Posts Tagged 'Pope Francis'

8 Beatitudes of Good Politics: Pope Francis’s World Day of Peace Message

Photo Credit: Aleteia Image Department via flickr

Once again, Pope Francis has issued a challenge to world leaders to live up to their calling, and a scathing rebuke to those who abuse their power, all in the simplest and most familiar of ways.  Pope Francis’s message for the World Day of Peace on January 1, 2019, “Good Politics Is at the Service of Peace,” highlights 8 “beatitudes” of good politics, proposed by Vietnamese Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyễn Vãn Thuận.

First, Pope Francis points out that peace “is like a delicate flower struggling to blossom on the stony ground of violence.”  He then links peacebuilding to good politics.  Good politics, for Francis, involves heeding Jesus’s exhortation that anyone who would be first must be the servant of all. Thus, good political leadership involves service and can be a form of charity:

Politics is an essential means of building human community and institutions. . . Political office and political responsibility thus constantly challenge those called to the service of their country to make every effort to protect those who live there and to create the conditions for a worthy and just future. If exercised with basic respect for the life, freedom and dignity of persons, political life can indeed become an outstanding form of charity.

With this understanding of political leadership as service, he turns to the “Beatitudes of the Politician:”

It may be helpful to recall the “Beatitudes of the Politician,” proposed by Vietnamese Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyễn Vãn Thuận, a faithful witness to the Gospel who died in 2002:

Blessed be the politician with a lofty sense and deep understanding of his role.

Blessed be the politician who personally exemplifies credibility.

Blessed be the politician who works for the common good and not his or her own interest.

Blessed be the politician who remains consistent.

Blessed be the politician who works for unity.

Blessed be the politician who works to accomplish radical change.

Blessed be the politician who is capable of listening.

Blessed be the politician who is without fear.

At the same time that Pope Francis outlines his understanding of good politics in the service of peacebuilding, he doesn’t shrink from naming the forces that work against peace, calling out the behaviors of world leaders who aren’t living up to their calling. Although he doesn’t name names, he names attitudes and behaviors that identify particular leaders:

Sadly, together with its virtues, politics also has its share of vices. . . We think of corruption in its varied forms: the misappropriation of public resources, the exploitation of individuals, the denial of rights, the flouting of community rules, dishonest gain, the justification of power by force or the arbitrary appeal to raison d’état and the refusal to relinquish power. To which we can add xenophobia, racism, lack of concern for the natural environment, the plundering of natural resources for the sake of quick profit and contempt for those forced into exile.

Pope Francis concludes by challenging leaders to protect and include young people in peacebuilding and leadership, and by offering a vision of peace for the world that all can help build:

Peace, in effect, is the fruit of a great political project grounded in the mutual responsibility and interdependence of human beings. But it is also a challenge that demands to be taken up ever anew. It entails a conversion of heart and soul; it is both interior and communal; and it has three inseparable aspects:

– peace with oneself, rejecting inflexibility, anger and impatience; in the words of Saint Francis de Sales, showing “a bit of sweetness towards oneself” in order to offer “a bit of sweetness to others”;

– peace with others: family members, friends, strangers, the poor and the suffering, being unafraid to encounter them and listen to what they have to say;

– peace with all creation, rediscovering the grandeur of God’s gift and our individual and shared responsibility as inhabitants of this world, citizens and builders of the future.

As we approach the new year of 2019, let us heed Pope Francis’s words and rise to the challenge of being good leaders and people of peace.




Photo Credit: Raffaele Esposito via flickr

Photo Credit: Raffaele Esposito via flickr

Last week Pope Francis came to my neighborhood. While I had to follow his activities from afar since I was in Korea at the time, his visit still had a profound impact on me. When I flew home to Washington, DC a few days later, there remained a palpable sense of the Pope’s presence in the city.

During his time in Washington, DC, Pope Francis met with President Obama, addressed Congress, dined with homeless people, prayed with the U.S. bishops, canonized a new saint, and visited two churches and Catholic Charities. The media covered him constantly.

The Pope tirelessly spoke out about issues that matter to him: the arms race, climate change, his pro-life stance, homelessness, refugees. Because he doesn’t fit neatly into any one category on the U.S. political spectrum, he challenged everyone. In his address to the joint session of Congress, for example, he said:

Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.”

Listeners heard an audible gasp in the audience in response to these words.

At the same time that he challenged everyone, he also managed not to alienate many. He met with warm welcomes everywhere he went. He proved his reputation as the most popular Pope in history. How did he do this? In a nation of political polarization, where leaders regularly alienate their constituents, Pope Francis spoke challenging words and at the same time commanded respect.

The answer? At least part of the answer is integrity. Washington, DC is hungry for integrity. Like a breath of fresh air in a stultifying environment, Pope Francis embodied integrity. While almost no one agreed with all of his positions, everyone recognized him as a leader who walked his talk. Everyone recognized him as one who fearlessly spoke truth as he saw it, never pandering to power.

The Pope’s words and deeds align. He eats lunch with homeless people instead of with members of Congress. He travels in a Fiat instead of a limousine. He lives in simple quarters in a Vatican guest house instead of in the Papal apartments.

What would it look like if the leaders around us spoke words that aligned with their deeds? What would it look like for political leaders, for church leaders, for organizational leaders to embody the kind of integrity that Pope Francis embodies? How can your leadership, whatever your sphere of influence, embody full integrity?

