Pope: Only love can save the human family
By Benedict Mayaki, SJ
Pope Francis, on Friday, addressed participants at an international congress on “Educating for Democracy in a Fragmented World,” promoted by the Gravissimum Educationis Pontifical Foundation.
At the start of his address, the Holy Father turned his thoughts to the war in Ukraine, responding in an off-the-cuff manner to a letter written by Yuriy Pidlisnyy, the head of the Commission for the Family and Laity of the Ukrainian-Greek Catholic Church, head of the Chair of Political Science at the Ukrainian Catholic University and head of the Educating for Democracy initiative.
“We are used to hearing news of the wars, but far away,” the Pope said, adding that now the war has come closer and it makes us think of how savage human nature can be.
He said that we talk about education, and when one thinks of education one thinks of children and young people. “We think of so many soldiers who are sent to the front, very young, Russian soldiers, poor things. Let's think of so many young Ukrainian soldiers, let's think of the inhabitants, the young people, boys, girls... This is happening close to us,” the Pope said.
No just wars
In the face of this war, the Pope reminded all that the Gospel reminds the Christian not to look “the other way”. “What am I doing? …“Do I pray? Do I fast? Do I do penance? Or do I live carefree, as we normally live through distant wars?” he asked, pointing out that there are children wounded by the bombings at the Bambino Gesu hospital in Rome.
“A war always - always! - is the defeat of humanity, always,” he insisted. “We, the educated, who work in education, are defeated by this war because on one hand, we are responsible. There are no just wars: they do not exist!
Collaborators in God’s work
Pope Francis noted that the meeting explores the very topical and much-debated theme of democracy from an educational perspective, an approach that belongs in a special way to the tradition of the Church and is capable of yielding long-term results.
Reflecting on the Gospel of Friday’s liturgy, the parable of the murderous vinedressers (Mt 21:33-43, 45-46), the Pope underlined that Jesus warns against the temptation of possession. He said that the vinedressers, blinded by their desire to possess the vineyard did not hesitate to use violence and to kill, reminding us that when humans deny their vocation as a collaborator in God’s work and presume to put themselves in God’s place, they lose their dignity as sons and daughters and become enemies of their brothers.
The Pope went on to highlight that the goods of creation are offered to each one “in proportion to his or her needs so that no one may accumulate the superfluous or lack the necessary.” But, he warned, “when selfish possession fills hearts, relationships, political and social structures, then the essence of democracy is poisoned.”
In this regard, Pope Francis focused on two distortions: totalitarianism and secularism
Totalitarianism and secularism
Re-echoing St. John Paul II’s words in the Encyclical Centesimus Annus, Pope Francis noted that a state is totalitarian when it “tends to absorb within itself the nation, society, the family, religious groups and individuals themselves.” Thus, by exercising ideological oppression, the totalitarian state strips the person and society of their fundamental rights and their value to the point of suppressing freedom.
Additionally, radical secularism deforms the democratic spirit in a more subtle and insidious way, by “eliminating the transcendent dimension, it weakens and gradually any openness to dialogue.” He cautioned that if there is no ultimate truth, human ideas and convictions can easily be exploited for purposes of power because, in the words of Benedict XVI, “the humanism which excludes God is an inhuman humanism.” (Caritas in veritate, 78)
Educating young people for democracy
In the face of these distortions, Pope Francis noted that the meeting has proposed the “transforming power of education” by launching training activities, seeking strategies for transmitting democratic principles and educating for democracy. The Holy Father also highlighted three points that he entrusts to the participants involved in various fields.
First, the Pope invited them to instil in young people the thirst for democracy, helping them to understand and appreciate the value of living in a democratic system that can always be perfected but is capable of safeguarding the participation of citizens.
The Holy Father also encouraged teaching young people that the common good is connected with love and cannot be defended by military force. In this light, he explained, a community or nation that asserts itself by force does so to the detriment of other communities and becomes a “fomenter of injustice, inequality and violence.”
“The path of destruction is easy to take, but it produces much wreckage; only love can save the human family,” he said.
Finally, the Pope proposed educating young people to experience authority as service. All of us are called to a service of authority, the Pope said, adding that God entrusts us with certain roles, not for personal affirmation but so that the community may grow through our work.
A civilization of love
These three paths, the Pope noted, are oriented towards the “civilization of love” and they are to be pursued with courage and creativity. He added that they also fit into the framework of the Educational Pact that he initiated together with the Congregation for Catholic Education.
The Holy Father then seized the opportunity to relaunch the pact which aims to bring together all who have the education of younger generations at heart as an instrument for the common good, particularly in these days of the war in Ukraine, when the Pact’s value in promoting “universal fraternity in the one human family based on love” is most needed.
“Prayer for peace must in fact be accompanied by a patient commitment to education,” the Pope said, “so that children and young people may develop a firm awareness that conflicts are not resolved through violence and oppression, but through confrontation and dialogue.”