Former Vatican ambassador: Pope reminds U.S. that greatness comes from looking beyond our borders

Pope Francis exchanges greetings for the new year with diplomats accredited to the Holy See on Jan. 7. (CNS photo/Ettore Ferrari, pool via Reuters) Pope Francis exchanges greetings for the new year with diplomats accredited to the Holy See on Jan. 7. (CNS photo/Ettore Ferrari, pool via Reuters) 

As the head of a sovereign entity with religiously affiliated members in every corner of the world, a global humanitarian actor and a moral voice, Pope Francis always carries the power to change the thinking of a wide audience. This is especially true when he addresses the ambassadors to the Vatican from capitals around the world, in what is now an annual tradition.

This year’s papal address to the diplomatic corps, on Jan. 7, had special relevance to the United States. Francis spoke in reaction to isolationist policies built around the misguided slogan “Make America Great Again,” as well as alarming indifference to the suffering of persons living inside and outside our national borders. He took on the unsettling and growing trend across the globe of political narcissism, calling this kind of political vision at odds with the vocation of international organizations “to be a setting for dialogue and encounter for all countries.”

Advertisement

Pope Francis also noted important anniversaries related to international efforts to bring about peace and reconciliation. He mentioned the 100th anniversary of the League of Nations, which marked the beginning of modern multilateral diplomacy and led to the creation of the United Nations in 1945; the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child; the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall; and the 800th anniversary of the meeting between St. Francis of Assisi and Sultan al-Malik al-Kāmil. All these events have one diplomatic practice in common: breaking down ideological and physical walls as a way to bridge human differences.

Francis spoke in reaction to isolationist policies built around the misguided slogan “Make America Great Again.” 

The pope claimed his place not only as the universal shepherd for Catholics but as a head of state and international diplomat out of what he called “concern for the whole human family and its needs, including those of the material and social order.” He raised his clarion voice to address four areas he sees as “points of contact” between the arena of international relations and the spiritual mission of the Holy See: the primacy of justice in lawmaking; the defense of the most vulnerable; bridge-building among peoples and nations; and the need to rethink our common destiny as citizens of the world.

With respect to the primacy of justice in lawmaking, the pope critiqued the pursuit of individualistically driven national objectives and shortsighted political policies that he sees as incapable of advancing lasting world peace. Echoing his speech to the U.S. Congress in 2015, the pope argued that “a good politician should not occupy spaces but initiate processes; he or she is called to make unity prevail over conflict, based on solidarity in its deepest and most challenging sense.”

He invited world leaders to embrace a politics in which “conflicts, divisions and oppositions can achieve a diversified and life-giving unity.” It is hard for Americans to miss the implications his words carry, especially when the current presidential administration has abandoned international diplomatic bodies, weakened the trust of our allies, undermined our participation in international relations and pulled back from international initiatives (e.g., the Paris accord on climate change).

The pope claimed his place not only as the universal shepherd for Catholics but as a head of state and international diplomat.

Second, as might be expected from a Jesuit steeped in Latin American theology, Pope Francis has made the preferential option for the poor one of his signature teachings. In this sense, his diplomacy reflects his theology, especially his invitation to the community of nations to care for the most vulnerable, such as refugees and displaced persons from violent places like Syria. In a way that speaks to current U.S. immigration policy, he argued that human indifference has led “various governments to severely restrict the number of new entries, even those in transit.” The pope threw his support behind the recent U.N. effort to enact the nonbinding Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which the Trump administration vehemently opposed and ridiculed as being “pro-migration.”

Among those most in need of justice and care, the pope highlighted children who have suffered from clerical sexual abuse. Promising further action in his February gathering with bishops from around the world to address sexual abuse, Pope Francis condemned, in no uncertain terms, the abuse of minors as “one of the vilest and most heinous crimes conceivable...aggravated by the abuse of power and conscience.” The pope also voiced concern about unjust working conditions throughout the world and, in particular, discrimination against women workers.

Francis calls upon Americans to denounce a cultural climate marked by “new centrifugal tendencies and the temptation to erect new curtains.”

Third, Pope Francis turned to the diplomatic practice of bridge-building among peoples and efforts to prevent armed conflict. He quoted the powerful address of St. Paul VI to the United Nations in 1965: “No more war, never again!” The pope discussed positive signs in advancing peace in places like Africa and the Korean Peninsula, while lamenting ongoing tensions between Israel and the Palestinian people and in conflict-torn areas like Venezuela. In light of these and other conflicts, the pope sees the urgent need to promote, not withdraw from, international cooperation and international relations—“all the more urgent for favoring the development of infrastructures, the growth of prospects for future generations and the emancipation of the most vulnerable sectors of society.”

