Text of Pope Francis’ Address To The United Nations

Mr President,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for your kind words. Once again, following a tradition by which I feel honored, the Secretary General of the United Nations has invited the Pope to address this distinguished assembly of nations. In my own name, and that of the entire Catholic community, I wish to express to you, Mr Ban Ki-moon, my heartfelt gratitude. I greet the Heads of State and Heads of Government present, as well as the ambassadors, diplomats and political and technical officials accompanying them, the personnel of the United Nations engaged in this 70th Session of the General Assembly, the personnel of the various programs and agencies of the United Nations family, and all those who, in one way or another, take part in this meeting. Through you, I also greet the citizens of all the nations represented in this hall. I thank you, each and all, for your efforts in the service of mankind.

This is the fifth time that a Pope has visited the United Nations. I follow in the footsteps of my predecessors Paul VI, in1965, John Paul II, in 1979 and 1995, and my most recent predecessor, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in 2008. All of them expressed their great esteem for the Organization, which they considered the appropriate juridical and political response to this present moment of history, marked by our technical ability to overcome distances and frontiers and, apparently, to overcome all natural limits to the exercise of power. An essential response, inasmuch as technological power, in the hands of nationalistic or falsely universalist ideologies, is capable of perpetrating tremendous atrocities. I can only reiterate the appreciation expressed by my predecessors, in reaffirming the importance which the Catholic Church attaches to this Institution and the hope which she places in its activities.

The United Nations is presently celebrating its seventieth anniversary. The history of this organized community of states is one of important common achievements over a period of unusually fast-paced changes. Without claiming to be exhaustive, we can mention the codification and development of international law, the establishment of international norms regarding human rights, advances in humanitarian law, the resolution of numerous conflicts, operations of peace-keeping and reconciliation, and any number of other accomplishments in every area of international activity and endeavour. All these achievements are lights which help to dispel the darkness of the disorder caused by unrestrained ambitions and collective forms of selfishness. Certainly, many grave problems remain to be resolved, yet it is clear that, without all those interventions on the international level, mankind would not have been able to survive the unchecked use of its own possibilities. Every one of these political, juridical and technical advances is a path towards attaining the ideal of human fraternity and a means for its greater realization.

For this reason I pay homage to all those men and women whose loyalty and self-sacrifice have benefitted humanity as a whole in these past seventy years. In particular, I would recall today those who gave their lives for peace and reconciliation among peoples, from Dag Hammarskjöld to the many United Nations officials at every level who have been killed in the course of humanitarian missions, and missions of peace and reconciliation.
Beyond these achievements, the experience of the past seventy years has made it clear that reform and adaptation to the times is always necessary in the pursuit of the ultimate goal of granting all countries, without exception, a share in, and a genuine and equitable influence on, decision-making processes. The need for greater equity is especially true in the case of those bodies with effective executive capability, such as the Security Council, the Financial Agencies and the groups or mechanisms specifically created to deal with economic crises. This will help limit every kind of abuse or usury, especially where developing countries are concerned. The International Financial Agencies are should care for the sustainable development of countries and should ensure that they are not subjected to oppressive lending systems which, far from promoting progress, subject people to mechanisms which generate greater poverty, exclusion and dependence.

The work of the United Nations, according to the principles set forth in the Preamble and the first Articles of its founding Charter, can be seen as the development and promotion of the rule of law, based on the realization that justice is an essential condition for achieving the ideal of universal fraternity. In this context, it is helpful to recall that the limitation of power is an idea implicit in the concept of law itself. To give to each his own, to cite the classic definition of justice, means that no human individual or group can consider itself absolute, permitted to bypass the dignity and the rights of other individuals or their social groupings. The effective distribution of power (political, economic, defense-related, technological, etc.) among a plurality of subjects, and the creation of a juridical system for regulating claims and interests, are one concrete way of limiting power. Yet today’s world presents us with many false rights and – at the same time – broad sectors which are vulnerable, victims of power badly exercised: for example, the natural environment and the vast ranks of the excluded. These sectors are closely interconnected and made increasingly fragile by dominant political and economic relationships. That is why their rights must be forcefully affirmed, by working to protect the environment and by putting an end to exclusion.

First, it must be stated that a true “right of the environment” does exist, for two reasons. First, because we human beings are part of the environment. We live in communion with it, since the environment itself entails ethical limits which human activity must acknowledge and respect. Man, for all his remarkable gifts, which “are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the spheres of physics and biology” (Laudato Si’, 81), is at the same time a part of these spheres. He possesses a body shaped by physical, chemical and biological elements, and can only survive and develop if the ecological environment is favourable. Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity. Second, because every creature, particularly a living creature, has an intrinsic value, in its existence, its life, its beauty and its interdependence with other creatures. We Christians, together with the other monotheistic religions, believe that the universe is the fruit of a loving decision by the Creator, who permits man respectfully to use creation for the good of his fellow men and for the glory of the Creator; he is not authorized to abuse it, much less to destroy it. In all religions, the environment is a fundamental good (cf. ibid.).

The misuse and destruction of the environment are also accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion. In effect, a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged, either because they are differently abled (handicapped), or because they lack adequate information and technical expertise, or are incapable of decisive political action. Economic and social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights and the environment. The poorest are those who suffer most from such offenses, for three serious reasons: they are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment. They are part of today’s widespread and quietly growing “culture of waste”.

The dramatic reality this whole situation of exclusion and inequality, with its evident effects, has led me, in union with the entire Christian people and many others, to take stock of my grave responsibility in this regard and to speak out, together with all those who are seeking urgently-needed and effective solutions. The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the World Summit, which opens today, is an important sign of hope. I am similarly confident that the Paris Conference on Climatic Change will secure fundamental and effective agreements.

