Defy the Apocalypse

Antonio Spadaro, SJ

 Antonio Spadaro, SJ / Church Life / Published Date:20 January 2020/Last Updated Date:28 July 2020

Free Article

The Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989. From that day on Berliners started dismantling a symbol that had held them hostage for almost 30 years; it was an emblematic moment in the sunset of totalitarianism.

It marked the beginning of what promised to be a new era characterized by intensifying globalization. Yet today, as Pope Francis often tells us, this new era has been marked by indifference and conflict.

Before the backdrop of a dismantled wall, many more barriers have arisen in the world.[1] The pontiff, meeting with a group of Jesuits, spoke frankly: “there are walls that even separate children from parents. Herod comes to mind. Yet for drugs, there’s no wall to keep them out.”[2]

La Civilta Cattolica

When Francis spoke of the Church as a “field hospital,” he did not intend to use an engaging, rhetorically effective image. What was before his eyes was a “piecemeal world war.” The global crisis takes various forms and is expressed in conflicts, trade disputes, barriers, migration crises, failing regimes, hostile new alliances, and trade routes that open the way to wealth, but that also threaten tensions. You could draw a map, but it would always be incomplete.[3] 

Hold back the end: the Empire or the Church?

What is the point of the history we are living through? A few years ago Massimo Cacciari suggested a path we must consider in his volume La potere che frena (Power That Brakes). He was reflecting on political theology in the light of the Second Letter to the Thessalonians (2:6-7). He wrote about the enigmatic figure of the katechon, that is, something or someone who “holds back” and “contains,” stopping or braking the assault of the Antichrist.[4] In some ways its function is comparable to that of Prometheus’ brother, Epimetheus: once the dream of progress that Prometheus had taken on had faded it was left to his brother to govern the fate of humans, preventing the opening of the vessels that contained the evils of the world.

The Fathers of the Church tried to identify who Paul was talking about and what could stop the end of the world. The prevailing interpretation was that the katechon was the Roman Empire, with its administrative potestas that held society together. But this function also required a spiritual auctoritas for itself. With the collapse of the Empire, the Church inherited this mantle.

But today we live within a global dimension unknown to the Roman Empire. Here then is our question: What is the Church’s task in this complex scenario? There seems to be no escaping one of two alternatives. The first option: announce the imminent end of the world and seek to accelerate its coming. The second option: be a “retaining wall,” a braking force, the last defense against an overwhelming catastrophe we are being dragged into by the powers that dictate the wild system of globalization, a system that thrives on deregulating relations, guaranteeing immunity and security only to money, making war the decider. Are we sure there is no third option? That is what we investigate here. 

The task of the Church in the face of the apocalypse

Is the Church a field hospital in the sense that it heals the wounds of a war already lost, or does it intend to reinvigorate the weakened limbs of those who want to resume the struggle? There are those who campaign for the need to press down the accelerator, who tend to build a ghetto of a few “pure” against the “others,” that is, the widespread mass of evil doers.[5]

And Francis? Is his task as Roman pontiff to strive for the utopia of a better world? Or should he try to avoid at any cost the tragedy of the demolition of the world? Is the earth for him a burst ball to kick so that evil can be crushed by indicating “new heavens and a new earth”? Or is it a shattered earthenware vase that must be restored piece by piece at any cost,  involving the slow work of putting back together the pieces?

For Francis, the Church’s task is not to adapt to the dynamics of the world, politics or society in order to shore them up and make them survive the worst: this is judged by him to be “worldly.” Nor does he intend to take sides against the world, politics or society. The pope does not reject reality in view of a longed-for apocalypse, of an end that would overcome the world’s tribulations by destroying the world.

Francis does not push the crisis of the world to its extreme consequences by preaching its imminent end, nor does he hold together the pieces of a collapsing world by seeking comfortable alliances or collaboration. Moreover, he does not try to eliminate evil, because he knows that would be impossible: it would simply move and manifest itself elsewhere, in other forms. Instead, he intends to neutralize evil. That is where the dialectic of Bergoglian action lies. And here lies the crux to understanding his meaning. This is his nagging thought.

