The Pope and the communists

Image: Davide Cacciatori
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By MICHAEL LÖWY*

Communists and Marxists went to the Vatican with open hands, along with their Christian friends

In 2014, Pope Bergoglio met with Alexis Tsipras and Walter Baier (former secretary of the Austrian Communist Party), representatives of the European left, and Franz Kronreif, of the Christian movement hearths, which has been committed for years to dialogue with secular Cultural, contemplated by the Second Vatican Council. With the Pontiff's agreement, from this date onwards, a process of dialogue between Marxists, represented by the network of foundations of the European left, began. transform! and Christians, represented mainly by the movement hearths.

An Association was created, DIALOP, which organized several dialogue seminars at the Centro Universitario Sofia do Movimento hearths, in Loppiano (Italy), a Summer University on the island of Syros (Greece) and a common declaration written by Michael Brie et Benni Callebaut, signed by dozens of people from both tendencies.

Finally, on January 10, 2024, Pope Francis received in a private audience, a delegation from this dialogue, made up of seven personalities linked to the movement hearths (such as Franz Kronreif and Luisa Sello) and eight Marxists linked to the network transform!europe, including Walter Baier, current president of the European Left Party, Cornelia Hildebrandt, from the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Berlin, José Manuel Pureza, from the Portuguese Left Bloc, and the author of this note. Baier and Kronreif gave Francisco a small gift: a book with photographs of indigenous people – the guardians of the forests and our Common Home, Mother Earth.

The Pontiff read a greeting addressed to those present, in which he expressed his support for dialogue between Marxists and Christians – not without making an ironic gesture meaning “difficult, isn’t it?”. Dialogue is possible because both seek “the promotion of the common good”. Addressing both groups, he made a surprising appeal using an expression from his native country: «We Argentines say don't get upset, “don’t be discouraged”. This is also my invitation to you. Don’t be discouraged, don’t abandon, don’t stop dreaming for a better world.”

Quoting verbatim the great values ​​of the French Revolution, he added: "Innumerable times during the past years great dreams of freedom and equality, dignity and fraternity, reflecting God's own dream, have produced breakthroughs and progress." The Argentine Pope suggested three attitudes to the participants: break with schemes, take care of the less fortunate and fight corruption while respecting the law.

Regarding the second suggestion, he stated a principle that undoubtedly corresponds to the non-conformist spirit of his pontificate: «The measure of a civilization can be seen by the way it treats the most vulnerable: the poor, the unemployed, the homeless, immigrants , the exploited, and all those that the culture of waste turns into scum. A policy truly at the service of humanity cannot be dictated by finance and market mechanisms».

Solidarity, he insisted, “is not only a moral virtue, but also a requirement of justice” that implies “radical changes of perspective”. Those who make this commitment, said Francisco, are “social poets”, because “they place their creativity at the service of society, to make it more human and more fraternal”.

The reading of this greeting was followed by an informal conversation between the Pope and the participants, in which topics such as the position of women in the Church were discussed – “they already lead the Curia”, stated the Pontiff – the deadly arms industry, the struggle for peace, and the drama of rejected immigrants, «perhaps the greatest drama in Europe today». There was no protocol in this meeting, where there was no shortage of moments of humor, irony and self-irony. When saying goodbye personally to each participant in the meeting, Francisco distributed to everyone a rosary and a book, Fratellino, published by the publisher (of communist tradition) Feltrinelli, which tells the odyssey of a young African immigrant from Guinea, Ibrahim Balde, who managed, after much struggle and suffering, to arrive in Spain. The choice of this book is a significant gesture, which illustrates the convergence between the Vatican, the Focolari and Marxists in defending the rights of immigrants.

The Vatican secretariat had proposed a 20-minute meeting, but it was finally more than forty. The official agency Vatican News reported the meeting, which provoked, as expected, angry reactions from ultra-conservative religious sectors, especially in the United States. This is undoubtedly a historic meeting, both from the point of view of Marxists and from the Vatican itself.

An old Italian communist song contained the following verse: “Bandiera Rossa, al Vaticano, with bomb in hand, with bomb in hand! ». This time, the communists and Marxists went to the Vatican with open hands, along with their Christian friends.

*Michae Lowy is director of research in sociology at Center nationale de la recherche scientifique (CNRS). Author, among other books, of Marx, that unknown (boitempo). [https://amzn.to/3FaMmEe]


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