Finally, in what was perhaps the most prophetic and thought-provoking aspect of his speech to the ambassadors, Pope Francis returned to one of his favorite themes: the care of our planet, our creaturely interdependence and the need to take action on behalf of our common well-being. Surely, in order to enact just laws, defend the most vulnerable and bridge differences to build lasting peace, individuals and nations will need to think of our shared humanity. And as Pope Francis’ speech cautions, the world needs to abandon its narcissistic ideologies that set one nation above another, embracing instead the reality of global interdependence that affirms our common origin, our common history and our common destiny.

Strongly condemning any return of the arms race, Pope Francis not only reiterated the church’s opposition to new and more destructive weapons but argued that because of the risk of their accidental use and their possible effects on our common home and all its creatures, even the current possession of such weapons of mass-destruction merits condemnation.

Pope Francis’ address to the diplomatic corps might be summarized with the following slogan: “Put Our Neighbors First Again.” In rejecting a culture that feeds on fear and breeds human indifference, and opting instead for global interdependence and care for the nations and persons most in need, the pope reflects not only the best that diplomatic theory and practice can offer, but also the best that religion can offer for the sake of healing and preserving our common destiny.

The pope addressed all nations, but his words carry profound relevance for our own nation because of the privileged role and responsibility we exercise within the community of nations. As pontifex maximus, the great bridge-builder, Francis calls upon Americans to denounce a cultural climate marked by “new centrifugal tendencies and the temptation to erect new curtains” that threaten to further divide us and the rest of the world on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national identity, immigration status, political affiliation and physical ability, to name but a few human markers.

Americans would do well to heed Pope Francis’ plea to the ambassadors gathered in Rome and through them to each rethink our common destiny and make a positive difference in this world, for our sake and the sake of future generations. The United States shines the most when it opts for greatness by attending to the needs of our neighbors first, especially those most in need. In an age of increasing global interdependence on all fronts, this is the right thing to do. Let us rethink our common destiny. Make America great: Put our neighbors first again.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
J Cosgrove
2 months 1 week ago

"greatness comes from looking beyond our borders" Wouldn't that mean advocating for free market capitalism all over the world? Poverty is rapidly disappearing from the world, so why not advocate for the policies that are helping rid the world of extreme poverty. The Pope should be out there pushing free markets.

There is absolutely nothing isolationist in the term "Make America Great Again." In fact it represents a way for all the world to prosper. The author does not understand how free fair trade and helping each nation grow stronger will help the poor.

J Cosgrove
2 months 1 week ago

The author and all interested readers should read Hans Rosling's Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World--and Why Things Are Better Than You Think . https://amzn.to/2SM5vTb

The author and all interested readers should watch https://bit.ly/1S9BM3G for how free market capitalism has risen most of the world out of poverty. Courtesy of Hans Rosling and Gapminder.

Mike Macrie
2 months 1 week ago

Yo Coz, I did watch the clip and overall I agree with Hans on how he’s reading the Data. He correlates a country’s increase in childhood life expectancy from the following: Going from a higher number of children per family to a lower number of children, a better health care system, higher income, and a free trade economic system without tariff barriers. He shows the difference of countries left behind in the Arab World like Yemen torn in Civil War, compared to a prosperous United Emerites.
He does not judge how countries reduce their family sizes like China’s two Child policy. A policy that has reduced the number of people in poverty and increased childhood life expectancy. China has successfully embraced a Capitalist System controlled by the Communist State.
Without going out on a tangent, Hans analyzed results don’t spell well for Pro Life Groups and Catholic Teaching on Contraception regarding family sizes.
I support Pro Life with a well defined Support System behind it. Pro Life by itself without a Support System, that nobody talks about, is condemning ” The Have Nots “ to a continuous life of poverty “.

J Cosgrove
2 months 1 week ago

A couple things. Hans Rosling died two years ago. I only found out about 4 months ago. He was one of my heroes. He was considered one of the top presenters at TED, thought to be a liberal organization. But he spoke the truth about world events. He had no axe to grind..

Second, I know of no one who is against a support system. I am sure there are a few. But if a benefit is raised 10% and Republicans cut it to 5% the headline will be "Republicans slash benefits for poor." There is zero honesty on the liberal side. They just accuse with falsehoods.

