Pope Francis to Italian mayors: "Keep close to the people"
By Lisa Zengarini
Pope Francis on Saturday encouraged Italian mayors to stay close to the people of their communities, and expressed his appreciation for their work in these difficult times of pandemic. The Holy Father made the remarks during an audience at the Vatican with some 200 members of the National Association of Italian Municipalities (Associazione Nazionale Comuni Italiani - ANCI).
The importance of citizens' participation
While highlighting the vital role played by mayors in voicing local concerns at a national level and responding to people’s needs, he acknowledged the complexity of their work and the difficulties they face. At the same time, he called attention to the importance of citizen participation in local governance.
Three words of encouragement
Pope Francis then offered the Italian mayors “three words of encouragement”. The first word he recalled was that of “fatherhood” or “motherhood”, noting that “the service to the common good is a high form of charity, comparable to that of parents in a family”.
Fatherhood or motherhood
Farìtherhhod involves listening to the people and their problems, as well as the “courage of imagination”, to solve them he pointed out. Indeed, he said, funding is not enough. A project of civil coexistence and citizenship is also needed.
“Knowing how to dream of a better city and share the dream with other local administrators, with those elected to the city council and with all citizens of good will is an index of social care”, Pope Francis added.
He then recalled the word “peripheries”, noting that they give a clearer vision of the whole.
“Starting from the peripheries does not mean excluding someone, it is a choice of method”, Pope Francis said, “it is not an ideological choice, but starting from the poor to serve the good of all”. In fact, he said, the poor enrich a city, as “they remind us of our frailties and that we need each other. They call us to solidarity, which is a pivotal value of the Church's social doctrine”, he remarked.
He noted, in this regard, that the pandemic has emphasized existing economic problems and social ills in cities, which affect the most vulnerable.
However, helping the peripheries and people at the margins of society is not enough, Pope Francis stressed. Peripheries “must be transformed in laboratories of a new model of economy and society” in which the dignity of each person is assured by providing work and livelihood to everyone, he said.
The Pope dwelt, finally, on the word “peace”, which, he said, is not the absence of conflict, “but the ability to make it evolve towards a new form of encounter and coexistence with the other”. “Conflict”, he stressed, “is dangerous if it remains closed up in itself”.
In this regard, he pointed out that “crisis must not be confused with conflict”, as the first has a positive side in that it offers an opportunity for change and progress. However, if a crisis results in conflict and conflict remains closed up in itself, turning into war, solutions are unlikely to be found to move forward.
“Social peace”, Pope Francis went on to say, “results from the ability to pool vocations, skills, and resources". Hence the need to "foster the initiative and creativity of people, so that they can weave meaningful relationships in their neighbourhoods”, in the light of the principle of subsidiarity.
Wrapping up his address, Pope Francis encouraged the Italian mayors to stay close to the people and to shun the temptation of fleeing from their responsibilities.
“Referring precisely to this temptation, St. John Chrysostom, Bishop and Father of the Church, urged to devote ourselves to the others, rather than stay high on the mountains and gaze at them with indifference. This teaching should be kept in mind, especially when we feel discouraged and disappointed”, he concluded.