In Quito, on the last day of his visit to Ecuador, Pope Francis made a passionate appeal for social justice and called on Catholics “to be builders of unity” and “to work for inclusivity at every level, to avoid forms of selfishness, to build communication and dialogue and to encourage collaboration.”
On the third day of his visit here, Francis escalated his push for social justice and unity, which he sees as an integral part of the Gospel. He began the push at mass in the Bicentennial Park by calling on Catholics in Ecuador and Latin American to “be builders of unity.” Later in the day, speaking to professors and students at the Pontifical University of Ecuador, he highlighted the urgency and importance of caring for creation, and raised question about the whole educational process. His third and most passionate push came in the evening at the church of St Francis when he addressed representatives of the country’s civil society and advocated looking at political and social life through the lens of the family.
He issued his call to Catholics to be “builders of unity” when he addressed more than one million people at mass in the Bicentennial Park in Quito, the country’s capital that is built on the side of a volcano, 2,850 meters above sea level. Quito was once the second city of the Inca Empire before the Spanish took control of it in 1533. Then eight years after Ecuador gained independence in 1822, it became the country’s capital.
The Bicentennial Park commemorates the push for independence that started in 1809. Francis began his much applauded homily by referring to that push, describing it as “Latin America’s cry for independence” from Spanish domination and exploitation. He said they succeeded in gaining their freedom because they were driven by “conviction” and were able to “set aside personal differences together with the desire for power and the inability to appreciate other movements of liberation which were different yet not thereby opposed.”
He linked that cry for independence to the cry of Jesus at the Last Supper, where he called his disciples to live in unity, so that the world may believe. He joined these two “cries” together under the challenge of evangelization, which is done with ‘the joy of the Gospel.’”
Francis recalled that Jesus made his call for unity when he was actually experiencing “the worst of this world” with its intrigues, falsity and betrayal. Likewise today, he said, Jesus calls his followers to be builders of unity in a world “torn by wars and violence.” He labeled this division and hatred as “a manifestation of that ‘widespread individualism’ which divides us and sets us against one another,” a manifestation of “that legacy of sin lurking in the heart of human beings, which causes so much suffering in society and all of creation.” He said Jesus sends us into this world to be “builders of unity.”
He explained that “evangelization can be a way to unite our hopes, concerns, ideals and even utopian visions.” Thus today, when faced with “different forms” of war and conflict “we Christians remain steadfast in our intention to respect others, to heal wounds, to build bridges, to strengthen relationships and to bear one another’s burdens.” Evangelization also means “attracting by our witness those who are far off; in humbly drawing near to them near to those who feel distant from God and the Church, those who are fearful or indifferent, and saying to them: ‘The Lord, with great respect and love, is also calling you to be a part of his people’. ”
Pope Francis said “the desire for unity involves the delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, the conviction that we have an immense treasure to share, one which grows stronger from being shared, and becomes ever more sensitive to the needs of others.” For this reason, he said Christ’s followers “need to work for inclusivity at every level, to avoid forms of selfishness, to build communication and dialogue, to encourage collaboration. We need to give our hearts to our companions along the way, without suspicion or distrust” because “trusting others is an art, and peace is an art.”
But he warned that “our unity can hardly shine forth if spiritual worldliness makes us feud among ourselves in a futile quest for power, prestige, pleasure or economic security.”
He explained that “the unity to which Christ calls us” is “not uniformity, but rather “a multifaceted and inviting harmony.” Indeed “the wealth of our differences, our diversity which becomes unity whenever we commemorate Holy Thursday, makes us wary of all totalitarian, ideological or sectarian schemes.” But this unity is not something “we can fashion as we will, setting conditions, choosing who can belong and who cannot.” When Jesus prayed for unity, he prayed “that we will all become part of a great family in which God is our Father and all of us are brothers and sisters.”
After mass Pope Francis returned to the enunciator for lunch and a rest, and in the afternoon drove through the streets lined with cheering people- a permanent feature of his visit here - to the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador. Founded in 1946, it is owned by the archdiocese but run by the Jesuits, and has 14 faculties and 30,000 students. There the Jesuit Pope addressed some 5,000 professors and students from universities and educational institutions, and made a second push for social justice, this time based on his encyclical and on his understanding of education..
Drawing on the encyclical, he began by reminding everyone that God does not only give us life, “he also gives us the earth, he gives us all of creation” and he gives us human beings “ a task, a mission” to “cultivate, protect and care for it.” Francis emphasized the urgency and importance of this task today, and explained that “there is a relationship between our life and that of mother earth, between the way we live and the gift we have received from God.”
He reminded his academic audience that “the human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together” and said, “We cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation.” One thing is certain, he stated, “We can no longer turn our backs on reality, on our brothers and sisters, on mother earth. It is wrong to turn aside from what is happening all around us, as if certain situations did not exist or have nothing to do with our life.”
In the university setting, he said, “it would be worthwhile reflecting on the way we educate about this earth of ours, which cries out to heaven.” He went on to pose some challenging and insightful question to both professors and students.
He asked educators: “ Do you watch over your students, helping them to develop a critical sense, an open mind capable of caring for today’s world? A spirit capable of seeking new answers to the varied challenges that society sets before us? Are you able to encourage them not to disregard the world around them? Does our life, with its uncertainties, mysteries and questions, find a place in the university curriculum or different academic activities? Do we enable and support a constructive debate which fosters dialogue in the pursuit of a more humane world? “
He also raised a more general question for the family, schools and teachers: “How do we help our young people not to see a university degree as synonymous with higher status, money and social prestige. How can we help make their education a mark of greater responsibility in the face of today’s problems, the needs of the poor, concern for the environment?”