J Cosgrove
2 months 1 week ago

This article talks about Trump and isolationism. Is the author's head in the sand? How about North Korea even if it fails? How about several meetings with China? How about several meetings with Japan? How about big summit with Arab countries? How about meetings about Nato? How about meeting with Putin? How about new Canadian-Mexican trade agreement? How about his Poland speech on Western Civilization? Trump has made 10 trips to other countries. They might not all be successes but the attempt was there. The author should know better, he was an ambassador, even if just to the Vatican.

Dionys Murphy
2 months 1 week ago

"Wouldn't that mean advocating for free market capitalism all over the world?" - No. Because the cold, hard reality is that free market capitalism is built on the shoulders and suffering of the poor.
"There is absolutely nothing isolationist in the term "Make America Great Again."" - Except that it is almost always paired with isolationist, xenophobic "America First" white nationalist coding. Pretending it isn't won't make it so.

J Cosgrove
2 months 1 week ago

Thank you for your nonsense replies. It means there is no rational objection and that you essentially agree.

For example, 200 years ago about 95% of world was extremely poor. They used to use the bark from trees in Scandinavia to supplement their food. After free market capitalism spread to the world, extreme poverty is down to less than 10% with 7x the number of people in world.

Tim Donovan
2 months 1 week ago

I agree with Pope Francis when he relates the good in "international efforts to bring about peace and reconciliation." No national or international body is without its faults, but I believe the United Nations is a worthwhile means for different nations to discuss important matters. The Declaration of Human Rights ( 1948) which I admittedly read rather quickly has many provisions very similar to our nation's Constitution. The Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1959) has a wide range of rights beneficial to children. Significantly (and sadly controversial among many people today) is its affirmation that "the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth." In 1989, the U. N. Convention on the Rights a the Child retained this language, which strongly implied support for the legal protection of the unborn. However, in 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Council called for the violence of legal abortion as a human right. It's also good news that 30 years ago, the Berlin Wall fell. This marked the beginning of the end of Communist domination in eastern Europe, as well as the reunification of Germany, and the advent of democracy in both previously divided nations. Muslims such as the terrorists of ISIS are certainly a group committed to violence. However, from my reading of an excellent book, "A Brief History of Islam," s well as my personal relationships with several Muslims, I 'm convinced that most Muslims are good peaceful people. Also, I believe that at least some Muslim scholars assert that ISIS members/terrorists have seriously misinterpreted and distorted the words and teachings of the Koran. Finally, St. Francis of Assisi's meeting 800 years ago with a Muslim official in my view demonstrates that it's worthwhile to engage in ecumenical dialogue. Our aim in my opinion should be to attempt in a reasonable way conversion of people of other faiths. However, we must still respect the freedom of religion of all people, and do our best to find common ground. We can then work together to try to solve at least some serious problems.

THOMAS E BRANDLIN, MNA
2 months ago

Make America Great Again is a fabulous slogan. Just because you on the left are, at the moment, left out, doesn't mean that we on the right are wrong. It simply means that a balance is being maintained. By the way, when President Obama was making his apology tours in the first term we were weakened on the world stage. Now we are again a strong voice for democracy and the moral high ground. Mr. Trump provides the leadership that we did not have in the previous administration. The Pope, on the other hand, is in a weakened position because of his interference in our (and other nations') domestic politics, ""People who only talk about building walls and not bridges are not Christian," and his moral lapses in the cover-ups (McCarrick, O'Connor-Murphy, Julio Grassi, Cardinal Maradiaga, and how many more?). Every democracy's leader had better be making his country great or he is failing the people who chose him. God bless President Trump as he makes and keeps America great again!

Steve Magnotta
2 months ago

Making things great by pathological incompetence, a pretty slick trick. We'll see how it works out. Other nations are literally laughing at us. Competent people of integrity won't be a part of the madness. trump is doing to the USA what he did to the USFL, and really, is that a surprise?
Furthermore, in my opinion, he should be forced to resign or be removed from office.

Dr.Cajetan Coelho
1 month 3 weeks ago

Fearless minds are known to look beyond all borders. May their tribe increase.

Advertisement

The latest from america

That woman is in so many parishes, right there beneath the exit sign and almost out the door, singing while the roof gets ripped off and the sky falls.
Lay Catholics are ready to lend their expertise, leadership and prayers to heal the wounds inflicted on children and the church by abusers and the leaders who failed to stop them.
The EditorsMarch 22, 2019
Catholic social thought has much to teach us about how to balance our commitment to the common good with contemporary economic practices and structures.
Vincent J. MillerMarch 22, 2019
Magazines like America are not really the first draft of history. But from time to time, when the publishing planets align, we break news as well as analyze it.
Matt Malone, S.J.March 22, 2019