“Radical mercy” is at the heart of Pope Francis’ geopolitical vision, a theologian has said.

– The socioeconomic, cultural and sociopolitical in the thought of the pontiff

Writing in the latest issue of the Theological Studies journal, Venezuelan theologian Rafael Luciani explained Francis’ proposal of a “pastoral geopolitics based on the ‘multifaceted harmony’ that arises from the culture of encounter”.

That proposal of the Pope’s has three dimensions, affirmed Luciani, associate professor at the School of Theology and Ministry at Boston College, advisor to the Latin American Bishops’ Council (CELAM) and theological consultant to the Latin American Confederation of Male and Female Religious (CLAR).

Those are the socioeconomic, which sets its sights on all forms of exclusion; the cultural, which aims at the progression from multiculturalism to interculturalism; and the sociopolitical, which seeks to support new social movements.

This vision of Francis’, Luciani went on, represents his challenge to an out-of-control globalization “in which the ephemeral and the trivial are exalted; the individual and the hedonist are made absolute [and] the rich reality of everyday life is lost as we move toward a stage of sociocultural estrangement and anomie”.

According to Luciani, the Pope asks the world:

“Are we destined to live within the parameters of the world order that now prevails, or can we move beyond the present state to one that enables us to be subjects in relation, grounded in culture and its humanizing nature?”

– “Mercy” for the Pope: “Never give anything up for lost”

Far from being an “innovative intellectual exercise”, or a mere “desire to spread a new doctrinal vision of religion”, Pope Francis’ geopolitical vision “is a response to the ethical demand to overcome the ‘present-day throwaway culture'”, Luciani said, quoting the pontiff’s famous diagnosis of the world’s principal sickness in his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium.

On the ground, the Pope’s geopolitics involves “the implementation of a soteriology of radical mercy in an intercultural and interreligious key”, the theologian explained.

“Mercy” in this sense, Luciani wrote, means life lived according to the principle ‘Never give up anything for lost'”.

“It is a way of directing history right now toward the Kingdom. It means experiencing in the present sociopolitical moment the eschatological anticipation of the ultimate truths of our collective existence”, the theologian added.

In practical terms, the Pope’s geopolitics of “mercy” involves a shift in the Church’s priorities away from power to “processes”, from indoctrination to dialogue and from a mere regard for differences to a deep respect for them, Luciani stated.

“For Francis, the Church must act as a mediating and facilitating force in the midst of the dramas that others ignore”, he affirmed.

“What is at stake is nothing less than the direct saving of human lives – as in the drama of the refugees – for there is no political mercy without social solidarity”, Luciani insisted.

– A Church “as mediator and companion”

Luciani gave as an example of the Pope’s geopolitical vision in action the fallout from his 2013 visit to the Italian island of Lampedusa, a focal point for the world’s migrant crisis.

Recalling the World Humanitarian Summit and the UN Summit on Large-scale Displacements of Refugees and Migrants that have taken place since that famous trip of the pontiff’s, Luciani said that “discernment processes such as these can be inspired by the Church when it offers itself as mediator and companion within the framework of a diplomatic vision that is preventive—not invasive or usurping”.

But the theologian reserved perhaps his most insightful observations for one of the aspects of Francis’ magisterium that he admitted “has encountered the greatest resistance” in the Church and beyond: his proposal “that the option for the poor be a structural element or ongoing condition in the life and mission of the entire Church”.

That option for the poor of the Pope’s, Luciani wrote, “means being converted, going to and being with the poor, where they live, knowing firsthand what people are experiencing”.

At stake in that “going out”, the theologian concluded, is nothing less the Church’s capacity “to bring about new alternative and horizontal processes in history”, to discern the “signs of the times that reveal the meaning of salvation”, and to guide people “toward universal brother-/sisterliness as the horizon of [the] Spirit’s activity”.

To read Luciani’s article in full, follow this link to his academia.edu profile

More on Novena from Luciani:

Latin American theologian Rafael Luciani calls for true pastoral conversion during coronavirus: “Time to fast from the Bread and commune with the Word”


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.