ROME – Speaking to a group of Catholic lawmakers from around the world on Monday, Pope Francis urged them to bring a commitment to Church teaching to their public lives in order to build a better society.
The pontiff also urged Catholic politicians to transcend partisan divides, calling on them to “build bridges of dialogue between diverse political perspectives.
“While the contribution of the Church to the great questions of the society of our time can often be called into question, it is vital that your commitment is continually permeated by her moral and social teachings in order to build a more humane and just society,” Francis said, according to the Spanish edition of Vatican Radio.
The pope also asked the group to promulgate and apply laws that build bridges of dialogue between diverse political perspectives, particularly when their purpose is to promote greater care for the defenseless and the marginalized, “especially towards the many who are forced to leave their homeland.”
He also encouraged the legislators to draw on the fruits of their reflections in Rome about “how the Catholic faith conducts towards a just understanding of the person” when they go back to their countries.
The pope’s remarks came on Sunday, as he was addressing members of the International Catholic Legislators Network (ICLN), created in 2010 to discuss the promotion of Christian principles in the political arena.
With the patronage of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, Austria, and British parliamentarian Lord David Alton of Liverpool, it was founded by Dr. Christiaan Alting von Geusau of the Netherlands.
Speaking with Vatican Radio, Schönborn said that popes have always encouraged the group. He also said that Catholic politicians “find great encouragement from the Church’s approval to their commitment, because many times they feel quite alone in their parliaments as they have to face difficult situations.”
The scope of their annual meetings, he said, is to reinforce their faith which is the reason why the group has daily Mass, prays the Rosary together, and shares moments of Eucharistic adoration, in addition to having access to the sacrament of Reconciliation.
According to the network’s website, the ICLN meets near Rome each year at the end of August, bringing together some 120 people, including top-level politicians, to discuss urgent policy issues. The four-day event is held under the Chatham House Rule, with no journalists, press releases, or published speeches.
The Chatham House Rule, named after the headquarters of the UK Royal Institute of International Affairs, is invoked at meetings with the aim of providing anonymity to speakers and to encourage openness and the sharing of information.
In the case of the ICLN meetings, this applies also to the pope’s remarks, which is why Francis’s yearly addresses to the group haven’t been disclosed, nor those given by Benedict XVI on previous opportunities.
The list of topics discussed by the groups include abortion; euthanasia and assisted suicide; free market economy; communicating Catholic thought in secular politics, immigration and secularization and the persecution of Christians.
Among the participants of this year’s gathering was U.S. Congressman Alex Mooney (R-WV). Speaking with Vatican Radio, he said that it’s very “inspiring” to see “how people are fighting for family values.”
He defined the gathering as “an opportunity to meet here with other Catholic legislators and elected officials from other parts of the world, and to discuss common concerns – problems, opportunities – for our faith, and how to work together and support each other.”
At the end of the audience, when participants greeted the pope, there was a final twist definitely not on the official program: One participant took advantage of the moment to propose to his girlfriend in front of Francis.
For the record, it worked: Dario Ramirez, a Venezuelan who fled the country by the government under President Nicola Maduro, reported that his fiancée, Maryangel Espinal, accepted.
“Pope Francis said: ‘Wow, in front of the Pope!,'” Ramirez told the National Catholic Register. “She’s not speaking, so [Pope Francis] said, ‘He asked you to marry him, what do you say?’
“She said: ‘Of course, yes!’ And he blessed us right in front of us,” Ramirez told the Register’s Edward Pentin.