Earlier this week Pope Francis on a return trip from Armenia took a series of questions from journalists. Some of his responses, especially his comment about asking forgiveness of gay people and their families provoked a media storm. Yet, in reading the whole interview, I was struck by his consistent concern for all those who are marginalised, and hurting in the world.
He not only challenged Christians to ask forgiveness of gay people and their families for the way in which the church has treated them, but dealt with these questions in the context of the Armenian genocide in 1915, and the response of the rest of the world then.
In the Confiteor in the mass we confess our sinfulness to God by saying: “I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do”. Pope Francis is reminding us that sin is not just what we have done. We also sin in our thoughts about others, in what we say of others, and in what we fail to do.
It is easy for most of us to sit back comfortably in the awareness that we would never set out to kill others. It is easy for us to see ourselves as “good” and for there to be “bad” people “out there” who commit terrible deeds. Pope Francis is challenging us to think about our complacency.
Whether we are talking about the prejudice and racism that fuels genocide, or discriminatory attitudes towards homosexuals or towards women, that fuel abuse, we are talking about the same fundamental problem. A failure to see others as being created with equal dignity and love by God. That is a basic evil, where we ourselves do not recognise and uphold the innate dignity of others. There is a related evil, namely when we tolerate discriminatory attitudes around us.
Just 24 years after the Armenian genocide, in his infamous Obersalzberg Speech Hitler said that he would “send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language.” He gave as justification, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
The Pope quoted this line of Hitler’s referring to how we as Christians have sinned by turning our gaze away from those who are discriminated against. He wants us to think about those moments when we did not respond and so allowed evil to thrive.
He is asking us to repent of our selfishness, which makes us want to stay safe in our own comfortable world, and not see the evil that is done around us. He is challenging us to repent of all the times when we do nothing but look “from the other side like the international powers with three genocides.” He is challenging us to no longer tolerate in ourselves or in others discriminatory attitudes about race, class, gender, or sexual orientation.
By Frances Correia
Follow Frances Correia on twitter @CorreiaFrances