May we make it our intention to bring a breath of fresh air to the stultifying environments we enter, just as Pope Francis did. May we live with integrity and inspire others to do the same.










Pope Francis: Giving the Work Back to the People at a Rate They Can Stand

photo credit: Aleteia Image Department, flickr

photo credit: Aleteia Image Department, flickr

Yesterday, over 800,000 spectators crowded the St. Peter’s Square area while 500,000 more watched on giant screens around Rome as Pope Francis canonized Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II. The first time a Pope has sainted two Popes at the same time, this historic event has been called a savvy political move by the media, since Pope Francis recognized both the more liberal John XXIII and the more conservative John Paul II, thus satisfying two opposing wings of the Roman Catholic church. While Pope Francis did indeed display political savvy at this canonization, this event holds far more significance than that (even leaving aside the spiritual question of discerning sainthood).

Pope Francis understands important principles of leadership, not just politics. As Ronald Heifetz et al. point out in The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, leadership is about “mobilizing people to tackle tough problems,” and leadership involves bringing differences in values to the surface. Heifetz argues that, in any human group, people seek a leader who will solve their problems. But, because different people within a group hold different values, no leader can please everyone and no leader can solve all the problems in a way that satisfies everyone. Any leader who tries to be the hero and solve all the problems will be scapegoated, and the cycle of seeking the perfect leader who can solve all the problems will repeat itself. Instead of being a heroic problem-solver, the leader’s job, according to Heifetz, is to help people see the differences in values represented in the group and then “give the work back to the people at a rate they can stand.” When the people themselves wrestle with differences in values and work together to address problems, they come to respect one another and see nuances they didn’t see when they were polarized. Moreover, when they work together toward a solution, the outcome is stronger and longer-lasting than one fashioned by the leader alone.

Pope Francis, in canonizing the two Popes, named important values that each represents. He pointed out John XXIII’s efforts to bring the church into the twentieth century by convening the Second Vatican Council, and he named John Paul II a “Pope of the family.” He honored both men as courageous leaders.

By honoring both Popes, Francis acknowledged that both the liberal and the conservative wings of the church carry important values. He highlighted the best of what both Popes contributed. In so doing, he refused to take sides, but called the people of the church to see the best in opposing points of view.

By surfacing differences in values and calling people to respect the good in opposing viewpoints, Pope Francis is “giving the work back to the people at a rate they can stand.” He is mobilizing people to tackle the tough problems both within the church and without by preparing them to work together. As in his other initiatives, Pope Francis has refused once again to be pigeonholed.

Following in the Footsteps of Francis

St. Francis at San Damiano, looking out over the valley in Assisi, Umbria, Italy

Photo credit: Margaret Benefiel

Ancient stones, steep stairs, and sparkling fresh air greeted me upon arrival in Assisi, Italy, a month ago. Lush olive groves, leaves iridescent in the sun, offset the city stones. “What sort of place is this, that shaped St. Francis 800 years ago?” I asked myself. Eager to deepen my understanding of the saint, I had returned to Assisi to walk in the footsteps of St. Francis.

Profligate playboy, drama king, dejected knight, young Francis lived life large. He grew up in turbulent times, with civic unrest in Assisi and war with nearby Perugia surrounding him. Returning from a year as a prisoner of war in Perugia, sick and weak, Francis drifted. When he sold his cloth merchant father’s wares to repair a church, his father chained him in punishment. Francis stripped in public, denouncing his father. Unlikely material for a saint.

Yet God shaped Francis over time, and Francis yielded. A simple saint, Francis wanted one thing. Nothing but God, he proclaimed, shedding all else. He chose a life of simplicity, serving the poor, and calling the church to reform.

I watch with interest as Pope Francis embarks on his first trip to Assisi tomorrow, a pilgrimage with eight cardinals, to celebrate the feast day of St. Francis. Pope Francis will walk in the footsteps of the saint as he visits various Franciscan sites. I picture the places he will visit and wonder what impact they will have on him. At the same time, Pope Francis teaches me what it means to walk in the footsteps of St. Francis as I re-enter my life in a twenty-first-century, North American world.

Eschewing the pomp of the papacy, Pope Francis, like St. Francis, has chosen simplicity. He lives in the modest Vatican guest house, for example, instead of in the papal suite in the Apostolic Palace where his predecessors lived. Furthermore, Pope Francis, like St. Francis, has made it his priority to serve the poor and preach peace. Everywhere he goes, he seeks out marginalized people for his services and conversations. He advocates the use of empty convents as refugee shelters rather than income-generating hotels. He took a stand for peace in Syria and around the world, exclaiming, “Never again war! We want to be men and women of peace.”

Finally, Pope Francis, like St. Francis, is reforming the church. He has dedicated the first three days of October to meeting with the eight cardinals who will work with him on reforming the Vatican administration, restructuring the church to serve the world rather than itself. It is no coincidence that this is the group that will travel to Assisi tomorrow, drawing inspiration from one of the greatest reformers of the church, who, like them, lived in a time of materialism, violence, and a self-serving church.

Tomorrow, Pope Francis walks in St. Francis’ footsteps in Assisi. The next day, he will continue to show us what it looks like to walk in St. Francis’ footsteps in our world today. May our imaginations be ignited with the possibilities he inspires.