Solemn commitments, however, are not enough, even though they are a necessary step toward solutions. The classic definition of justice which I mentioned earlier contains as one of its essential elements a constant and perpetual will: Iustitia est constans et perpetua voluntas ius sum cuique tribuendi. Our world demands of all government leaders a will which is effective, practical and constant, concrete steps and immediate measures for preserving and improving the natural environment and thus putting an end as quickly as possible to the phenomenon of social and economic exclusion, with its baneful consequences: human trafficking, the marketing of human organs and tissues, the sexual exploitation of boys and girls, slave labour, including prostitution, the drug and weapons trade, terrorism and international organized crime. Such is the magnitude of these situations and their toll in innocent lives, that we must avoid every temptation to fall into a declarationist nominalism which would assuage our consciences. We need to ensure that our institutions are truly effective in the struggle against all these scourges.

The number and complexity of the problems require that we possess technical instruments of verification. But this involves two risks. We can rest content with the bureaucratic exercise of drawing up long lists of good proposals – goals, objectives and statistical indicators – or we can think that a single theoretical and aprioristic solution will provide an answer to all the challenges. It must never be forgotten that political and economic activity is only effective when it is understood as a prudential activity, guided by a perennial concept of justice and constantly conscious of the fact that, above and beyond our plans and programmes, we are dealing with real men and women who live, struggle and suffer, and are often forced to live in great poverty, deprived of all rights.

To enable these real men and women to escape from extreme poverty, we must allow them to be dignified agents of their own destiny. Integral human development and the full exercise of human dignity cannot be imposed. They must be built up and allowed to unfold for each individual, for every family, in communion with others, and in a right relationship with all those areas in which human social life develops – friends, communities, towns and cities, schools, businesses and unions, provinces, nations, etc. This presupposes and requires the right to education – also for girls (excluded in certain places) – which is ensured first and foremost by respecting and reinforcing the primary right of the family to educate its children, as well as the right of churches and social groups to support and assist families in the education of their children. Education conceived in this way is the basis for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and for reclaiming the environment.

At the same time, government leaders must do everything possible to ensure that all can have the minimum spiritual and material means needed to live in dignity and to create and support a family, which is the primary cell of any social development. In practical terms, this absolute minimum has three names: lodging, labour, and land; and one spiritual name: spiritual freedom, which includes religious freedom, the right to education and other civil rights.

For all this, the simplest and best measure and indicator of the implementation of the new Agenda for development will be effective, practical and immediate access, on the part of all, to essential material and spiritual goods: housing, dignified and properly remunerated employment, adequate food and drinking water; religious freedom and, more generally, spiritual freedom and education. These pillars of integral human development have a common foundation, which is the right to life and, more generally, what we could call the right to existence of human nature itself.

The ecological crisis, and the large-scale destruction of biodiversity, can threaten the very existence of the human species. The baneful consequences of an irresponsible mismanagement of the global economy, guided only by ambition for wealth and power, must serve as a summons to a forthright reflection on man: “man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature” (BENEDICT XVI, Address to the Bundestag, 22 September 2011, cited in Laudato Si’, 6). Creation is compromised “where we ourselves have the final word… The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any instance above ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves” (ID. Address to the Clergy of the Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone, 6 August 2008, cited ibid.). Consequently, the defence of the environment and the fight against exclusion demand that we recognize a moral law written into human nature itself, one which includes the natural difference between man and woman (cf. Laudato Si’, 155), and absolute respect for life in all its stages and dimensions (cf. ibid., 123, 136).

Without the recognition of certain incontestable natural ethical limits and without the immediate implementation of those pillars of integral human development, the ideal of “saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war” (Charter of the United Nations, Preamble), and “promoting social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom” (ibid.), risks becoming an unattainable illusion, or, even worse, idle chatter which serves as a cover for all kinds of abuse and corruption, or for carrying out an ideological colonization by the imposition of anomalous models and lifestyles which are alien to people’s identity and, in the end, irresponsible.

War is the negation of all rights and a dramatic assault on the environment. If we want true integral human development for all, we must work tirelessly to avoid war between nations and between peoples.

To this end, there is a need to ensure the uncontested rule of law and tireless recourse to negotiation, mediation and arbitration, as proposed by the Charter of the United Nations, which constitutes truly a fundamental juridical norm. The experience of these seventy years since the founding of the United Nations in general, and in particular the experience of these first fifteen years of the third millennium, reveal both the effectiveness of the full application of international norms and the ineffectiveness of their lack of enforcement. When the Charter of the United Nations is respected and applied with transparency and sincerity, and without ulterior motives, as an obligatory reference point of justice and not as a means of masking spurious intentions, peaceful results will be obtained. When, on the other hand, the norm is considered simply as an instrument to be used whenever it proves favourable, and to be avoided when it is not, a true Pandora’s box is opened, releasing uncontrollable forces which gravely harm defenseless populations, the cultural milieu and even the biological environment.

The Preamble and the first Article of the Charter of the United Nations set forth the foundations of the international juridical framework: peace, the pacific solution of disputes and the development of friendly relations between the nations. Strongly opposed to such statements, and in practice denying them, is the constant tendency to the proliferation of arms, especially weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear weapons. An ethics and a law based on the threat of mutual destruction – and possibly the destruction of all mankind – are self-contradictory and an affront to the entire framework of the United Nations, which would end up as “nations united by fear and distrust”. There is urgent need to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, in full application of the non-proliferation Treaty, in letter and spirit, with the goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons.

The recent agreement reached on the nuclear question in a sensitive region of Asia and the Middle East is proof of the potential of political good will and of law, exercised with sincerity, patience and constancy. I express my hope that this agreement will be lasting and efficacious, and bring forth the desired fruits with the cooperation of all the parties involved.

In this sense, hard evidence is not lacking of the negative effects of military and political interventions which are not coordinated between members of the international community. For this reason, while regretting to have to do so, I must renew my repeated appeals regarding to the painful situation of the entire Middle East, North Africa and other African countries, where Christians, together with other cultural or ethnic groups, and even members of the majority religion who have no desire to be caught up in hatred and folly, have been forced to witness the destruction of their places of worship, their cultural and religious heritage, their houses and property, and have faced the alternative either of fleeing or of paying for their adhesion to good and to peace by their own lives, or by enslavement.

