by Elise Ann Allen
ROME (Crux) – On Sept.13, Pope Francis addressed the wave of protests that have swept through the globe this summer, some of which have turned violent, issuing an appeal for peaceful demonstrations and for those fueled by hate to let go and move toward forgiveness and reconciliation.
“In recent weeks, in many parts of the world, there are numerous popular protests that express the growing discomfort of civil society in the face of political and social situations of particular criticism,” the pontiff said on Sunday.
“While I encourage the protestors to present their requests in a peaceful way, without falling into the temptation of aggressiveness and violence, I appeal to all those who have public and governing responsibility to listen to the voice of their citizens,” he said, urging them to meet the “just aspirations” of protestors while ensuring “full respect of human rights and civil liberties.”
Speaking directly to local Catholic communities where these protests are taking place, the Holy Father urged faithful, “under the guidance of their pastors, to operate in favor of dialogue, always in favor of dialogue, in favor of reconciliation.”
Although Pope Francis did not name any one country specifically, it is no secret that for months both the United States and Hong Kong have been the site of massive protests led by pro-democracy advocates and opponents of racism.
Ever since George Floyd, a black man, died in police custody May 25 after an office knelt on his neck and back for nearly nine minutes despite Floyd’s pleas that he could not breathe, large-scale demonstrations demanding racial justice have gripped the United States, some of which have turned violent with protestors looting and vandalizing shops and private property.
For more than a year, Hong Kong has faced its own wave of protests, which were initially sparked last June by a bill allowing extradition to mainland China and which have been perpetuated by Beijing’s passage of a new national security law that many pro-democracy advocates argue is being used to suppress their freedoms.
Hundreds of protestors have been arrested since the law was passed in June. While mostly peaceful, some turned violent as frustrations boiled over. Pro-democracy advocates continue to be detained for their protests, adding fuel to the fire that has already consumed Hong Kong for more than a year as it has tried to push back against Beijing’s attempts to tighten its grip on the territory.
Throughout the summer, protests related to George Floyd, coronavirus lockdowns and corruption have rippled throughout the world, including Brazil, Australia, Israel, and numerous other countries throughout Europe, the Americas and the Middle East.
In his speech before the day’s Angelus, Pope Francis focused on the theme of forgiveness, highlighting the day’s biblical readings which recount the parable of a servant being forgiven his debt only to be thrown into prison for refusing to forgive the much smaller debt owed to him, and Jesus’s response to Peter that he must forgive those who offend him by “seventy times seven” – a symbolic way of saying “always.”
“In the divine attitude, justice is pervaded with mercy, whereas the human attitude is limited to justice,” the pontiff said, adding, “Jesus exhorts us to open ourselves with courage to the strength of forgiveness, because in life not everything can be resolved with justice.”
“There is a need for that merciful love,” he said, asking, “How many families are divided, they don’t know how to forgive, how many brothers and sisters have this anger inside?”
“How much suffering, how many wounds, how many wars could be avoided if forgiveness and mercy were the style of our life” he said, insisting on the need “to apply merciful love to all human relationships: between spouses, between parents and children, within our communities and also in society and politics.”
Pope Francis acknowledged that “It’s not easy to forgive,” but stressed that each person has done something to hurt or offend someone else.
If a person chooses not to forgive, “then anger returns, like a fly in the summer that keeps coming back,” he said, asking for forgiveness to be the continual remedy “against this anger, this hatred that returns.”
“This morning, let’s stop hating,” he said, and, pointing to the words of the traditional Our Father prayer which says, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” he stressed that “We cannot demand God’s forgiveness for ourselves if we in turn to not grant forgiveness to our neighbor.”
“If we do not strive to forgive and to love, we will not be forgiven and loved either” he said, urging faithful to “think of God’s merciful love, (and) stop hating.”