Geopolitics on the rocks

Antonio S.J. Spadaro

The Diplomacy of Pope Francis

By rejecting rigid interpretive mechanisms and by showing a commitment for the common good, Pope Francis has put mercy at the center of his diplomacy. The five traits of “open thought”.

Our political and diplomatic language would do well to be inspired by Mercy, which never gives up anything for lost.” This is what Pope Francis wrote in his Message for the 50th World Communications Day. But what does Mercy mean as a political classification? In extreme synthesis, we can say that it means to never consider anything or anyone as definitively “lost” in relationships between nations, peoples and states. This is the core of its political meaning.

This openness is precisely the reason that helps us understand why Pope Francis never espouses rigid interpretive mechanisms to confront situations and international crises. The dynamics of Mercy compel — even conceptually —what Pope Francis recommended in his audience with the Jesuits of La Civiltà Cattolica on February 9th, 2017. “Only a truly open thought can confront the crisis and the understanding of where the world is going, of how the more complex and urgent crises, geopolitics, the challenges of the economy and the grave humanitarian crisis tied to the drama of migrations that is the true knot of global politics of our days, are confronted.”

What are the consequences of this “open thought”? To understand this crucial point, one can briefly describe five traits.

First Trait: A 360-Degree Dialogue With World Leaders

The action of the Holy See in the world in the years of Francis’ Pontificate has been marked by a 360-degree dialogue with the protagonists of the international scene, from U.S. President Barack Obama to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, from Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, from Fidel Castro to the Columbian leaders, and so on. It is quite apparent how the pope wants to establish direct, fluid relationships with the superpowers, without, however, entering into networks of alliances and preconceived influences. For Francis, Mercy is delineated in the fluid freedom of movement, in non-acceptance of coalitions, in the agility to build bridges between lands and positions that are far apart. All this puts into motion an unpredictable logic, precisely that of a polyhedral and multipolar vision.

Second Trait: Dismantling the Ideology of Holy War

Another strong trait is that of an approach that dismantles the ideology of “holy war”. Imagining a human coexistence and political action that speaks the language of reconciliation with the enemy, without excluding him. The “geopolitics” of Pope Bergoglio intends to unravel knots, dissolving them with the anointing of gospel balm, namely Mercy, or at least he tries. It is precisely this strategy of Mercy that is most opposed by Jihadists and “neo-crusaders”. But it is also opposed by “enlightened” positions that place the blame directly on God and on religion in general and not on the real culprits who have a first and a last name and make use of the name of God. Instead, many are finding in their faith not the fuel of hatred, but the energy and courage of forgiveness.

Third Trait: Intervening in Open Wounds

Bergoglian geopolitics is well expressed in his apostolic trips, which have allowed the pope to touch open wounds with his hands, carrying out gestures of “therapeutic” value. Francis has touched barriers as if they were the heads of sick people. This is why he touched the wound of the “gateway to Europe” that Lampedusa has now become, of Yad Vashem and the wall of Bethlehem, on which he rested his head in prayer. This is why he touched the divisions in Korea, in Sri Lanka, in Bangui and in Armenia with his hands, as well historic wounds as in Auschwitz. He spoke of this to the United States Congress, saying, “Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice. We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises.” The pope is incapable of not touching these wounds, where Mercy must be interpreted in a political terms.

Fourth Trait: Peace Does Not Exist in Nature, But Needs to Be Conquered

Francis knows well that “pure” peace does not exist and that humankind must always confront conflicts, which cannot be eliminated within the dynamics of human relationships and therefore also in international ones. Peace itself instead “involves a real struggle” of conquest (Angelus, January 1st, 2016). According to Pope Francis, peace means acting in the most delicate areas of international politics in the name of the weakest, of the “discarded”. There is a very profound thought contained in the words on the discourse on the Last Judgment in Chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew, one of the passages that is always at the heart of his teachings. In a world that experiences a dramatic “Third World War in pieces”—over 30 pieces across the globe— “peace” initiatives must always be linked to the two great social themes that most concern the pope; social peace and the social inclusion of the poor. To quote Populorum Progressio by the Blessed Paul VI, he expresses the conviction that, “a peace which is not the result of an integral development will be doomed; it will always spawn new conflicts and various forms of violence.” (EG 219).

Fifth Trait: Not Shoring Up Theologies of Power

Finally, another trait of Bergoglian politics consists in not shoring up theologies of power that can be used to impose or to find an enemy to fight. And this is why, at the moment, Francis has become the only credible moral leader. He is not only a religious leader, but a world political leader, capable of a soft power with spiritual roots. And so, he proposes a vision of the world capable of having a future. As a religious leader, Francis strips religious power of its political and even partisan breastplate, of its oxidized and rusty armour.

He definitively dismantles the idea that religion can be the dominant classes’ political guarantee. His white and unadorned cassock reminds Christianity of Christ. And he restores its true power, which is that of integration. This is the only true power of God. Francis radically rejects the idea of the implementation of the Kingdom of God on earth, which was at the basis of the Holy Roman Empire and of all similar political and institutional forms, also including the dimensions of the “political party”. If a Christian becomes “part of” one, then an “enemy” belonging to the other side is immediately created. Instead, it must always be clear that the Christian is at the service of the world; he or she does not defend one side against another.

Conclusion: Mercy as “Responsibility for The Common Good”

In conclusion, here is what emerges as a possible “political” name for Mercy: solidarity, understood as a commitment and as responsibility for the common good in our world, which has become increasingly fragmented, just like a puzzle.