These realities should serve as a grave summons to an examination of conscience on the part of those charged with the conduct of international affairs. Not only in cases of religious or cultural persecution, but in every situation of conflict, as in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan and the Great Lakes region, real human beings take precedence over partisan interests, however legitimate the latter may be. In wars and conflicts there are individual persons, our brothers and sisters, men and women, young and old, boys and girls who weep, suffer and die. Human beings who are easily discarded when our only response is to draw up lists of problems, strategies and disagreements.

As I wrote in my letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations on 9 August 2014, “the most basic understanding of human dignity compels the international community, particularly through the norms and mechanisms of international law, to do all that it can to stop and to prevent further systematic violence against ethnic and religious minorities” and to protect innocent peoples.

Along the same lines I would mention another kind of conflict which is not always so open, yet is silently killing millions of people. Another kind of war experienced by many of our societies as a result of the narcotics trade. A war which is taken for granted and poorly fought. Drug trafficking is by its very nature accompanied by trafficking in persons, money laundering, the arms trade, child exploitation and other forms of corruption. A corruption which has penetrated to different levels of social, political, military, artistic and religious life, and, in many cases, has given rise to a parallel structure which threatens the credibility of our institutions.

I began this speech recalling the visits of my predecessors. I would hope that my words will be taken above all as a continuation of the final words of the address of Pope Paul VI; although spoken almost exactly fifty years ago, they remain ever timely. “The hour has come when a pause, a moment of recollection, reflection, even of prayer, is absolutely needed so that we may think back over our common origin, our history, our common destiny. The appeal to the moral conscience of man has never been as necessary as it is today… For the danger comes neither from progress nor from science; if these are used well, they can help to solve a great number of the serious problems besetting mankind (Address to the United Nations Organization, 4 October 1965). Among other things, human genius, well applied, will surely help to meet the grave challenges of ecological deterioration and of exclusion. As Paul VI said: “The real danger comes from man, who has at his disposal ever more powerful instruments that are as well fitted to bring about ruin as they are to achieve lofty conquests” (ibid.).

The common home of all men and women must continue to rise on the foundations of a right understanding of universal fraternity and respect for the sacredness of every human life, of every man and every woman, the poor, the elderly, children, the infirm, the unborn, the unemployed, the abandoned, those considered disposable because they are only considered as part of a statistic. This common house of all men and women must also be built on the understanding of a certain sacredness of created nature.

Such understanding and respect call for a higher degree of wisdom, one which accepts transcendence, rejects the creation of an all-powerful élite, and recognizes that the full meaning of individual and collective life is found in selfless service to others and in the sage and respectful use of creation for the common good. To repeat the words of Paul VI, “the edifice of modern civilization has to be built on spiritual principles, for they are the only ones capable not only of supporting it, but of shedding light on it” (ibid.).

El Gaucho Martín Fierro, a classic of literature in my native land, says: “Brothers should stand by each other, because this is the first law; keep a true bond between you always, at every time – because if you fight among yourselves, you’ll be devoured by those outside”.

The contemporary world, so apparently connected, is experiencing a growing and steady social fragmentation, which places at risk “the foundations of social life” and consequently leads to “battles over conflicting interests” (Laudato Si’, 229).

The present time invites us to give priority to actions which generate new processes in society, so as to bear fruit in significant and positive historical events (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 223). We cannot permit ourselves to postpone “certain agendas” for the future. The future demands of us critical and global decisions in the face of world-wide conflicts which increase the number of the excluded and those in need.

The praiseworthy international juridical framework of the United Nations Organization and of all its activities, like any other human endeavour, can be improved, yet it remains necessary; at the same time it can be the pledge of a secure and happy future for future generations. And so it will, if the representatives of the States can set aside partisan and ideological interests, and sincerely strive to serve the common good. I pray to Almighty God that this will be the case, and I assure you of my support and my prayers, and the support and prayers of all the faithful of the Catholic Church, that this Institution, all its member States, and each of its officials, will always render an effective service to mankind, a service respectful of diversity and capable of bringing out, for sake of the common good, the best in each people and in every individual.

Upon all of you, and the peoples you represent, I invoke the blessing of the Most High, and all peace and prosperity.

Thank you.

Text of Pope Francis’ Address To Joint Session Of Congress

It is an historic day where the Pope addressed a Joint Session of Congress. I could listen to Pope Francis talk all day long. His passion, his sincerity, and most of all, his love for Christ, is evident in each word he speaks, in each twinkle of his eye, in each gesture he makes. He spoke about many things, but I love how he “simplified” a stark reality in today’s society.

“At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family” (Pope Francis, Historic Address to U.S. Congress, 2015).

The following is the text of the Pope’s address:


 

Mr. Vice-President,

Mr. Speaker,

Honorable Members of Congress,

Dear Friends,

I am most grateful for your invitation to address this Joint Session of Congress in “the land of the free and the home of the brave”.  I would like to think that the reason for this is that I too am a son of this great continent, from which we have all received so much and toward which we share a common responsibility.

Each son or daughter of a given country has a mission, a personal and social responsibility. Your own responsibility as members of Congress is to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to grow as a nation.  You are the face of its people, their representatives.  You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics.  A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people.  To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.

Yours is a work which makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses.  On the one hand, the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation.  On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being.  Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.

Today I would like not only to address you, but through you the entire people of the United States. Here, together with their representatives, I would like to take this opportunity to dialogue with the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day’s work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and –one step at a time – to build a better life for their families.  These are men and women who are not concerned simply with paying their taxes, but in their own quiet way sustain the life of society.  They generate solidarity by their actions, and they create organizations which offer a helping hand to those most in need.