The global role of Catholicism in today’s context

This is why, from a diplomatic point of view, Francis takes risky positions. Traditional diplomatic caution is combined with parrhesia, that is clear and forthright speaking, even denunciation: the stances against speculative financial capitalism; the constant reference to the tragedy of migrants, which is the “true global political knot”[6]; the memory of the Armenian “genocide”; and the further formalization of relations with Palestine.

His denunciations – like a “voice crying out in the desert,” to quote the biblical prophet Isaiah – resonate in unceasing echoes. And during Mass in Santa Marta the “Pope of Mercy” does not hesitate to shout “damned” at those who foment wars and profit from them.

Francis is confronted with the new global role of Catholicism in today’s context. In this circumstance his is deliberately an essentially spiritual and evangelical vision of international relations. Even when he speaks of diplomacy, as he did in a private meeting on May 3, 2018, at the Ecclesiastical Academy, he affirms a “diplomacy on the knees,” that is, rooted and founded in prayer.

Everything rests on the alternative described at the beginning. If Francis wanted to impede the collapse, he could only lean on the law, the established power, the mediation between nations and the Church, the rules that allow the system to sustain itself, to the point of collaboration. If, on the other hand, he wanted to accelerate the coming of the new heavens and the new earth, he would have no choice but to strike as with a pickaxe, denouncing, picking apart what upholds power and therefore the world as it is being configured.

Hence the conflict of interpretation. There are those who attack Francis because they accuse him of making deals with the world. And yet he attacks the establishment – both worldly and ecclesiastical, which is the same – and he even outlines the list of tribulations from which it suffers. Those who praise Francis do so because they feel him to be mercifully sensitive to the reality of the world even so as to suspend judgment. And yet the pope says vehemently, as he did during his visit to Naples, that corruption “stinks” and he uses no half measures in his denunciation.

There is a deeply spiritual criterion of which we must never lose sight. It is what drives Jesus to welcome the sinner and to cast out the money changers from the temple. The criterion is Jesus himself. There are those who, seeing the two gestures, consider them contradictory because – out of rigorism or laxity – they have not understood the Gospel of Christ.

To deal with Francis’ international politics means to immerse oneself in a spiritual vision that is nourished by a profound sense of the possible catastrophe and the forces of evil in action. At the same time, there is a unique confidence in the mystery of God that leads one to accept the small steps, the processes, the worldly authority, the talks, the negotiations, the role of time, the mediation.[7]

This approach is based on the awareness that the world is not divided between good and evil, between wrong and right. The choice is not the discernment of the forces (partisan, political, military…) with which to ally oneself and support in order for good to triumph. This approach of diplomatic conversation is based on the certainty that the empire of good is not given to this world. That is why you have to talk to everyone. Worldly power is definitely desacralized. Of course, politicians are called to become “holy” precisely by being politicians, and by working for the common good. But even so, no political power is “sacred.”

In this sense Francis trusts entirely and solely in the eschatological future; he trusts in God alone. It is precisely this that drives him to make every possible effort to focus on “integration,” on everything that – putting aside any false illusion of “sacred empire” – leads people on the path of good, even in the midst of the temptations of this world. Precisely for this reason no one is the “evil one,” that is, the incarnation of the devil. And this is scandalous because it leaves a door open (sometimes a very narrow door, but one still open) even in politically problematic situations.

Against the temptation of tribal Catholicism

The energy that leads Francis to work to curb the fall of the world into the abyss therefore does not push the pontiff to compromise with the powers that be. This is the most delicate point of his reasoning, because sometimes the Church believes that the only way to curb decadence is to ally itself with a political party that allows it to survive as an agency of meaning. This has often occurred in Italy. And the nostalgia has not yet gone away. But Bergoglio does not believe in this power of power. The sacred is never the prop of power. Power is never the prop of the sacred.

The high discourse proper to the pontificate then embraces the themes of equality, the need for “land, home and work,” as well as those linked to freedom. “Relativism” is revealed even more clearly in its devastating social aspects. The call to combat the dictatorship of relativism touches the heart of human dignity, which remains defenseless and helpless without land, home and work. And this is not because Francis imagines a paradise on earth: his is not a worldly uptopianism. This is because his is a look of faith, which is based on the Final Judgment, as the Beatitudes of the Gospel present it to us.

In this regard, an ambassador noted that “the language of Benedict XVI was that of Western modernity, which on the one hand recognized the pluralism of worldviews in contemporary society and on the other denounced the ‘dictatorship of relativism.’ The language of Francis, while looking at the many challenges of cultural modernity, at the same time considers the process of social and economic polarization prevailing on a global scale, with a pressing progression and increasing intensity.”[8]

This is the point of failure in the contrast between the secular and the Christian which comes when they are perceived as ideological categories, semantic fields and abstract references. The Spirit cannot be so contained. Christian thought is in itself opposed to secular thought only if it has morphed into an ideology. But if Christian thought has become an ideology, it no longer has anything to do with Christ.

In reality, the pope said in Egypt, all opposition stiffened by the dust of time will fall. True wisdom is “open and in motion, at once humble and inquisitive.”[9] There is only one opposition: either the “civility of encounter” or the “incivility of clash.” What about religions? “The polychromatic light of religions shone in this land.” Lights do not contrast colors by putting them in antithesis, but it assumes them in a non-confrontational vision. After all, this is the big problem today: we experience diversity in conflicting terms.

In his speech for the publication of issue 4000 of La Civiltà Cattolica, Francis said: “Make known the meaning of Catholic ‘civilization,’ but also make known to Catholics that God is at work even outside the confines of the Church, in every true ‘civilization,’ with the breath of the Spirit.” And shortly before, in the same speech, he had said that “living culture tends to open up, to integrate, to multiply, to share, to dialogue, to give and receive within a people and with other peoples with whom it enters into relationship.”[10]

Culture for Bergoglio has more value as a verb than a noun. Only verbs express it well. In particular: open, integrate, multiply, share, dialogue, give and receive. Seven flexible verbs referring to the past, present and future. Seven verbs that can indicate or invite or express an imperative that moves to action.[11] The first is “open.”

The idea of a Catholic populism or – even worse – a Catholic ethnicism is far from the pope, because the God he seeks is everywhere. The idea of a “tribalism” that appropriates the book of the Gospels or the very symbol of the cross is far distant. Notions of roots and identity do not have the same content for the Catholic and the neo-pagan identity. Ethnic, triumphalist, arrogant and vindictive roots are simply the opposite of Christianity.

World War III is not a fixed destiny. To avoid it requires mercy, and this means abandoning fundamentalist and apocalyptic narratives that are dressed in pompous robes and religious masks. Francis challenges the apocalypse and the thinking of political networks that support a geopolitical apocalyptic of the final, fatal and inevitable clash. The community of faith, is never the community of fight.

It is necessary to escape the transversal temptation to project the divinity onto a political power that uses it for its own ends. Thus the narrative machine of sectarian millenarianisms that prepare for the apocalypse and the “final clash” is emptied from within. The emphasis on mercy as a fundamental attribute of God expresses this radically Christian need.

For this reason Francis is spreading a systematic counter-narrative with respect to the narrative of fear. We must combat the manipulation of this season of anxiety and insecurity. For this reason too, courageously, the pope does not give any theological-political legitimacy to terrorists, avoiding, for example, any reduction of Islam to Islamist terrorism. Nor does he give it to those who postulate or want a “holy war” or who build barbed-wire barriers under the pretext of stopping the apocalypse and erecting a physical and symbolic defense in order to restore “order.” The only barbed wire for the Christian is that of the crown of thorns that Christ has on his head.

Saint Francis on the throne of Saint Peter

In a provocatively evangelical manner, Francis spoke of terrorists using an expression dense with condemnation and compassion. He called them “poor criminal people.” He used this expression in his meeting with refugees and young people with disabilities at the Latin Catholic Church in Bethany on May 24, 2014. As with a watermark, we perceive in the sinner – in this case the terrorist – the “prodigal son” and not a sort of diabolical incarnation. There is also the truly singular affirmation that stopping the unjust aggressor is a genuine right of humanity, but it is also “a right of the aggressor,” that is the right “to be stopped from doing harm.” In this way we see reality from a dual perspective, which includes and does not exclude the enemy and his or her greater good.

The typical love of the Christian is not only love for the “neighbor,” but love for the “enemy.” When one comes to look at the person who commits horror with some form of pietas, what triumphs in a humanly inexplicable way – and even “scandalous” way – is precisely the intimate power of the Gospel of Christ: love for the enemy. This is the triumph of mercy.

Without this, the Gospel would risk becoming an edifying but certainly not revolutionary discourse. The choice of Francis is that of Christ before the Great Inquisitor, as Dostoevsky presents it to us in The Brothers Karamazov: a kiss on the lips for the one who announces the death sentence to him; a kiss does not change his mind, but makes his lips tremble and “burns the heart.”

The pope puts up a strong resistance to fascination for Catholicism as a political guarantee, the “last empire,” heir to glorious vestiges, a pillar of resistance to decline in the face of the crisis of global leadership in the Western world. To put it simply, he is removing Christianity from the temptation to remain the heir to the Roman Empire, an inheritance that mixes political potestas and spiritual auctoritas as we mentioned earlier. He strips spiritual power of its temporal clothes, its worn and rusty armor. His white habit – without a coat of arms – brings Christianity back to Christ. He no longer wears red, a traditionally imperial color and an expression of the imitatio imperii of the Bishop of Rome, of which the Constitutum Constantini is the justification and legal sanction.

Let us not delude ourselves: the interweaving of sacerdotium and imperium is not easy to unravel. We may not even know what the outcome of this process will be. The conditions and possibilities must be clarified. What is certain is that the pope no longer symbolically crowns any “king” as defensor fidei. Yes, he is a world-renowned religious leader, but he is also a leader with soft power, able to propose a vision of the world capable of a future.

In this sense Saint Peter is Saint Francis. For some this is the oxymoron, the scandal, the stumbling block in the reading of the pontificate. The halo of the Saint of Assisi, a poor Christian, coincides with that of the Vicar of Christ, and the profile of the Roman emperor is abandoned forever. But this also avoids the danger of identifying with Don Quixote de la Mancha who fights against the windmills of our days. And it shuns the of the beautiful souls left in the fold.

If anything, perhaps Dante comes to mind, who in De Monarchia links the spiritual auctoritas of the pope directly with paternitas, the feeling of fatherly care. Massimo Cacciari comments precisely in this regard: “A ‘primacy’ expressed in the power of the Church to become radically humble, poor and evangelical. This means appearing to the world naked, helpless and crucified. Verbum abbreviatum, in short: Francis is the salvation of the Church. And only by raising the cross of Francis will the Church also be able to guard its own paternitas toward political authority.”[12]

Only a Church that by openly confessing it is not the City of God in action rejects any compromise in the management of political power can still be heard and be valid in the world. In this sense Paul Elie is right in his New York Times article, “Francis, the Anti-Strongman.” He wrote: “The age of the strongman is at hand: Xi Jinping in China, Vladimir Putin in Russia, Viktor Orban in Hungary and Donald Trump in the United States all disdain checks and balances, the independent press and other forces that might counter a self-determined chief executive. In these circumstances, Pope Francis has emerged as a strong anti-strongman. His choice of name evoked Francis of Assisi, humble patron saint of the poor.”[13] His apostolic exhortation: Gaudete et Exsultate, published exactly five years after his election, centered on holiness, and is for the pope the heart of his action of “reform” of the Church, which cannot be reduced to organizational choices about the Curia.

Francis wants to give back to God his true power, which is that of integration. “Integrating” means “inserting the differences of epochs, nations, styles, visions, in the process of construction.” The pope made it clear in Korea to the bishops of Asia that identity is not made up only of data to be preserved, nor a past to be jealously preserved.[14] The time of identity for the pope is not the past, which generates “identity temptations,” but the future. Identity reveals not only who we are, but above all what we hope for. Identity is not given by who you were, but by what you hope.

