Why Pope Francis Is Right To Avoid Ukraine War Politics
The Pope is being urged to "go to Kyiv," and name Putin as the aggressor in the war in Ukraine. If he did so, the pontiff would renounce his own religious charisma, and ultimately sap him of his unique role and power as the ultimate messenger of peace.
ROME — Precisely because I am in favor of the Ukrainian popular resistance and of all initiatives in its support, I am equally in favor of Pope Francis' unmitigated stance for pacifism.
The origin of the pontiff's choice should always reside in the words that constitute the foundation of the relationship between Christians and history: Be in the world, but not of the world (John 15:18-19). Everything is contained in that guidance.
It is in the radical difference between those two prepositions (being "of" the world and being "in" the world) that lies the tormented path of contemporary Catholicism.
Beyond the strategies of geopolitics
Not belonging to the world does not in any way mean escapism or absence, omission and sloth, but rather the will to go beyond.
Beyond is the space of prophecy. A space where the martyrology of war is called to escape the strategies of geopolitics, where human emancipation projects itself beyond historical time.
This implies intelligence and audacity, because being in the world without belonging to it does not help to escape its pain: rather, it implies absorbing all its sufferings without having at one's disposal those comforts that being in the world offers.
And among these liniments that help relieve suffering there is the relief that can be felt by taking sides, by choosing a field and belonging to a specific place.
A religious charisma
This is what is being asked of Pope Francis when he is urged to "go to Kyiv". Which would mean making the pontiff a sort of "chaplain" and moral advisor to governments and states.
A Pope Francis who would repeat — as we ourselves must never forget to do — that Vladimir Putin is the aggressor and Ukraine is the attacked would renounce his own religious charisma to inevitably assume one of a different quality. It would be a similar and familiar to us but nonetheless different sort, a political charisma.
What else should a Catholic Pope do?
Insofar as consistent with the imperatives of democracy and the protection of human rights, it would be representative of the best part of politics, certainly, but in any case it would be limited by geographic and mental space.
Photo of Pope Francis holding Ukrainian flag during general conference
Not a UN Secretary General
This can be clearly seen in the criticism of the Pontiff's choice to place side-by-side a Ukrainian and a Russian woman during the Good Friday Via Crucis ceremony. What else should a Catholic Pope do? Or rather, any religious authority worthy of their name?
What value would a sacred rite have that does not know how to go beyond, how to announce a miracle, such as an agreement between today's enemies?
A Pope who is unable to make himself understood by those who now wage war on each other, how would he differ from the Secretary General of the United Nations?
"When one comes to look at the man who commits the horror with some form of pietas, the intimate power of the Gospel of Christ triumphs," Antonio Spadaro wrote.
Different than Pope Pius XII and Kirill I
And, mind you, Francis' current choice seems totally different from that of Pius XII's "silence" in the face of the Shoah — which did not prevent many Christians, from Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer to numerous Catholic priests, from fighting against Nazi-Fascism.
At the time, Pius XII's prudence was clearly dictated by tactical and diplomatic considerations, by the consideration of the balance of power and also by the concern not to cause harm and suffering to Christians.
They need the prophecy of a universal testimony.
But all these evaluations were on the other side of the dividing line between mystery and politics and were powerfully conditioned by the latter. I may be mistaken, but Francis' choice today seems inspired by something quite different and his pain seems so deep as to reveal "a rage that can be guessed at, all too humanly, under the white robe," as Lucia Annunziata wrote.
In other words, the stronger and more intense the figure of Pope Francis appears, the more distant and distinct it will be from that of Kirill I, the pro-Putin head of Russia's Orthodox Church.
When military power fuels the idea of sovereignty and brings belligerence deep into the conscience, believers and non-believers alike do not need a geopolitical pontiff. They need the prophecy of a universal testimony.
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