“A little bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just.” Pope Francis, March 17, 2013
In a world where politicians are inciting discord and wreaking havoc, it is the message and actions of Pope Francis that stand out as a testimony for humility, fearlessness, progress, diplomacy and understanding. His embrace for peace is worthy of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, the winner of which is due to be announced on Friday.
The Pope is not a politically driven persona, neither is he a selective advocate for diplomacy in one country, and for war in another. He transcends the national interest and has shown courage in defying the old narrow calculus of the Catholic Church, bridging differences, promoting interfaith and fighting for the poor.
Why Pope Francis
Pope Francis faces a strong field of contenders - from leaders, to journalists and activists - to win the Peace Prize. The list includes, among others, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel for showing leadership and stamina in the refugee crisis, Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege for helping gang-raped women in Congo, and the Eritrean priest Mussie Zerai or “The African Shepherd” for saving refugees on the Mediterranean. The possibility has also been raised that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry or Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif could be in line for the prize, for their parts in last summer’s nuclear deal.
Pope Francis is the one nominee with the longest record of fighting for peace and justice, and with plenty of global popularity.Joyce Karam
Pope Francis, however, is the one nominee with the longest record of fighting for peace and justice, and with plenty of global recognition and popularity. His work in the 1990s helping the poor in Argentina earned him the name of “Bishop of the slums”, and his roots as a teacher and son of immigrants gives him the ability to project empathy with those who are economically vulnerable.
Since becoming Pope in 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio overhauled the image of the Catholic Church, becoming a consensus builder, and a messenger of peace and interfaith dialogue. Unlike his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI – who quoted a 14th Century Christian emperor in talking about Islam, saying “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman” – Pope Francis brings humility and acceptance while addressing other religions. Last summer Francis told a crowd: “Jesus Christ, Jehovah, Allah. These are all names employed to describe an entity that is distinctly the same across the world. For centuries, blood has been needlessly shed because of the desire to segregate our faiths.” His visits to Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Ground Zero in New York, and his work prior to that in Argentina, emphasized his dedication to promoting coexistence.
The Pope has not shied away from venturing into political conflicts to promote his message of acceptance and peace. He was the main interlocutor in restoring relations between Cuba and the United States, ending decades of animosity last December. Most recently and according to Politico, the White House has sought the Pope’s help in mediating with Iran to release the three American prisoners being held there.
More than anything, Pope Francis has shown the courage and resolve to break, albeit rhetorically and not in doctrine, with the conservative history of the Catholic Church. He became the first Pope to meet gay activists in Paraguay last July, and with a gay couple in the United States last month.
His message “if someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” shows fearlessness in defying the rooted traditions in the Church. The Pope has also shown ability to confront the Church’s problems rather than attempt to sweep them under the rug, meeting twice so far with victims of sexual abuse carried out by Catholic Church priests and bishops. This trend goes further in climate change, with Pope Francis calling for a “revolution” to confront global warming and promote sustainable development.
Not a Politician
The most distinct aspect of Pope Francis’ resume, and which stands out from other high ranking nominees, is that he is not a politician, and has no electoral ambition or partisan agendas.
We know now that awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to U.S. President Barack Obama in 2009 as an attempt to lobby him for peace has proven ineffective. The United States is still involved in two wars and ironically, as many have tweeted in the last two days, President Obama has become the first Nobel Laureate to bomb another Nobel Laureate in the tragic strike that mistakenly hit Doctors Without Borders in Afghanistan.
While Kerry and Zarif deserve the credit for reaching a diplomatic breakthrough on the nuclear issue, those two men are daily involved in war decisions on behalf of their countries in Syria and Iraq. Moreover, the nuclear agreement has yet to withstand the test of time. The 1994 Nobel Peace Prize for late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and former Israeli Prime ministers Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin “for their efforts to create peace in the Middle East” and achieve the Oslo Accords, looks void today, as the agreement itself failed to bring peace. And neither Arafat nor Peres pursued a path for peace after.
Merkel is the only high ranking contender next to the Pope who has a strong case for the Laureate title. Germany’s leader fought numerous political odds across Europe in opening the border to take in record number of Middle Eastern refugees (800,000). But Merkel’s economic record in addressing the Greek crisis earlier this summer, and her future own political ambitions, make Pope Francis the more favored nominee.
While it’s true that no pope has ever won the prize, Francis is not an ordinary religious figure, and a person of many firsts. He is the first Jesuit pope, the first from Latin America, and the first to defy the Catholic establishment and speak up for human rights and social change. On Friday in Stockholm, Jorge Mario Bergoglio deserves to be the first Papal Laureate.
Joyce Karam is the Washington Correspondent for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an International Arabic Daily based in London. She has covered American politics extensively since 2004 with focus on U.S. policy towards the Middle East. Prior to that, she worked as a Journalist in Lebanon, covering the Post-war situation. Joyce holds a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. Twitter: @Joyce_Karam