Beatitudes of the politician - Fr Joe Borg
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Beatitudes of the politician - Fr Joe Borg

Many surely believe that the Beatitudes and politics do not mix. They will strengthen their position by pointing to the myriad institutionalised corruption scandals that surround us. Then they would give examples from overseas: the populism of several leaders, the rapacity of many, and the lust for power, everlasting (if possible), that countless politicians harbour.

According to a Eurobarometer published in Autumn 2017, only 21 per cent of the Maltese trust political parties, which, incidentally, is slightly higher than the 18 per cent that trust them in the European Union. 

One is tempted to say that only the naïve would dare utter in one breath the phrase “beatitudes and politicians”. But neither Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyȇn Vān Thuȃn, who came up with such a list, nor Pope Francis, who has just re-proposed it, can be called naïve.

Nguyȇn Vān Thuȃn spent several years under house arrest in his diocese and more than 13 years in a prison in Hanoi, North Vietnam, nine years of which were lived in solitary confinement. He was later forced into exile by the Vietnamese Communist government.

In May 3, 2002, (just four months before his death) at a conference in the northern Italian city of Padua the Cardinal, who was then the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, proposed these eight beatitudes:

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 works for the common good and not his or her own interest

Blessed be the politician who is without fear.

Pope Francis re-proposed these beatitudes in his message for the celebration of the 52nd World Day of Peace – January 1, 2019. In this same message the Pope also outlined both the virtues and the vices of politics.

The vices are well known, advertised and broadcast, but it would be good to read what irks Francis most. For Francis, the mother of all vices is corruption. To counter-balance the eight beatitudes, Francis mentions eight types of corruption: “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.”

Francis constantly condemns corruption. His distaste for corruption (in contrast to the nonchalant attitude of most Maltese) is evidenced in one of his most famous sayings: “Sinners yes, corrupt no” (November 11, 2013). This October 2018, in Ave Maria, a book based on an interview with Fr Marco Pozza, he made another very strong statement: Mary is mother to sinners but not to the corrupt.

After the condemnation of corruption there is a sentence lambasting other pet subjects of his: “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.” Xenophobia is unfortunately quite widespread among the Maltese, while the ravaging of the environment is more the domain of the big-moneyed bullies and their buddies in authority who close an eye to the abuses and open both arms to pocket ill-gotten gain.

Francis writes on the virtues of politics at greater length than he does on its vices. This shows his optimistic belief in humanity. What he writes he derives from Christian teaching but, truth be told, it represents basic human decency. Thus, his appeal goes beyond the precincts of Christianity, so much so that the Pope addresses “all politicians, whatever their culture or religion”.

One arm of his two-pronged approach to politics is the concept of politics as service. He referred to this dimension of politics six times in his four-page document. A hefty price is paid when this concept is abandoned: “When political life is not seen as a form of service to society as a whole, it can become a means of oppression, marginalisation and even destruction.”

The other part of the equation is politics as charity. This basic tenet of Christian teaching on politics may sound hollow to many people. But for Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict, whom he quoted, there is no doubt that “when animated by charity, commitment to the common good has greater worth than a merely secular and political stand would have”. He pressed this point by affirming that “political life can indeed become an outstanding form of charity”.

The Church takes politics and politicians seriously. Francis told Latin Ameri­can politicians that “politics is a service of sacrifice and dedication, to such a point that at times politicians can be considered as ‘martyrs’ of causes for the common good of their nations”.

One hopes that this will be the spirit that animates more politicians to seriously dedicate themselves to the furthering of the common good.

joseph.borg@um.edu.mt

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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