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  • John Thavis

Pope to diplomats: Two forms of poverty threaten peace

In a few quick strokes, Pope Francis today outlined to the world’s diplomats the mission of his pontificate: combatting spiritual and material poverty, building peace and constructing bridges of dialogue.

It was a typical Pope Francis audience: a relatively short speech, to the point and easy to understand. Rather than a global tour of trouble spots or an examination of the Vatican’s geopolitical strategy, the pope zeroed in on a few basic principles:

— The overriding concern of Vatican diplomacy is “the good of every person on this earth.”

— One reason he took the name Francis was because of St. Francis’ love for the poor, which is reflected today in the church’s word worldwide. “How many poor people there are still in the world! And what great suffering they have to endure!”

— “But there is another form of poverty! It is the spiritual poverty of our time, which afflicts the so-called richer countries particularly seriously.” Spiritual poverty often takes the form of self-interest, which makes building peace much more difficult.

“There is no true peace without truth! There cannot be true peace if everyone is his own criterion, if everyone can always claim exclusively his own rights, without at the same time caring for the good of others.”

— The title “pontiff” relates to the pope’s role as “builder of bridges with God and between peoples.”

“In this work, the role of religion is fundamental. It is not possible to build bridges between people while forgetting God. But the converse is also true: it is not possible to establish true links with God, while ignoring other people.”

— Interreligious dialogue should be intensified, especially between Christians and Muslims. Greater outreach is also needed to non-believers, so that friendship will prevail over “the differences which divide and hurt us.”

— St. Francis offered important lessons on protecting creation, which the world needs to take to heart. All too often, the environment is “something we exploit greedily, to one another’s detriment.”

One big change was noticed at today’s encounter: instead of speaking in French, the so-called language of diplomacy, or in various languages, Francis gave his talk in Italian (with translations immediately available.) Evidently it’s a language he feels appropriate to his role as bishop of Rome.

Mass with garbage-collectors

Meanwhile, the new pope is finding ways to meet people inside the Vatican. He celebrated his early morning Mass today with Vatican garbage-collectors and gardeners, in the chapel of the Vatican guest house where he’s been residing. Yesterday he invited employees of the guest house to the morning liturgy, pausing afterward to chat.

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