ROSARIO, Argentina – Pope Francis broke tradition again on Saturday, delivering an eight-minute off-the-cuff speech to members of a visiting Spanish delegation against the dangers of ideologies in the midst of a grave economic crisis which, the pope said, could be worse than the Great Depression of 1929.
“Ideologies sectarianize, ideologies deconstruct the homeland, they do not build,” the pope said. “Let’s learn this from history.”
The 7-member delegation led by Spain’s Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, included his wife, Begoña Gómez. Francis was seated at one end of the library of the Apostolic Palace with the delegation arranged to his sides, keeping the mandatory social distance but without masks.
Speaking in Spanish and quoting several poets, Francis’s speech was a sharp criticism of Spain and Europe, but also applies to other regions seeing a rise of nationalism, extreme ideologies and divisions combined with an economic crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pope told Sanchez he has three missions as Prime Minister: “Make the country progress, consolidate the nation and make the homeland grow.”
Rompiendo con lo habitual el #Papa ha dirigido un significativo discurso de 8′ a los miembros de la delegación española después de haber conversado a solas con Pedro Sánchez.
Un mensaje de advertencia sobre el peligro de la deriva de los sectarismos y las ideologías.#Vaticanopic.twitter.com/NzDNZ8rGyy
— Eva Fernández (@evaenlaradio) October 24, 2020
Francis made a distinction between “the country, the nation and the homeland,” adding that political life leads to sacrifice since it’s not easy to build all three at the same time: “Politics is not only an art, for Christians it is also an act of charity,” he said.
To consolidate a country is to take care of the economic development and the infrastructures, which is “exhausting.” But it’s even more difficult “to consolidate the nation, not only taking care of the border, which is very important, but the nation as bodies of laws, of ways of proceeding.”
When it comes to building the homeland, “everyone” must be included, and it is not an option to “erase and have a clean slate,” forgetting the past, nor is it possible to try to fund refuge in what the homeland might have been 50 or 100 years ago, as “traditionalist” often want to do.
“The challenge is to receive from the roots in order to bear fruit,” Francis said. “The present implies discernment, and this is, for me, the most difficult part of the political mission. There are always alibis disguised as modernity and restorationism.”
But the center of his message was that “the most difficult thing is to make the country progress, because we enter into a filiation. It is something that we have received, and something that we have to give to our children. We are passing on the homeland.”
To make his point, he spoke about the book Sindrome 1933 by what he called “an Italian intellectual of the Communist Party.” This book, Francis said, details the situation Germany faced back then after the fall of the Weimar empire, and the “salad of possibilities to leave the crisis behind” that followed.
“That marked the beginning of an ideology, the path of the national socialism, that continued on to become what we know: the drama of Europe with that homeland invented by an ideology,” he said.
Francis insisted that ideologies divide and deconstruct, without building anything.
“In this book the author, very delicately, makes a comparison with what is happening in Europe,” warning that the continent is today following a path similar to the one Germany followed leading up to World War II.
The book was written by Siegmund Ginzberg, published in June 2020 and available only in Italian. The Amazon page summarizes its contents by saying: “A permanent election campaign, a party that is neither right nor left but ‘of the people’, an unlikely government contract, the big voice that silences the newspapers, the hatred that penetrates the public discourse, the accusations against the treacherous technicians, debt, demagogic and irresponsible management of finances.”
In his closing remarks, Francis reinforced the three core elements of his talk: making the country grow, the consolidation of the nation and the building of the homeland. “It is very sad when ideologies take over the interpretation of a nation, a country and disfigure the homeland.”
The last Spanish president to visit the pope had been Mariano Rajoy in 2013. According to Spanish journalist Juan Vicente Boo, among the most important of the Spanish-speaking Vatican-experts, the pope knows “first hand” the situation in the country, including proposed legilsation on euthanasia, abortion and private schools that threatens religious education, all backed by the Sanchez government.
Speaking with Crux after the meeting, Boo defined Sanchez as the “leader of the Spanish socialist party heading a government of coalition with a populist left-wing party similar to that of Venezuela.”
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma