In speeches intended to foster a climate of world peace, Pope Francis has often used metaphors referring to walls and bridges in opposition to each other. Walls are an eloquent symbol of division and incommunicability, while bridges are an equally clear symbol of encounter between different shores – between different nations, religions and people.
The quotations are numerous. Best known, perhaps, is the quote from the speech given by Pope Francis (whose Latin title, Pontifex, indicates a “creator” or “builder of bridges”) at the Vatican Gardens on June 8, 2014, when meeting Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas: “Your presence, dear Presidents, is a great sign of brotherhood […]. The world is a legacy bequeathed to us by past generations, but it is also on loan to us from our children; our children who are weary, worn out by conflicts and yearning for the dawn of peace, our children who plead with us to tear down the walls of enmity and set out on the path of dialogue and peace, so that love and friendship may prevail.”
On other occasions, Pope Francis has been much more drastic. For example, on his way back from the apostolic trip to Mexico in February 2016, he replied to a question about the campaign for the presidency of the United States and Donald Trump’s proposed completion of the wall between the United States and Mexico, saying: “A person who thinks only of building walls, and not of building bridges, is no Christian.”
The pope has continuously fought for bridges and against walls, but unfortunately does not seem to have had much success, so far.
With data and observations from In the Shadow of the Wall, a recent report published by Caritas Italy, we will be talking about walls, one of the most evident symbols of division (page numbers within this article refer to that text).
Someone noted sadly, but wisely, that although walls can be circumvented, as a symbol of division they remain.
Walls around the world
“In 1989, 15 walls existed for the purposes of repression or defense (among which was the one in Gorizia, which divided the city in half, marking the border between Tito’s Yugoslavia and NATO’s Italy). Today, the list includes over 60” (p. 4). A sharp rise in fortifications, then, particularly in recent years: since the year 2000, concrete and barbed wire have sprung up to separate lands and stake out roughly 10,000 kilometers of borders.