I would also like to enter into dialogue with the many elderly persons who are a storehouse of wisdom forged by experience, and who seek in many ways, especially through volunteer work, to share their stories and their insights.  I know that many of them are retired, but still active; they keep working to build up this land.  I also want to dialogue with all those young people who are working to realize their great and noble aspirations, who are not led astray by facile proposals, and who face difficult situations, often as a result of immaturity on the part of many adults.  I wish to dialogue with all of you, and I would like to do so through the historical memory of your people.

My visit takes place at a time when men and women of good will are marking the anniversaries of several great Americans.  The complexities of history and the reality of human weakness notwithstanding, these men and women, for all their many differences and limitations, were able by hard work and self-sacrifice – some at the cost of their lives – to build a better future.  They shaped fundamental values which will endure forever in the spirit of the American people.  A people with this spirit can live through many crises, tensions and conflicts, while always finding the resources to move forward, and to do so with dignity.   These men and women offer us a way of seeing and interpreting reality.  In honoring their memory, we are inspired, even amid conflicts, and in the here and now of each day, to draw upon our deepest cultural reserves.

I would like to mention four of these Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.

This year marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the guardian of liberty, who labored tirelessly that “this nation, under God, [might] have a new birth of freedom”.  Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity.

All of us are quite aware of, and deeply worried by, the disturbing social and political situation of the world today.  Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion.  We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism.  This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind.  A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms.  But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners.  The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps.  We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within.  To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.  That is something which you, as a people, reject.

Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice.  We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises.  Even in the developed world, the effects of unjust structures and actions are all too apparent.  Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples.  We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.

The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States.  The complexity, the gravity and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience.

In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society.  It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society.  Such cooperation is a powerful resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices which can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus.

Here I think of the political history of the United States, where democracy is deeply rooted in the mind of the American people.  All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776).  If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance.  Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life.  I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.

Here too I think of the march which Martin Luther King led from Selma to Montgomery fifty years ago as part of the campaign to fulfill his “dream” of full civil and political rights for African Americans.  That dream continues to inspire us all.  I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of “dreams”.  Dreams which lead to action, to participation, to commitment.  Dreams which awaken what is deepest and truest in the life of a people.

In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom.  We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners.  I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants.  Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected.  For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation.  Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present.  Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past.  We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our “neighbors” and everything around us.  Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best.  I am confident that we can do this.

Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War.  This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions.  On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities.  Is this not what we want for our own children?  We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation.  To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal.  We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome.  Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12).

This Rule points us in a clear direction.  Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated.  Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves.  Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves.  In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.  The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.  The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.

This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty.  I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes.  Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty.  Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.

In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement.  Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.

How much progress has been made in this area in so many parts of the world!  How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty!  I know that you share my conviction that much more still needs to be done, and that in times of crisis and economic hardship a spirit of global solidarity must not be lost.  At the same time I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty.  They too need to be given hope.  The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes.  I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.

It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth.  The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable.  “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world.  It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (Laudato Si’, 129).  This common good also includes the earth, a central theme of the encyclical which I recently wrote in order to “enter into dialogue with all people about our common home” (ibid., 3).  “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all” (ibid., 14).

In Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to “redirect our steps” (ibid., 61), and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity.  I am convinced that we can make a difference, I’m sure and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play.  Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a “culture of care” (ibid., 231) and “an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature” (ibid., 139).  “We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology” (ibid., 112); “to devise intelligent ways of… developing and limiting our power” (ibid., 78); and to put technology “at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral” (ibid., 112).  In this regard, I am confident that America’s outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead.

A century ago, at the beginning of the Great War, which Pope Benedict XV termed a “pointless slaughter”, another notable American was born: the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton.  He remains a source of spiritual inspiration and a guide for many people.  In his autobiography he wrote: “I came into the world.  Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born.  That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers”.  Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church.  He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.

From this perspective of dialogue, I would like to recognize the efforts made in recent months to help overcome historic differences linked to painful episodes of the past.  It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same.  When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue – a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons – new opportunities open up for all.  This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same as irresponsibility.  A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism.  A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 222-223).

Being at the service of dialogue and peace also means being truly determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world.  Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society?  Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood.  In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.

Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God.

Four representatives of the American people.

I will end my visit to your country in Philadelphia, where I will take part in the World Meeting of Families.  It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme.  How essential the family has been to the building of this country!  And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement!  Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without.  Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family.  I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.

In particular, I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young.  For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair.  Their problems are our problems.  We cannot avoid them.  We need to face them together, to talk about them and to seek effective solutions rather than getting bogged down in discussions.  At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future.  Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family.

A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to “dream” of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.

In these remarks I have sought to present some of the richness of your cultural heritage, of the spirit of the American people.  It is my desire that this spirit continue to develop and grow, so that as many young people as possible can inherit and dwell in a land which has inspired so many people to dream.

God bless America!

The Eternal Impact Of Friendship

JimPerkinsSometimes, in our life journey, the path we choose crosses the path of another person who has a positive influence on our life. Then there are times when we are truly blessed and God sends someone into our path that changes the way we think, the way we behave, and the way we live. We meet these people at all stages of life; when we are children, as teenagers, and even as adults. A big part of who we become depends on the people we choose to surround ourselves with at these various stages in our life.

Jim Perkins was one of those people that God sent into our path. His positive attitude, his persistent smile, his warm heart, and his immeasurable love for his family, gave us a glimpse of what God had in mind when he made human beings in His image. There is no doubt that God placed Jim in our lives to make an impact that would last for eternity.

I will never forget the influence Jim has had on my life, or the impact of his faith, hope and charity on his fellow human beings. Jim was an exemplary example of Christian love in our parish, our community, and in our lives. We are all better people for having known him.

Rest In Peace, Jim.

Why Run Around In Rhetorical Circles When I Can Walk Side By Side With The One True God?

crossinthecornerWho Am I?

