As US-Iran tensions deepen and worsen, leading to the fear of all-out war, a close papal advisor has explained what he has called Francis’ “rebellion to the rhetoric of the apocalypse”.

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“When Francis spoke of the Church as a ‘field hospital after a battle’, he did not intend to use a beautiful, rhetorically effective image. What he had before his eyes was a worldly scenario of [a] ‘third world war in pieces'”, Francis’ fellow Jesuit and editor of the semi-official Vatican journal La Civiltà Cattolica Antonio Spadaro wrote in a reflection January 3, the same day American forces assassinated linchpin Iranian general Qasem Soleimani.

“For Francis, the task of the Church is not that of adapting itself to the dynamic of the world, politics, or society by shoring it up and making it survive”, Spadaro continued, much less is it the Church’s calling, for the Pope, to take sides against the world, against politics and against society.

The Pope does not desire an apocalypse “that overcomes the sickness of the world by destroying it”, nor does he “hold on to the pieces of the world that is collapsing seeking systems of comfortable alliances or balancing acts”, Spadaro wrote.

Francis does not seek to eliminate evil, but to neutralize it, and it is this insight that “is the crux for understanding what the meaning of Bergoglian action is”, Spadaro said.

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“Francis takes responsibility [for] risky positions”, the Jesuit said, adding that in the Pope, “the traditional diplomatic caution is married to the exercise of parresia, consisting of clarity and sometimes denunciation”, for example, of capitalism, the tragic plight of migrants, or nuclear weapons.

“The persistent echoes that these stances and references have generated are those that come from a ‘voice crying in the wilderness’, to cite Isaiah, the biblical prophet”, Spadaro explained.

“Francis is confronted with the new global role of Catholicism in today’s context. And in this context his is and he wants it to be essentially a spiritual and evangelical vision of international relationships”, Spadaro continued.

The Pope “is unfolding a systematic counter-narrative with respect to the narrative of fear”, the Jesuit claimed, adding that the lesson for rank-and-file Catholics is to “fight against this season of anxiety and insecurity”.

“The pope reacts by carrying out a pedagogical action towards those children of God who still do not know they are children and therefore brothers and sisters among themselves. His ‘authority’ is expressed as ‘paternity'”, Spadaro affirmed.

Why it matters

The ‘Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together’ Pope Francis signed with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in February 2019 in Abu Dhabi is a good example of brother- and sisterhood, the Pope’s “challenge to the apocalypse”, Spadaro wrote.

“If we are all brothers and sisters… then we are all citizens with equal rights and duties. Every idea of ‘minority’, that brings with it the seeds of tribalism and hostility, that sees in the face of the other the mask of enemy, disappears.

“Thus the message assumes global relevance: in a time marked by walls, hate and induced fear, these words turn upside down the worldly logic of inevitable conflict”, Spadaro explained.

The Pope expressed it well, too, in his Message for the World Day of Peace 2020, Spadaro observed, noting Francis’ insistence that “we must break the ‘morbid logic’ of fear, ‘source of conflict’ that increases the ‘risk of violence'”.

That’s why “Francis’ approach is subversive with respect to the apocalyptic political theologies that are spreading in the world”, Spadaro concluded.

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