Keywords: World Day of Peace Message, Pope Francis, Beatitudes of the Politician, Cardinal Nguyên Van Thuán, corruption, contempt, xenophobia
In the 52nd World Day of Peace Message, “Good politics is at the service of peace,” Pope Francis invites us to think very carefully about the mission each of us has –as Christ’s disciples—to bring peace to our families, communities, countries, and continents “in all their diversity and history” (§1). This invitation presents a tall order in a national context that simultaneously applauds and denounces bullying in word and deed. At the time of this writing, the US Government is “shut down” until Congress breaks the stalemate between the President who wishes funding for a Border Wall and an opposing majority in Congress; punctuated with an impulsive bearing, in this second year of Trump’s term the Government has shut down three times (January 2018, February 2018, and December 2018).
Any bullish tempers I witness around these holy holidays pale in comparison; nevertheless, as I visit with family and friends, when conversations turn to current political events, I find it difficult to be at peace with or to bring peace among those with whom I share a lifetime history. I wonder: How is it that first-, second- and third-generation Americans cannot recognize in those seeking opportunities for a better life in the US today the faces and the dreams of their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents arriving in late 19th and early 20th centuries? My agitation over impassioned talk of disdain for people who are vulnerable –on account of racial, ethnic, gender, disability, and religious identity—seems unyielding even as I am missioned to broker more than an agreement to disagree, I am missioned with them to bring peace.
To help, Pope Francis reminds us of the “Eight Beatitudes of the Politician,” conceived by Venerable François-Xavier Cardinal Nguyên Van Thuán when he was President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Cardinal Thuán pointed to these beatitudes during remarks at a May 6, 2002 meeting of Communion and Liberation (an international movement comprised of and forming members to be co-workers in the Church’s mission), held in Padua, Italy. Along with an announcement about the long anticipated and then forthcoming Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Thuán used the platform to commend what it means for a liberation movement to work for peace and justice. And, as he considered his audience of a young Christian democratic kind, Thuán turned to the promises of social activism. The success of such work is measured by credibility, the common good, consistence, work for unity, the ability to listen, to not be afraid of the truth, to not be conditioned by the media, and to be committed to Gospel radicalism among other traits as the characteristics –the beatitudes—of responsible political leadership.
Although we may not be politicians or aspire to political office, these beatitudes can be useful in our vetting of incumbents and candidates for such service (perhaps the USCCB would consider them as a framework for their next Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship).
Pope Francis adds to Thuán’s list the vices to which too many of our elected and appointed leaders succumb “whether due to personal incompetence or to flaws in the system and its institutions” (§4). He challenges each of us to say “no” to structural and institutionalized corruption, “no” to the violence that xenophobia incites, and “no” to contempt toward our common home. I read into Pope Francis’ remarks a series of grievous indictments against the current US administration and occupant of the White House, especially amidst readily avoidable tragedy and violence: disgrace (two children dead in US Customs and Border Patrol custody), denial of rights (contravening the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights), and the justification of power by force (government shut-down).
Not a day goes by without my thinking what a strange place these United States has become. I wonder how might I reconcile the national pulse that reverberates over the twitterverse and beyond with the mission to bring peace to this house –of mine, of extended family, of neighbors, nation, and Church. I suspect that you, my sisters and brothers across the globe, wonder too about how to bring peace and reconciliation to your house.
Still, while I hope in the promise of “the land of the free and home of the brave,” I trust in the promise of peace that only the Lord gives (cf John 14:27). Along with many, I may be a fool for holding onto a hope that the promises made to us will be fulfilled. But I am not so foolish as to be uncritical of the US or any other political system. Perhaps blissfully, I cling to theological hope and the fool’s pursuit of an arduous “superintelligible” good. As Aquinas instructs, “the object of hope [eternal happiness] is a future good, difficult but possible to attain” (184.108.40.206c) … “by the assistance of God” (220.127.116.11c).
Let us join our voices with Pope Francis, ground our work in mutual responsibility, serve the common good with charity and hope to thereby greet the New Year: “Peace be to this house!”
 Born in 1928 and ordained in 1953, Cardinal Thuán was a political prisoner in North Vietnam for 13 years (1975-88). He was exiled from his homeland during a 1991 visit to Rome. In 1994 Pope St. John Paul II named him Vice President and, in 1998, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace; he was elevated to Cardinal in 2001; he died 16 September 2002.