Pope Francis used the first Christmas address of his papacy on Wednesday to make a broad call for global peace and an end to violence in Syria and parts of Africa, urging atheists and followers of other religions to join together in this common cause…
“True peace is not a balance of opposing forces,” Francis said. “It is not a lovely facade which conceals conflicts and divisions. Peace calls for daily commitment…”
Francis has regularly attracted huge crowds in Vatican City, and almost overnight he has emerged as a major figure on the global stage, surprising many Catholics with his nonjudgmental tone on issues like homosexuality and divorce, and his focus on the plight of the world’s poor. He has also been unpredictable, telephoning ordinary people who have written him letters, embracing a badly disfigured man at St. Peter’s and making unannounced visits in Rome.
He proved unpredictable again on Wednesday, when he went off script to include atheists in his call for peace, rare for a Catholic leader.
“I invite even nonbelievers to desire peace,” he said. “Let us all unite, either with prayer or with desire, but everyone, for peace…”
A bit disingenuous. I find more often that atheists and particularly those who’ve moved on to studies in science, humanist philosophy, secular views on progress – generally not only support efforts for peace; but, work at it.
Francis broadened his peace message to call for an end to violence in Syria, as well as in the Central African Republic, where Christians and Muslims have clashed in a country that he described as “often forgotten and overlooked.” He cited the rising tensions and violence in South Sudan, calling for “social harmony,” and he asked for a “favorable outcome” to peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis. He also renewed his focus on the plight of migrants, some the victims of human trafficking, others fleeing war and poverty to try to reach Europe.
Francis called attention to victims of natural disasters, especially Philippine typhoon victims, while renewing his call to protect the environment, which he said was “frequently exploited by human greed and rapacity.”
Maybe I shouldn’t be so cynical; but, I still recall the too-brief reign of Pope John, the peoples’ Pope. His epistle for Pacem en Terris sparked much of the participation of priests, nuns and their parishioners in peace movements, the civil rights movement, opposition to the scumbags who have always profited from exploitation.
It’s been more than a couple of decades since I could wake up in a jail cell after confronting economic thugs like the Koch Brothers and their private blue-clad army – and found I was sharing a cell with a priest. Cripes, I haven’t had a deep discussion behind bars about that Essene rebel named Jesus since 1965.
The Pope needn’t be concerned about inviting atheists into the battle for peace. We’re waiting for his own brothers and sisters to rejoin the struggle on the same scale as a half-century ago.