And this develops into a vision of the Church based on hope and the eschatological future, which is ultra-worldly. Francis reminded the bishops of the United States of America: we must be careful not to fall into the temptation to exchange “the power of strength with the strength of that powerlessness through which God has redeemed us.” Never make “the cross a banner of worldly struggles.”

Bergoglio intends to free the shepherds from feeling at war in defense of an order whose fall would lead to the apocalypse of Catholicism and perhaps of the world. The pope does not want “dismayed” bishops, as if suffering a sort of “Masada complex,” in which the Church feels surrounded by a society that it must fight. Even the defense of the so-called “Christian West” is in reality an instrumental perversion of Christian morality. In some cases they even go so far as to justify geopolitical or economic interests by cloaking them in the narrative of the defense of persecuted Christians.

The primacy of spiritual authority and the end of ‘Christianity’

Francis, then, reveals his conviction, which he formed partly by reading the Jesuit theologian Erich Przywara: we are at the end of the Constantinian era and the experiment of Charlemagne. Christianity, that is, the process begun by Constantine in which there is an organic link between culture, politics, institutions and the Church, is coming to an end. Przywara – repeatedly quoted by the pontiff – was convinced that Europe was born and grew up in relation to and in opposition to the Sacrum Imperium (Holy Empire), which had its roots in Charlemagne’s attempt to organize the West as a totalitarian state.

The end of Christianity, however, does not mean the waning of the West, but rather it carries within itself a decisive theological resource because Charlemagne’s mission is at an end. Christ himself resumes the work of conversion. The wall is falling, the wall that almost to this day has prevented the Gospel from reaching the deepest layers of consciousness, from penetrating to the center of souls.[15]

The end of Constantinism is “the possibility for the Church to resume the evangelical paths initiated by Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola and Teresa of Lisieux, breaking the barrier that separated it from the poor to whom Christianity – in the political theological conjuncture of the various forms of Christianity – has always appeared as the political ideology and the guarantee that  the dominant classes will triumph.”[16] This same vision leads the pope to love the “zero point” Churches, that is those that have very low percentages of Catholics compared to the population of the countries in which they are located. But they are seeds for the universal Church. Hence the geography of the Holy See – including that of the College of Cardinals and that of apostolic journeys – which is a pastoral geography.

There is, therefore, a clear difference between the imperial theo-political scheme of Constantinian legacy, which wants to establish the Kingdom of a divinity here and now, and the Franciscan theo-political scheme, which is eschatological, that is, it looks to the future and intends to orient current history toward the Kingdom of God, the kingdom of justice and peace. In the imperial scheme the deity is obviously the ideal projection of the constituted power. This vision generates the ideology of conquest. The Franciscan vision, on the contrary, generates the process of integration.

And this is all the more true today at a time when – in a new world “disorder” that is still difficult to decipher – Catholicism can acquire relevance on issues of global interest, such as the environment, migrants and refugees, and respect for human rights. It is not at all a question of isolating Francis with the too easy and superficial label of “Pope of the South,” of the developing world, as opposed to the secularized West. But here it is a question of understanding that, on the contrary, it is the globalization of the Church that changes the issues that define the impact of Catholicism in the public sphere.

On May 9, 2016, in an interview with the French daily newspaper La Croix, the pope said of Europe: “Europe, yes, has Christian roots. Christianity has the duty to water them, but in a spirit of service as for washing feet. The duty of Christianity for Europe is service.” And again: “The contribution of Christianity to a culture is that of Christ with the washing of the feet, that is, the service and the gift of life.”[17]

And this is the strong message that Francis gave to the Italian Church in Florence in 2015 with a long speech to be kept and shared, not archived: “We will see nothing of his fullness if we do not accept that God emptied himself. And therefore we will understand nothing of Christian humanism and our words will be beautiful, cultured, refined, but they will not be words of faith. They will be words that resound of emptiness.”[18]

The primacy of spiritual authority is that of mercy. Again Francis said to the Italian bishops: “Before the evils or problems of the Church it is useless to seek solutions in conservatism and fundamentalism, in the restoration of obsolete practices and forms that even culturally lack the capacity to be meaningful. Christian doctrine is not a closed system, incapable of raising questions, doubts, inquiries, but is living, is able to unsettle, is able to enliven. It has a face that is supple, a body that moves and develops, flesh that is tender: Christian doctrine is called Jesus Christ.”

