and circumstances behind people’s actions. Francis said that mercy should be applied also in many situations of pain and weakness that police encounter every day in the face of tragedy and poverty.
“Every citizen should feel grateful for the work you do in the name of the state and the collectivity, aimed at ensuring through many functions, the safety of those who travel on the streets or by train,” the pope said.
In his speech he pointed to the growth in mobility that has been taking place in the world and the need to ensure a safe and efficient transportation system that can keep up with the times.
“On the streets, the work of detecting violations, regulating traffic, prevention, rescue and detecting accidents, must come to terms with a reality – that of the roads – that is always more complex and tumultuous,” the pope said.
Speaking to the traffic police, Francis pointed to the fact that they are challenged not only by the state of the roads, which are often in need of repair and investments, but also by the lack of responsibility of many drivers, who are careless about the consequences of their inattention and disorderliness.
The pope pointed to the casual use of cellphones while driving as one such example.
“This is caused by a hurry and a competitiveness that have become a lifestyle, which views other drivers as obstacles or adversaries to be surpassed, transforming the streets in ‘formula uno’ tracks and the traffic light into the starting point for a great prize,” Francis said.
In light of this, sanctions are not enough, the pope said, calling for a push toward educating drivers to a greater awareness toward others on the road. Traffic and railway police must use their every day experience working close to the people and the issues to inform this civic education.
Speaking to the railway officers, Francis said that their closeness to the people taking the train every day allows them to constantly monitor the entire country, which is connected through its railways. Just as the roads are in dire need of infrastructure investment, so are the railways that millions of people depend on for work and travel, he added.
Referring to recent mortal train accidents in Italy, the pope emphasized the importance of offering a safe and dependable train system. “What you see everyday at the railways is like a microcosm, through which the most varied realities pass by and with whom you travel, to offer safety, prevention and crime repression,” Francis said.
This difficult job, he continued, requires traffic and railway police to have the latest technological developments and understanding of the law as well as a “deep rectitude” so that they do not take advantage of the power at their disposal.
Francis concluded by referring to the Archangel Michael, the patron saint of the Italian State Police, who fought against Satan in the Biblical battle of Good and Evil. The pope told the officers that beyond one’s beliefs, it’s important to recognize that the battle between good and evil is unfolding in the world and within everyone.
“It would be crazy to give in to evil or even to just pretend to be neutral,” Francis said. “On the contrary, everyone is required to take charge of his part of responsibility, putting on the field all the energies at their disposal to counter egoism, injustice and indifference.”
Police officers represent the “first line of defense” against the forces that would bring illegality and disorder to humanity, the pope concluded. “Your service, often not adequately admired, places you at the heart of society and, for its high value, I do not hesitate to define it as a mission, to undertake with honor and a deep sense of duty, to the service of man and of the common good,” he said.