I am a Catholic, which means I am an integral part of the universal Church founded by Jesus Christ himself. In Matthew 16:18-19, Jesus said, “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Jesus assigned authority of His Church, on earth, to Peter and since that day, the Catholic Church has an unbroken line of apostolic succession from the rock of the Church, Peter, through two thousand years of history to our current pope, Pope Francis. The Catholic Church is the universal Church, in fact, the very definition of “Catholic” is universal.

What do I believe?

As a Catholic, I believe that the Catholic Church is the one Church founded by Jesus Christ. I also believe everything the Catholic Church is founded upon, including all of the dogmas and teachings of the Church. I believe when I receive Holy Communion I am receiving the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. And finally, I believe my faith is universal, encompassing all that I am, all that I have been, and all that I will ever be.

I believe when I say “Amen” before receiving the Eucharist (Holy Communion) I am making a re-affirmation of my faith, telling God that I do indeed agree wholeheartedly with everything contained in Sacred Scripture, with everything the Catholic Church stands for and represents, and with everything His Church has taught, or will teach. If, for some reason, I find myself questioning or doubting Church dogmas or teachings, I pray for more understanding. I study Sacred Scripture, I delve into the teachings of the Church fathers, and I review two thousand years of Catholic Church tradition. For it is through these three things, Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and Sacred Magisterium (or the teaching authority of the Church), that I can find the answers I may be looking for.

In John, chapter 6, Jesus tells us that He is the bread of life (v.48), that He is the living bread and whoever eats this bread will live forever (v.51). He then takes it a step further and says that the bread He will give is His flesh for the life of the world (v.51). He continues by telling the disciples that whoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood has eternal life, and will be raised up on the last day (v.54). Many disciples questioned this discourse because it was so shocking to them (v.60), and they returned to their former way of life because they could not accept this idea (v.66). The fact that many disciples turned away is important, because it indicates that Jesus was not merely talking about symbolism or a representation of his flesh and blood. He was speaking about His true Body and His true Blood, else no one would have been shocked and walked away. You really need to read John 6, in its entirety, to get the full picture.

Faith is a gift from God, and like any other gift we can choose to open it and enjoy it or we can ignore it, leaving it wrapped and untouched for all time. Faith opens the eyes of our hearts and leads us to a desire to understand the One in whom we have faith. In order to live and grow in my Catholic faith, I must nourish it by reading Scripture and remaining close to God. If I turn my back on God, or stop reading His Word, I risk losing my faith completely and falling away from God. Therefore, my faith is universal. It encompasses all that I am, all that I have been on my spiritual journey, and all that I will ever be as I grow closer to God.

Why do I believe it?

I am Catholic simply because I believe, without a doubt, that Catholicism is true. I believe that the Catholic Church is the one Church divinely established by Jesus Christ himself when He told Peter, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” As a Catholic Christian I am obliged to submit to the authority of His Church.

There is nothing in Scripture to indicate that Jesus Christ intended to build several churches, He built One Church, His Church. Alone, I cannot properly interpret all that Scripture reveals, let alone understand it. Neither can any other man or woman. The Catholic Church is the only Christian church on earth with apostolic succession with teachings from our Church fathers leading all the way back to Jesus Christ himself. The Catholic Church is the only Christian church with two thousand years of Sacred Tradition, again leading back to Jesus Christ himself. In fact, until the 1500’s there was no other Christian church except the Catholic Church.

The Word of God is revealed to us through human authors in a collection of Sacred Scripture we call the Bible. Every Christian church uses their own interpretation of the Bible, yet the Bible was written long before other Christian “denominations” even existed. Although every Christian church uses the Bible, the books of the Bible were determined at the Council of Carthage in 397 AD. Since that time, other Christian faiths have removed books they no longer felt were relevant to them. I cannot imagine feeling so powerful to tell God that His Word was no longer relevant to my beliefs. Either I believe it all, the Sacred Scripture, the Sacred Magisterium, and the Sacred Tradition, or I don’t. If I do not believe it all, then I am not Catholic. For this reason, I am all in. God is God, and I am but a man. This man, like any other man, cannot assume he has more supremacy than God.

When should I rely on my faith?

I should rely on my faith every single moment of every single day. There is never a time when I should not stay focused on God. If I pick and choose the moments I feel I should turn to God, then I am no different than those who pick and choose what to believe in Sacred Scripture. When I pick and choose, I strip the Bible of its moral power. Either I believe it all and live it all, or I don’t. Why run around in rhetorical circles when I can walk side by side with the One True God? As I said before, my faith is universal, it encompasses all that I am, all that I have been, and all that I will ever be. There is no room in my life for turning my back on God, nor is there time for “blind faith”. I must continually strive to increase my faith, to seek more understanding, and to grow closer to God. If my faith is universal, then it only makes sense that my Church is too.

Where should I proclaim my faith?

Everywhere. In every word I speak. In every action I take. In every breath I take. There should never be a moment that I do not take the opportunity to proclaim my Catholic faith.

In conclusion…

Describing the “who, what, why, when, and where” of my faith is quite simple, but it can be very difficult to live in the secular world. No matter how difficult it is, I should never remain silent or inactive when it comes to matters of faith. If I bow to the pressures of secular society or remain silent when others are encouraged to do so, then I am no different than those who bowed to the pressures of secular society in the past and decided to “reform” the Word of God to fit their own needs. I am a Catholic and my faith is universal. There is nothing on this earth that can change this fact because the Catholic Church is the only Christian church that possesses indestructible unity, fundamental holiness, and an unbroken line of apostolic succession, all of which are characteristics that Jesus Christ himself said would distinguish his one true Church. I believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. The Catholic Church. As I said before, I am all in.

A Heart Full Of Obedience

Last week, thousands of people turned out to show their support for Chick-Fil-A. Comments made by Dan Cathy, the Chief Operations Officer, sparked a media firestorm when he confirmed that he and his company support traditional families that include a husband and a wife. When Cathy made this statement, almost a month ago, there was no question about his Christian faith and there was no doubt that Chick-Fil-A is operated on Christian principles. In fact, the only reason his comments stirred the public into a frenzy is because the media itself chose to introduce an element of hate into the public dialogue.

