The Meaning of Francis’ International Politics

José Luis Narvaja, SJ

 José Luis Narvaja, SJ / Church Life / 15 September 2017

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In order to trace the pope’s political map of the world and grasp the roots of his international politics, we must avoid simplification and find the right keys to interpretation.[1] It is useful to start from his biographical and cultural roots, but it is also necessary to go beyond this. In any case, we must always bear in mind that the pope’s agenda is open and that this openness is a specific characteristic of his politics.

We may distinguish four aspects of the pontiff’s politics: their kerygmatic nature, their orientation towards wholeness and unity, their origin in discernment, and the direct connection he draws between politics and charity.

Kerygmatic politics, not ideology

Francis’ politics are kerygmatic. The term kerygma indicates the announcement of the message of Christ, the Gospel.[2] For Francis, the announcement of the Gospel becomes political; political commitment emanates from the Gospel, and not from an ideology.[3]

We know that for the Greeks – who invented the term – politics is the art of building the polis, the city in its entirety. It creates order in internal relations through internal policy, and at the same time security in external relations through foreign policy.[4]

The modern view of politics differs from this ancient framework. Today, politics is often understood as the “art of the possible,” which becomes the “art of factions” – the art of partiality, whether in support of a person, a party or a state. Politics is thus at risk of becoming the art employed by some biased people to assert their own interests.

The pope’s vision is starkly different from this calculating, manipulative idea of politics. In an article published in 1987, Jorge Bergoglio said a given fact has “political value” – is authentically political – when it carries a message, a relevant meaning for the people of God.[5] Francis’ political message has kerygmatic value: it is an announcement of the Gospel and not of an ideology. Therefore, it is of value to all the people of God, and not just to a faction or a party representing a particular set of interests.

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