Then turning to the students, Francis asked them: “Do you realize that this time of study is not only a right, but a privilege? How many of your friends, known or unknown, would like to have a place in this house but, for various reasons, do not? To what extent do our studies help us feel solidarity with them?”
Francis, who has always been interested in education, went onto highlight the fact that educational communities “play an essential role in the enrichment of civic and cultural life” , and insisted that “it is not enough to analyze and describe reality: there is a need to shape environments of creative thinking, discussions which develop alternatives to current problems, especially today.”
Faced with the globalization of a technocratic paradigm, he said “it is urgent that we keep reflecting on and talking about our current situation. We need to ask ourselves about the kind of culture we want not only for ourselves, but for our children and our grandchildren.” Indeed we would do well to ask ourselves: “What kind of world do we want to leave behind? What meaning or direction do we want to give to our lives? Why have we been put here? What is the purpose of our work and all our efforts?”
He concluded by insisting that it is necessary “to start viewing reality in an organic and not fragmented way, to ask about where we stand in relation to others, inasmuch as everything is interconnected.”
From the university, Francis traveled by popemobile through more cheering crowds to the Church and Monastery of San Francisco, which is the oldest religious institution in Latin America- construction, started in 1536 it was completed in 1680, and is run by the Franciscan. There, the Jesuit pope addressed representatives and protagonist of society from the world of culture, economy, rural and industrial business, sport, and the Amazonian indigenous peoples.
He spoke to them about “keys to our life in society, beginning with family life.” He recalled that “society benefits when each person and social group feels truly at home” and said, “in a family, parents, grandparents and children feel at home; no one is excluded. If someone has a problem, even a serious one, even if he brought it upon himself, the rest of the family comes to his assistance; they support him. His problems are theirs.”
Society should function like the family but it doesn’t, Francis said, because “our relationships in society and political life are often based on confrontation and the attempt to eliminate our opponents. My position, my ideas and my plans will move forward if I can prevail over others and impose my will.” In the family, on the other hand, “everyone contributes to the common purpose, everyone works for the common good, not denying each person’s individuality but encouraging and supporting it. The joys and sorrows of each are felt by all. That is what it means to be a family!” He wondered how things might change “if only we could view our political opponents or neighbors in the same way we view our children or our spouse, mother or father!”
The Argentine pope went onto highlight the fact that in the family, we find the basic values of love, fraternity and mutual respect, “which translate into three essential values for society as a whole: gratitude, solidarity and subsidiarity.”
He focused on those three values in relation to society. Speaking of ‘gratuitousness’, he said it is not something extra, rather it’s “a necessary condition of justice. Who we are, and what we have, has been given to us so that we can place it at the service of others. Our task is to make it bear fruit in good works.”
As he had done in his encyclical, here too he reminded everyone that “the goods of the earth are meant for everyone, and however much someone may parade his property, it has a social mortgage. Always!” In this way he said, “we move beyond purely economic justice, based on commerce, towards social justice, which upholds the fundamental human right to a dignified life.”
He insisted that “the tapping of natural resources must not be concerned with short-term benefits” but “as stewards of these riches which we have received, we have an obligation toward society as a whole and towards future generations.”
Noting that there were representatives of the indigenous peoples of the Equatorial Amazon present in the audience, Francis recalled its importance for humanity and said Ecuador – together with other countries bordering the Amazon – “has an opportunity to become a teacher of integral ecology.”
Turning to solidarity in society, Francis said “this does not only consist in giving to those in need, but in feeling responsible for one another. If we see others as our brothers and sisters, then no one can be left out or set aside.”
He recalled that Ecuador, like many Latin American nations, is experiencing “profound social and cultural changes, new challenges which need to be faced by every sector of society.” Noting that such factors as migration, overcrowded cities, consumerism, crises in the family, unemployment and pockets of poverty “ create uncertainty and tensions which threaten social harmony,” Francis insisted that laws and regulations, as well as social planning, “need to aim at inclusion, create opportunities for dialogue and encounter, while leaving behind all forms of repression, excessive control or loss of freedom as painful past memories.” His words were interpreted as a subtle criticism of the way many governments in Latin America function today.
Francis said the hope for a better future “calls for offering real opportunities to people, especially young people, creating employment, and ensuring an economic growth which is shared by all (rather than simply existing on paper, in macroeconomic statistics), and promoting a sustainable development capable of generating a solid and cohesive social fabric.”
Turning to subsidiarity, Francis said it is necessary to have respect for others. “To recognize that our choices are not necessarily the only legitimate ones is a healthy exercise in humility,” he said, and “in acknowledging the goodness inherent in others, even with their limitations, we see the richness present in diversity and the value of complementarity. Individuals and groups have the right to go their own way, even though they may sometimes make mistakes. In full respect for that freedom, civil society is called to help each person and social organization to take up its specific role and thus contribute to the common good. Dialogue is needed and is fundamental for arriving at the truth, which cannot be imposed, but sought with a sincere and critical spirit. In a participatory democracy, each social group, indigenous peoples, Afro-Ecuadorians, women, civic associations and those engaged in public service are all indispensable participants in this dialogue.
Pope Francis concluded by affirming that the Church wishes “to cooperate in the pursuit of the common good, through her social and educational works, promoting ethical and spiritual values, and serving as a prophetic sign which brings a ray of light and hope to all, especially those most in need.”
This daylong push for unity and social justice is sure to spark much comment and reflection, not only in Ecuador but also throughout Latin America. And we are sure to hear more long these same lines when Francis goes to Bolivia tomorrow, July 8, and afterwards to Paraguay.