Rowan Ireland.

Herding in the city. Shawn Harquail. flickr cc.

Pope Francis’s speeches and homilies during his visits to Chile and Peru during 15-22 January 2018 make for stirring reading. As we’ve come to expect, he addressed global issues of social justice and the mission of the Church, with vivid, sometimes startling, reference to local realities.

In both countries, his overall theme was “unity and hope”. Pope Francis addressed these terms always in relation to the purpose of moving churches, states, and society in these two countries towards social justice goals and horizons for the spirit spelled out in his encyclical Laudato Sí. In both countries, Pope Francis celebrated as signs of hope historical and contemporary achievements in social justice and social inclusion.

Critique of forms of development which exclude the poor & marginalised

But Pope Francis also criticised a prevailing model of development which excluded indigenous people and the young, and deprived them of hope of participation in the production and enjoyment of increasing national prosperity.

The Pope’s concerns were expressed in eleven major addresses to a variety of audiences. In both countries, he addressed gatherings of clergy, as we might expect. But the variety of his chosen audiences and interlocuters reveals much about his intentions for the visit. These included the prisoners in a women’s gaol in Chile, indigenous groups in Chile and Peru, representatives of various communities in Northern Peru assembled under the banners of their patron saints, residents and staff of a children’s home in Peru, staff and students from the Pontifical University in Santiago Chile, and migrant labourers in the multicultural city of Iquique – a port, mining, and resort town with a large migrant population in the desert region of Northern Chile.

In both countries, he addressed government authorities and assembled diplomats, always calling on them “to listen … to the unemployed who cannot support the present, much less the future of their families. To listen to the native peoples … the migrants … young people especially in education, the elderly, children.

In his addresses, there were many variations of the themes sketched above, often grounded in stories about local events and experiences. Most of his papal exhortation was reserved for elites. For the less- or under-privileged the tone was of recognition and encouragement, and less hortatory.

Church elites were exhorted to listen to and draw on the resilience and experiential wisdom of those of simple faith, to refrain from taking ‘selfies’ celebrating their own status and achievements, to reduce emphasis on defending spaces already awarded by the Church and advance into new spaces and engagements.

Above all, they were to cross lines of privilege, and to go out “to touch the suffering of the faithful”. Some of the advice seemed almost whimsical, for example that given to bishops to realise their need for the ‘gift of dreaming’, but that too was consistent with his broad pastoral message that the Church must renew its engagements at its social and cultural frontiers, always in service to a preferential option for the poor.

The task of forging an inclusive social vision

Pope Francis during Armenian President Serzh Sragsyan’s official visit to Vatican City, Italy. PAN Photo. flickr cc.

For elites of government and commerce, Francis reiterated the Gospel ethic of development he elaborated in Laudato Sí. Here, it is possible only to note the main principles underlying the ethic, and list the trends he considered to negate those principles. The ethic and its negations were vividly enunciated in addresses to Indigenous populations in Amazonian Peru and the land of the Mapuche in Chile.

Among the major principles:

  • Development is always to be achieved dialogically, so that indigenous people become partners in the development of their territories, with space to be agents in shaping their own history.
  • Development is always to be accompanied by moves toward ever increasing participatory democracy, to include sections of the population historically removed or excluded from formal representative democracy.
  • Development must always focus on the flourishing of human communities over private gain, rather than exclusively on economic growth and the achievement of the technologically possible.
  • At the same time, development programs must recognise the interdependence of human development and care for heritage in the natural environment.
  • The achievement of development consistent with the above principles requires more than fixes for specific problems. Rather, it requires “a distinctive way of looking at things, a lifestyle, and spirituality”, which avoids a morally shallow “technocratic paradigm”.

Curtailing corruption & greed

Negating this ethic of development, Pope Francis noted corruption through which communitarian resources are milked for private or sectional gain. His remarks here were especially relevant in Peru, presently wracked by massive corruption scandals extending to the highest levels of government. He identified various forms of neo-colonialism undermining dialogic development. In mining and frontier areas of both countries he found “neo-extractivism”, an exclusive focus on extracting natural resources for sale elsewhere, regardless of costs to the natural and human environments.

Perhaps giving pause to environmentalists around the world concerned about the destruction of the Amazon forest, Francis warned against “certain policies aimed at the ‘conservation’ of nature without taking into account the men and women, especially you, my Amazonian brothers and sisters, who inhabit it”.

Further such quotations would help establish subtleties and the deep, local pastoral tenor of Pope Francis’s addresses. But space considerations limit us to selected summaries and dot points. The advantage of those, perhaps, is that they help us see universal concerns that Francis expressed in Latin American realities.

To this Australian reader of the texts, for example, the Pope’s remarks on development and indigenous populations in Chile and Peru seem to bear directly on policy issues regarding indigenous Australia. But that, and an account of the full range of the Pope’s topics – to include, for example, his remarks on University education in relation to the themes outlined here – await another article.

Dr Rowan Ireland is a specialist in Latin American studies and has taught at La Trobe University. He has done much of his field work in Brazil.

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