By suggesting that hate may be the sole motive for those who support the biblical definition of marriage, the media tried to spin the message into something it was not. They tried to portray everyone who supported Cathy’s statements as anti-gay and filled with hate. While some people turned out to show support for his freedoms of speech and religion, many also turned out to show their support for the company’s Christian values and their stance supporting the biblical definition of marriage. Across the country there were no reports of violence and there was no anger, but if you listen to reports from the mainstream media you might believe that the entire event was nothing more than a giant, nationwide hate-fest.

In light of these recent events, a gay friend of mine asked me to read an article about the evils of Chick-Fil-A “with an open mind” and by doing so I might “have a bit more understanding”. Of course, that statement by itself implied that I have a closed mind and that I might not understand the importance of this issue within the gay community. Ironically, I had already read the article in question with an open mind, and I fully understand the significance of Chick-Fil-A’s charitable contributions and the affect those contributions may have on my gay friends. While I do not condone some of the actions and statements by representatives of the charities in question, I still support Chick-Fil-A and the fact they operate under Christian principles and values.

20120807-223255.jpgOn August 1st, I showed my support for Dan Cathy and Chick-Fil-A. I did so because I support our right to express our own views, I support our right to exercise our own religious beliefs, and yes, I support the biblical definition of marriage. I possess no anger for people unlike me, I do not hold grudges, and I harbor no hatred for gay people. I am no bigot, and I would like to see everyone treated equally, but with that said, marriage is much more than some shiny object that can be passed around and divided equally among us. I believe that man and woman were made for each other, that God created them to be a communion of persons, who share in the act of Creation and transmit human life to their descendants (CCC 372). I support God’s plan for the sacrament of Marriage. I support the biblical definition of marriage, but that does not make me close-minded, it makes me Catholic.

If my mind was closed, I would not have spent more than five years and thousands of dollars operating one of the first AIDS/HIV Information bulletin board systems in the nation. If my mind was closed, I would not spend countless hours donating my time to the poor, the needy, the oppressed, the neglected, and the abused. If my mind was closed, I would not have African-American friends, Chinese friends, tall friends, short friends, fat friends, skinny friends, non-Christian friends, and yes, even gay friends. If my mind was closed, I would not be Catholic. If I have learned anything since my conversion to the Roman Catholic Church, it is that I need an open mind to fully understand Christ, his passion, his suffering, and the many gifts of grace we receive from Him simply because we believe.

Marriage is clearly defined in the bible. From Genesis through Revelation, in every chapter and verse that refers to marriage, man and woman are referenced together. At this point I could list dozens of biblical references to marriage and its definition, but that would be redundant for the purposes of this article because the bible cannot be taken out of context with random verses tossed in just to support my argument. Doing so might lead others to believe they can refute God’s plan by tossing out their own non-related references and what would that solve?

As a Catholic, I trust in the Holy Spirit to guide the Church especially in areas where our own opinions and desires may cloud our judgment. With that said, I believe the institution of marriage is ordered to the procreation of offspring (CCC 1652), and God himself is the author of marriage (CCC 1603). I also believe that no matter what we, as human beings, want to think, “marriage is not a purely human institution despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures, and spiritual attitudes” (CCC 1603). If God himself is the author of marriage, who are we to redefine or modify it? Just as the definitions of adultery, murder and gossip cannot be changed, neither can the God authored, biblical definition of marriage.

20120807-223559.jpgIf we take a step back and look at the issue at hand, it really is about tolerance, but not tolerance for “gay rights” as much as tolerance for accepting each other, and the true definition of who we are as human beings. Nothing about the biblical definition of marriage makes someone a “full member of society”, and nothing about being gay makes someone a “second-class citizen” simply because they can or cannot marry, either. This week, some people have referenced divorced Christians, remarried Christians, and drug addict Christians in their argument in support of gay marriage, but since when does pointing out the flaws of others make you a better person? By focusing on the flaws, rather than the gifts we each bring to the table, we are doomed to intolerance aren’t we? As we get lost in the semantics of this argument, where is the tolerance for God? Where is the tolerance for following God’s law? Where is the tolerance for responsibility of our own acts? If you believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible, then you know that this tolerance comes from God.

In the end, this controversy was no controversy at all. The media tried to run with a message of hate when in fact the true message was love all along. Jesus told us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, but he never told us to ignore the laws of God or to turn our back on the Sacrament of Marriage. No matter how we look at it, God is the author of marriage and His definition of marriage will never change. This is not an equal rights issue or a human rights issue, it’s an obedience issue. When all is said and done, the bottom line remains that we can make up thousands of excuses for not obeying God, but a life of faithfulness and surrender requires us to possess a heart full of obedience to our one true loving God.

The Passion For Authenticity

     The Passion of the Christ (Gibson, 2004) is a depiction of the final 12 hours in the life of Jesus Christ, as told by Director Mel Gibson. Whether or not this film is an historical account of the final hours of Jesus Christ, which contains enough emotion by itself, The Passion of the Christ evokes even stronger emotional responses from the audience. By manipulating the viewing experience through clever cinematography, the depiction of extreme violence, and the use of ancient, long forgotten languages, Mel Gibson cleverly presents a masterpiece of near biblical proportion, even if the historic accuracy is a tad bit skewed. Although the story purports to tell the true story of Christ’s arrest and crucifixion, some dialogue and visual elements of the film are nowhere to be found in the four Gospels of the New Testament (Fuller, 2006). While embellishing some parts of the gospel story through creative license from the director, The Passion of the Christ evokes deep emotional responses to events that are construed to be true simply because of the graphic element added to evoke those responses from the viewers. Through the use of cinematographic manipulation of the audience, The Passion of the Christ seems to blur the line between a factual biography and a fictional representation of the most important person in Christianity, but nothing could be further from the truth.

