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Pope Francis makes his stand

HONG KONG (SE): One event that Vatican-watchers know not to miss is the address of the pope to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See, as it is the closest thing to a policy speech that any pope will give.

However, when a newly-elected pope is speaking, there is even more urgency to be there.


Pope Francis gave his first address to the diplomatic corps on March 22 and he did not disappoint.


“He has taken his stand,” one journalist commented. “He stands with Pope Benedict XVI on basic issues.”


Pope Francis stated categorically that he is of one mind with his predecessor on the Christian conception of truth, the truth of the Christian vision, which leads people toward more abundant life, justice and joy.


While up to this point, commentators had been trying to categorise Pope Francis, placing him in the liberal or conservative boxes, Pope Francis indicated that he is above the drawing of such lines in the sand.


Left or right wing cannot capture him.


He threw his lot in with Jesus, whom he said transcends all categories by reaching out to sinners and asking them to sin no more. 


He urged people to love the sinner, but not the sin.


Robert Moynihan, from Inside the Vatican magazine, said that perhaps it is time to stop tagging people altogether, doing away with labels like conservative, liberal, traditional or orthodox and just talk about Catholics.


“Today, Pope Francis set his course, transcending the left and the right and pointing all of us towards higher things,” Moynihan continued.


The pope spoke of spiritual poverty, which he described as afflicting the so-called richer countries.


“It is what my beloved predecessor, the dear and venerated Benedict XVI, called the dictatorship of relativism,” Pope Francis continued.


He then commented that this tends to leave each person creating their own criteria of right and wrong, and that threatens the peaceful coexistence of peoples.


“But 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, of everyone, on the basis of the nature that unites every human being on this earth,” he continued.


“In this work, the role of religion is fundamental,” Pope Francis said. “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.”


He then explained his reason for choosing the name Francis, saying that primarily it is because of his love for the poor and, because the Church is dedicated to the service of the poor, as in every corner of the world there are people within the Church dedicated to the care of the poor, the weak, the marginalised and those suffering from poor health.


“As you know, there are various reasons why I chose the name of Francis of Assisi, a familiar figure far beyond the borders of Italy and Europe, even among those who do not profess the Catholic faith. One of the first reasons was Francis’ love for the poor. How many poor people there still are in the world! And what great suffering they have to endure?” he explained.


While Pope Francis is committed to carrying on the work of his predecessor, he is also determined to deliver his message in his own way. Already noted for departing from tradition in dress, demeanour and penchant for wandering around, he spoke to the diplomats in Italian, not French, which is the diplomatic lingua franca in the Vatican.


While he apparently does speak French and also English, the most common diplomatic language, people close to him say that he is not accustomed to using either of them in public.

It is also worth noting that unlike in his previous speeches, he stuck to a prepared text and did not ad lib, so his every word was intentional and can be considered to be on the record.


Pope Francis also sat on a simple chair on the floor of the room, not the ornate throne on a raised platform his predecessors have used.


During his address, he also committed himself to dialogue with Islam. He stated this strongly, as it is something that flies in the face of the policies of many western powers which have, since Nine/Eleven 2001, entering into seemingly endless conflict with Muslim countries.


He said that differences that divide must never be allowed to prevail.


In addition, he reaffirmed his concern for creation, saying that human beings must care for the earth and use if for good, without hurting or poisoning it.


He also thanked the ambassadors and other diplomats for the work they do as conduits between the pope and their people.


“Through you indeed, I encounter your peoples and thus in a sense, I can reach out to every one of your fellow citizens, with their joys, their troubles, their expectations, their desires,” he said.


He added that St. Francis’ desire to work to build peace can only be achieved if it is based on the truth.


Finally, he again presented himself as the bishop of Rome, as well as the pontiff of the whole Church, which he explained means being a bridge-builder.


“I wish that dialogue among us should help to build bridges connecting all people, in such a way that everyone can see in the other, not the enemy, not a rival, but a brother or a sister to be welcomed and embraced,” he said.


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