ROME – Pope Francis often refers to the biblical Beatitudes as a path in the pursuit of mercy and personal holiness. Yet perhaps recognizing that the Bible never could have imagined the politics of the 21st century, the pontiff invoked an entirely new set of beatitudes for politicians in his 2019 message for the World Day of Peace.
Released Dec. 18, the message is titled “Good politics is at the service of peace.” Instituted by Saint Pope Paul VI in 1968, the World Day of Peace is celebrated each year on the first day of January and is accompanied by a message from the pope sent to all foreign ministers around the world, which typically foreshadows the Holy See’s diplomatic tone during the coming year.
In his message for 2019, Francis stressed that politics must be used as a means of fighting violence and injustice by protecting a nation’s citizens and pursuing the common good, rather than private interests.
“Political office and political responsibility constantly challenge those called to the service of their country to make every effort to protect those who live there and to create the conditions for a worthy and just future,” he said, adding that if exercised “with basic respect for the life, freedom and dignity of persons, political life can become an outstanding form of charity.”
Referring to the late Vietnamese Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyễn Vãn Thuận, who spent 13 years in a Communist prison, nine in solitary confinement, and whose cause for beatification is currently open in the Vatican, Francis pointed to the “Beatitudes of the Politician” proposed by Vãn Thuận in his writings.
Offering eight beatitudes for good politicians, Vãn Thuận defined them as such:
- Blessed be the politician with a lofty sense and deep understanding of his role.
- Blessed be the politician who personally exemplifies credibility.
- Blessed be the politician who works for the common good and not his or her own interest.
- Blessed be the politician who remains consistent.
- Blessed be the politician who works for unity.
- Blessed be the politician who works to accomplish radical change.
- Blessed be the politician who is capable of listening.
- Blessed be the politician who is without fear.
In political life, “every election and re-election, and every stage of public life, is an opportunity to return to the original points of reference that inspire justice and law,” Francis said in his message, referring to Vãn Thuận’s beatitudes.
“One thing is certain: good politics is at the service of peace,” he said, adding that politics must both respect and promote fundamental human rights, “enabling a bond of trust and gratitude to be forged between present and future generations.”
Yet when politics is overcome by vice, it will “bring disgrace to public life and threaten social harmony” through the misappropriation of national funds, exploitation, denial of human rights, racism xenophobia, and the “plundering” of the earth’s goods for the sake of turning a quick profit, he said.
As he often points out, Francis said young people are especially at risk when political powers seek to protect the private interests of a select few rather than the whole, since they lack opportunities and can easily lose confidence in building a future.
If political life is grounded in law and a just relationship between all individuals, a society can be built on trust, he said, but cautioned that this trust can be difficult to achieve, above all in the political realm, where attitudes of “rejection” or nationalism can “call into question the fraternity of which our globalized world has such great need.”
“Today more than ever, our societies need artisans of peace who can be messengers and authentic witnesses of God the Father, who wills the good and the happiness of the human family,” he said.
Noting how 2018 marked the centenary of the end of the First World War, Francis stressed that amid widespread civilian destruction, “peace can never be reduced solely to a balance between power and fear.”
“To threaten others is to lower them to the status of objects and to deny their dignity,” he said, and condemned the arms trade and a culture of intimidation and in terrorism, which he said “contributes to the exile of entire populations who seek a place of peace.”
“Political rhetoric that tends to blame every evil on migrants and to deprive the poor of hope are unacceptable,” he said, adding that peace can only be built on respect for each person, regardless of their background, and on respect for the law and the common good.
Pointing to this year’s anniversary of the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights, adopted after the Second World War, the pope said that in tandem with rights is the recognition of duties, and the need to implement these rights as a means of preserving human dignity.
Peace, he said, is the result of “a great political project” founded on both mutual responsibility and interdependence. Calling the pursuit of peace “a challenge that demands to be taken up ever anew,” he said it requires a conversion of heart and soul to achieve.
Conversion happens at three levels, he said: making peace with oneself by rejecting inflexibility, anger and impatience; with others, including one’s family, friends and the poor; and with all of creation, recognizing a shared responsibility to protect the world and to be “citizens and builders of the future.”