     The storytelling in The Passion of the Christ is very straightforward, faithfully telling the story of Christ’s passion, death, and for a couple brief moments at the end, his resurrection. The narrative of the film is anything but linear as it is carried out in a simultaneous fashion with events occurring at the same time or seamlessly overlapping into one intense emotion that captures our attention and holds it for the duration of the film. The entire film is a montage of scenes, interpolated with common elements that carry over from scene to scene slowly piecing together the tragedy that is about to unfold. One example of this continuous montage occurs when Judas betrays Jesus in the garden and Peter is attacking the soldiers while John runs to Mary to inform her that they have seized Jesus. Although these two scenes are linear to the eye, one happening right after the other, they actually overlap, occurring at the same time, and deepen the emotional experience of watching Jesus being taken into custody and then beaten. The montage nature of the film cuts the individual stories into their own segments providing a non-linear progression while keeping the viewers emotional experience under the director’s control.

     The plot is revealed in chronological order, for the most part, with timely flashbacks to Jesus’ earlier life although it may not seem to relate to the current storyline. The best flashback occurs as the high priests are bringing Jesus into town and Mary Magdelene informs the soldier that the priests have captured Jesus. She expresses her concern and a priest explains the situation is a Jewish temple issue rather than a Roman law issue and he hurries away. As the crowd passes in front of Jesus he makes eye contact with a woodworker on the other side of the crowd. As he hears the hammer of the woodworker, the flashback begins. We are all suddenly transported back to a day when Jesus is working on a tall table for a ‘rich man’. The flashback shows the down to earth nature of a younger Jesus along with the intimate connection between a mother and her son. As Mary and Jesus hug at the end of the scene we are brought back to present time in the story, with Jesus standing in the crowd where he once again makes eye contact with his mother. That scene, where they make eye contact, would not have the emotional draw that it does had we not seen the flashback to that happier time. Mel Gibson’s choice to present these scenes, along with their flashbacks, was an excellent way to introduce the emotional element that cannot be ignored when considering the events that lead to the end of the story. By laying down the emotional foundation throughout the entire film with the proper presentation of flashbacks and happier times, Gibson allows the other visual and sound elements of the film to present the graphic and violent moments leading up to the death of Jesus. With help from the cinematographer, the editor of this film, Steve Mirkovich, makes extensive use of visual elements to draw the audience into the story, even when parts of the story seem to drift away from authentic Gospel accounts of the Passion. One such drift occurs at the very beginning of the film as Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. As Satan uses every tactic at his disposal to distract Jesus while he prays, Jesus stands and crushes the serpent underneath the heel of his foot. This is not an account from any of the four Gospels, but rather a reference which foretells the prophecy of Satan failing in the future against the coming Messiah. “I will put your enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; they will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel” (Genesis 3:15 NABRE). The story includes this account from Genesis, and is based in part on visions by two Catholic mystics that have no proven basis in the theological context presented (Thigpen, 2004). However, as with other biblical accounts of the Passion, Christ in this story is dealing with his own internal conflict knowing what has to be done, as well as how it has to be done. The graphic visuals of blood, and the price Christ paid with his blood bring that reality to light for the viewer. In the scene of the scourging, it cannot get any more real for the viewer. Christ is standing at the pillar when the first soldier, and then the other soldier, strike him with sticks. As Christ is beaten and welts appear on his back and legs, he falls to his knees and the audience cannot help but cringe at the pain endured by Jesus at the pillar. But just as we think that Jesus cannot take any more, he looks at his mother and stands once again. While he grimaces in excruciating pain, the soldiers pick up the whips with sharp metal pieces on them and begin striking him all over again. The sounds of Jesus being struck, the tearing of his flesh, and his gasps while being struck, along with the intensely graphic nature of this scene leave no doubt of the suffering that Christ endured at the pillar. The way in which the story is presented on screen allows the viewer to relate to the pain, suffering, and turmoil that Christ felt as he faced the final hours of his life on Earth.

     Actor Jim Caviezel offers a stunning impersonation of Jesus Christ through a realistic style and the use of the ancient Aramaic dialogue. His portrayal of Christ contributes greatly to the story, as we watch the physical torture endured by Christ during his Passion. Caviezel was able to truly convey the torture at the pillar because the actors playing the Roman soldiers accidentally hit him with the whip at least once while filming the scene (Drake, 2004). While many of the actors in the movie play their part convincingly, none are as convincing as Caviezel himself other than Maia Morgenstern who plays his mother Mary. Each scene that revolves around Mary conveys the emotion and horror that is unfolding as each minute passes, and her character watches her son’s turmoil knowing full well he could stop it at any time. As Mary watches the scourging, she is horrified at the pain he is willing to endure and gasps with him at each beating. Her eyes implore him to stop everything and save his own life, often covering her own face to hide the events taking place in front of her. As the beating comes to an end the expression on her face changes. It is clear that she knows the gravity of the situation as she immediately prepares to gather the blood of her son. Gibson keeps the historical significance of the story intact by depicting the scene of the two Mary’s collecting Jesus’ blood, although historical accuracy falls by the wayside. In Jewish tradition, life is in the blood therefore the blood of Jesus had to be collected, but there is no historical or biblical reference that Mary collected the blood of her son after the scourging. Even with these historical anomalies, Morgenstern offers a very strong portrayal of the virgin mother of Christ and carries Gibson’s interpretation of Mary out well.

