What is politics and who is the politician?

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The message of Pope Francis for the celebration of the 52nd world day of peace is but a brief and pointed catechesis of what politics and being a politician is all about. Its title already says much: Good politics is at the service of peace.

In his message Pope Francis gives an ample vision of what politics really is. Quoting Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s seventh paragraph of his encyclical letter Caritas in Veritate, Francis observes that “every Christian is called to practise charity in a manner corresponding to his vocation and according to the degree of influence he wields in the pólis… When animated by charity, commitment to the common good has greater worth than a merely secular and political stand would have… Man’s earthly activity, when inspired and sustained by charity, contributes to the building of the universal city of God, which is the goal of the history of the human family” (no.3).

Then, Pope Francis comments that “this is a programme on which all politicians, whatever their culture or religion, can agree, if they wish to work together for the good of the human family and to practise those human virtues that sustain all sound political activity: justice, equality, mutual respect, sincerity, honesty, fidelity” (no.3).

The Holy Father beautifully enfleshes these last mentioned virtues, which are to be espoused by every politician, by referring to the “Beatitudes of the Politician”, as lovingly suggested by the Vietnamese Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyễn Vãn Thuận, whom the Pope describes as “a faithful witness to the Gospel” (no.3).

“Blessed be the politician with a lofty sense and deep understanding of his role. Blessed be the politician who personally exemplifies credibility. Blessed be the politician who works for the common good and not his or her own interest. Blessed be the politician who remains consistent.

Blessed be the politician who works for unity. Blessed be the politician who works to accomplish radical change. Blessed be the politician who is capable of listening. Blessed be the politician who is without fear”.

When a politician puts into practice these life-giving blessings he and she concretely actuates what Pope Francis holds as being the goal of political life:

“Political office and political responsibility thus constantly challenge those called to the service of their country to make every effort to protect those who live there and to create the conditions for a worthy and just future. If exercised with basic respect for the life, freedom and dignity of persons, political life can indeed become an outstanding form of charity”.

Unfortunately, there are “political vices” (no.4) that hamper such a vision from taking place. Motivated by his paternal love Holy Father opens the politicians’ eyes in order not to fall into these traps that blur the beauty and fruitfulness of politics.

“We think of corruption in its varied forms: the misappropriation of public resources, the exploitation of individuals, the denial of rights, the flouting of community rules, dishonest gain, the justification of power by force or the arbitrary appeal to raison d’état and the refusal to relinquish power. To which we can add xenophobia, racism, lack of concern for the natural environment, the plundering of natural resources for the sake of quick profit and contempt for those forced into exile” (no.4).

For Pope Francis, to counter corruption and cultivate trust in the people they are called to serve politicians need to subscribe themselves to a form of politics that “concretely fosters the talents of young people and their aspirations… It becomes a confident assurance that says, ‘I trust you and with you I believe’ that we can all work together for the common good. Politics is at the service of peace if it finds expression in the recognition of the gifts and abilities of each individual” (no.5).

Let us keep praying and helping our politicians to be “artisans of peace” (no.5) so as to help us have peace with ourselves by “showing ‘a bit of sweetness towards oneself’ in order to offer ‘a bit of sweetness to others; peace with others: family members, friends, strangers, the poor and the suffering, being unafraid to encounter them and listen to what they have to say; peace with all creation, rediscovering the grandeur of God’s gift and our individual and shared responsibility as inhabitants of this world, citizens and builders of the future” (no.7).

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