The power of the Crucified Christ – and therefore power crucified – is the only one that can save the world.

Bergoglio knows that the “elected people” who become “parties” enter an intricate web of religious, institutional and political dimensions that make them lose the sense of their universal service and oppose themselves to those who are far away, to those who do not belong to them, to those who are “enemies.” Being “of a party” creates the enemy: one must escape this temptation.[19] Neither can political recipes derive directly from the Gospel. On the other hand, the Gospel discerns and judges worldly action and its criteria. Two examples: reducing men, women and children on the run to lost property in the waters of the Mediterranean cannot be acceptable as a means of pressure to change international treaties. Just as at the US-Mexico border it is not possible to separate children from their parents, for it is an act of cruelty supposedly justified as a form of deterrence to illegal immigration.

The challenge to the apocalypse after the Bomb and the Wall: human fraternity

At the end of our reflections, we can return to the question with which we started. Does Francis announce and accelerate the end, promising the utopia of a new world, or does he hold together the pieces of a world that is falling apart? At the end of our itinerary it is clear that his route does not correspond perfectly to either hypothesis. There is a third one.

Francis presents the Church as a sign of contradiction in a world accustomed to indifference. He reacts first and foremost by asking for prayers for the world, and firstly for himself. And then he reacts by carrying out a pedagogical action toward those children of God who do not yet know that they are children and therefore brothers among themselves. He knows that the mission of the Church belongs to the sphere of education, and therefore of waiting, of patience.

A clear example of this action was the signing together with Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of al-Ahzar, of a “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together,” an event that took place in Abu Dhabi on February 4, 2019. We believe that the scope of that event and that Document has not yet been well understood. In its pages there is an intuition that cancels the apocalyptic accelerations of jihadist or “neo-crusader” positions and at the same time does not limit therapeutic action to simply putting on patches, bandages and using crutches to delay the inevitable end. These pages – they were not only signed but also written together by the pope and the imam – are not prisoners of disillusionment, nor are they lost in a quest for utopia.

In that text the reading of reality shows “a global context overshadowed by uncertainty, disillusionment, fear of the future, and controlled by shortsighted economic interests.” The two leaders express themselves “in the name of God,” but they do not directly lay down asymmetrical theological premises. Instead, they start from the experience of their encounter and from the fact that, starting from their faith in God, they have shared several times “the joys, the sadness and the problems of the contemporary world.” Here is the incipit: “Faith leads a believer to see in the other a brother or sister to be supported and loved. Through faith in God, who has created the universe, creatures and all human beings (equal on account of his mercy), believers are called to express this human fraternity by safeguarding creation and the entire universe and supporting all persons, especially the poorest and those most in need.”

The Document courageously faces the challenge of the disease of religion, which transforms holiness into the service of political action as a sacred cause. In its most extreme and virulent forms, this disease seems to push its followers to a new “creation” of the world through violence. In this way, the Document rejects the apocalyptic vision that generates terror as an instrument for the rapid realization of God’s will understood as destruction. This, in fact, is the theological core of religious terrorism. Francis and el-Tayeb together unveil the perverse dynamics of this vision and definitively wrest the religious character away from it.

The recognition of fraternity is vertical, based on transcendence and faith in God. For both signatories, man does not save himself alone, as a secular, Enlightenment-based, radical and bourgeois ethic would assert. Neither is fraternity a purely emotional or sentimental given. It is not the simple – however important – imperative “love one another.” Instead, it is a strong message with political value too. It is no coincidence that this leads directly to a reflection on the meaning of “citizenship”: we are all brothers and sisters, and are therefore all citizens with equal rights and duties, under whose shadow everyone enjoys justice. Talking about “citizenship” drives away both the ghosts of an accelerated end and the political solutions put forward in order to avoid the worst. The idea of “minority” disappears, carrying with it the seeds of tribalism and hostility, which see in the face of the other the mask of the enemy.