     The cinematography of this movie proves to be more important than all of the other elements than the story itself. If not for the cinematography, The Passion of the Christ may not have become the blockbuster hit it became, because of the graphic use of violence and blood to depict the level of pain and suffering experienced by Jesus Christ. It was obvious from the first scene in the Garden of Gethsemane, that Mel Gibson trusted the cinematographer, Caleb Deschanel, to capture the vivid scenes he was directing and produce the visual elements needed to carry the film from that first moment until the final scenes of the resurrected Christ. The scene with Satan in Gethsemane seems to contradict Scripture (Thigpen, 2004), but Gibson uses clever editing and cinematography to manipulate the audience into believing this event actually occurred. The movie is shot using intense natural lighting that captures the vivid colors of each frame, which ends up being the color of Christ’s blood in many cases. As the two Mary’s attempt to collect the blood of Jesus, Pontius Pilate’s wife approaches with white cloths offering them to Mary. Although this depiction is one of the less accurate scenes from a historical perspective, as there is no account in Scripture of Pilate’s wife performing this act, it adds to the emotional intrigue that exists from the first moments in the film to the very end. The colors are not saturated, and all of the camera angles and distances enhance the scene by providing framing that keeps the viewers focus on the developing story and intensifies the emotions of each scene. This works exceptionally well, given the fact that some of the scenes, as well as the dialogue, may not be historically accurate.

     Through the careful use of continuity editing, The Passion of the Christ unfolds as a journey through the Stations of the Cross. The transitions from scene to scene build on the emotions as the violence and graphic detail become stronger and stronger on the screen. Appropriate flashbacks are used when Christ reflects on his life as it pertains to the elements within the current scene, and slow motion is used to capture intense scenes so they last longer than a fleeting moment. There are no elements left to the imagination or implying that something else is happening behind the scenes. After the horror of the scourging, Christ is led toward Mount Calvary along the Via Dolorosa, or the Way of the Suffering, within the city of Jerusalem. As Jesus embraces his cross, we see the crowd building. People scream at him, spit on him, and guards whip him. As he falls with his cross in slow motion, the ferocity of the soldiers is kept at the forefront as if we needed another reminder how brutal it was for Christ. Other than the graphic visual of blood, some of the most intense scenes are when Mary makes eye contact with her son. These scenes build to a climax where even Mary herself has a flashback of a childhood Jesus falling in the street. In both the flashback and the current scene, she rushes to Jesus in the street and reminds him that she is there. As he stands with his cross again he tells her he will make all things new again. The emotion is so intense, no visuals are needed to feel the pain of Christ and the heartbreak of his mother. Viewers watch in horror as the story of Christ and his Passion unfolds before their eyes, even if they are covering them with their hands to escape the carnage on the screen. Although the non-biblical elements, like the scene where Pilate’s wife brings white linens to the two Marys (Thigpen, 2004), may be noticeable to those who know the story already (Willis, 2004), the editing of this film is done in a way that those moments are soon forgotten in a vast rhythm of emotional imagery.

     As expected with a film like this there is extensive dialogue, even though the dialogue is entirely in Aramaic and Latin. The sub-titles offer little to no distraction, and actually help the viewer understand some of the more emotional scenes by requiring the viewer to read the dialogue and process it rather than hearing it in their own language. The use of orchestra music during intense, emotional scenes adds to the overall experience of the film, and the sudden silence and attention grabbing sounds during slow-motion scenes amplify the reality of the images appearing on screen. When Judas is paid his thirty pieces of silver and the priests throw the bag of coins toward him, we are captivated by the sound of coins falling to the floor as the scene wraps up in slow motion.

     Each scene, whether historically accurate or not, is executed flawlessly by Gibson and his technical competence is proven to be solid when pertaining to telling the story of Christ’s Passion. His use of blood, extensively, to emphasize the sacrifice made by Jesus is just one of the many non-traditional storytelling techniques used in the film. If Mel Gibson’s intention was telling the story of the Passion by pointing out the extreme pain, suffering, and sacrifice of Christ, then he succeeded beyond measure in a way that no other film about the Passion has done.

     The impact of The Passion of the Christ is yet to be known, and only time will tell if it becomes a definitive popular reflection of the final hours of Jesus Christ. Critics claim that the film makes several anti-Semitic statements (Fuller, 2006), and the historical accuracy of some scenes has been called into question (Thigpen, 2004), but the overall integrity of the movie is very strong. Although The Passion of the Christ falls into the drama genre and many people already know the story of Christ’s Passion, it could also be considered an historical account, or biography, of the life of Jesus Christ.

     Analysis of The Passion of the Christ shows that although several scenes are not completely accurate to the historical and biblical accounts of the life of Christ, the storyline is solid and supported by exceptional acting, vivid cinematography, clever editing, and stylish directing. The manipulation of the audience through the visual elements of period settings and subtle effects is emphasized along with the use of extreme scenes of blood and violence. Whether or not this film is a completely historical account of the final hours of Jesus Christ, which contains enough emotion by itself, The Passion of the Christ evokes deep emotional responses to events that are construed to be true simply because of the graphic element added to evoke those responses from the viewers. Historical inaccuracies and non-biblical accounts may detract from the overall authenticity of the film leading some to believe that The Passion of the Christ is merely a fictional representation of the most important person in Christianity, but nothing could be further from the truth. Gibson’s genius depiction of Christ in the final hours of his life presents the audience with a clear message, using creative license that is far from blurred, that this was the most significant sacrifice in the history of mankind, and that is the story Gibson was trying to convey.

References

Drake, T. (2004). ‘The Movie Was Torture – But Worth It’: An Interview with actor Jim Caviezel. BeliefNet. Retrieved from http://www.beliefnet.com/Entertainment/Movies/2004/02/The-Movie-Was-Torture-But-Worth-It.aspx

Fuller, C. (2006). Gibson’s “Passion” in the Light of Pasolini’s “Gospel”. Society of Biblical Literature Forum. Retrieved from http://sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleID=508

Gibson, M. (Director). (2004). The Passion of the Christ [Film]. Los Angeles: Icon Productions.

Thigpen, P. (2004). How Faithful to the Gospel is The Passion of the Christ? Retrieved from http://www.paulthigpen.com/theology/passion-gospel.html

Willis, B. (2004). The Passion of the Christ. Christian Spotlight on Entertainment. Retrieved from http://christiananswers.net/spotlight/movies/2004/thepassionofthechrist.html