Thus the message takes on global relevance: in a time marked by walls, hatred and induced fear, these words overturn the secular logic of necessary conflict. The pope expressed this clearly in his Message for the World Day of Peace 2020: “Fear is often a source of conflict”; “distrust and fear increase the fragility of relationships and the risk of violence.” One has to break the “morbid logic” of fear. Francis’ approach is subversive to the apocalyptic political theologies that are spreading in both the Islamic and Christian worlds. And that is not all. It is no coincidence that Pope Francis cited the Abu Dhabi Document four times during his trip to Thailand and Japan. He gave it to the Buddhist Patriarch in Bangkok, and quoted it in Hiroshima, where the atomic bomb was dropped on humanity with its destructive apocalyptic energy. And already there have come strong resonances of harmony with the Document from the Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh worlds.

* * *

We opened with the Berlin Wall and close with the Hiroshima Bomb. The direction to take to avoid the abyss of the apocalypse has been plotted. The foundation of everything is in a sentence of the Abu Dhabi Document: “Faith leads the believer to see in the other a brother to be supported and loved.” Fraternity is the true challenge to the apocalypse.

[1].    Cf. G. Salvini, “Raising the walls among the people” in Civ. Catt. En. April 2018,

[2].    Francis, “Our Little Path: Pope Francis meets the Jesuits in Thailand and Japan”

[3].    The first time Francis used the expression “field hospital” referring to the Church was during the interview he gave me at the beginning of his pontificate: A. Spadaro, “Intervista a Papa Francesco” in Civ. Catt. 2013 III 449-477. On Francis’ worldview, cf. A. Spadaro, Il nuovo mondo di Francesco. Come il Vaticano sta cambiando la politica globale, Venice, Marsilio, 2018.

[4].    Cf. M. Cacciari, Il potere che frena. Saggio di teologia politica, Milan, Adelphi, 2013.

[5].    This is the thesis of authors like Rod Dreher that we discussed in A. Lind, “The ‘Benedict Option’: What is the role for Christians in society today?” in Civ. Catt. En. 2018,

[6].          “Pope Francis meets La Civiltà Cattolica on the occasion of the publication of issue 4000”

[7].    Cf. Francis, “‘Our little path’…”, op. cit.

[8].    P. Ferrara, Il mondo di Francesco. Bergoglio e la politica internazionale, Cinisello Balsamo (Mi), San Paolo, 2016, 21.

[9] .   Cf. Francis, Address to the participants of the International Conference for Peace, Cairo, April 28, 2017.

[10].   “Pope Francis meets La Civiltà Cattolica on the occasion of the publication of issue 4000” op. cit.

[11].   Ibid.

[12].   Cf. M. Cacciari, Il potere che frena… op. cit.

[13].   P. Elie, “Francis, the Anti-Strongman” in The New York Times, March 24, 2018.

[14].   Cf. Francis, Address to the Bishops of Asia, August 17, 2014.

[15].   Cf. ibid., 55; G. Zamagni, “Tra Costantino e Hitler. L’Europa di Friedrich Heer” in Id., Fine dell’era costantiniana. Retrospettiva genealogica di un concetto critico, Bologna, il Mulino, 2012, 55-57.

[16].   F. Mandreoli – J. L. Narvaja, “Introduzione” in E. Przywara, L’idea d’Europa. La «crisi» di ogni politica «cristiana», Trapani, Il Pozzo di Giacobbe, 2013, 55.

[17].   G. Goubert – S. Maillard, “Entretien exclusif avec le pape François” in La Croix, May 17, 2016.

[18].   Francis, Speech at the Meeting with representatives of the Fifth National Conference of the Italian Church, Florence, November 10, 2015.

[19].   See E. Przywara, L’Idea d’Europa…, op. cit., 3.