This is the value that ought to guide our public policy because the structural systemic violence that harms the least among us is the invisible cause of the active violence that we see between individuals, groups, and nations.
In his inaugural homily Pope Francis spoke about the Matthew passage within the context of his reflections about St. Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, and our duty to protect. In international relations there is a concept called the responsibility to protect (R2P). This means that governments have an obligation to protect their citizens from violence and from crimes against humanity. When governments are unable or unwilling to do this, when the regime itself is the cause of the violence against its own citizens, the international community has a responsibility to protect. This was the logic behind international military intervention in Libya.
However, in his homily, Pope Francis spoke about tenderness and protection. He said: “Being protectors, then, also means keeping watch over our emotions, over our hearts, because they are the seat of good and evil intentions: intentions that build up and tear down! We must not be afraid of goodness and even tenderness!
Tenderness. We do not often hear this term even in our religious life. The Gospel according to Otis Redding advises men to “try a little tenderness” with the women in their lives. But, we hardly ever hear of tenderness spoken of in our spiritual or political discourse. Within the multiple meanings of the adjective “tender,” we find the concepts of care, consideration, gentleness. We no doubt shrink from the idea of tenderness because we associate it with its other meanings—fragile, weak, immature, impressionable. Yet, Pope Francis repeated the same sentence twice: “We must not be afraid of goodness or tenderness.”
If we all take this sentence seriously and summon the courage to touch all of creation with gentle hands, and speak to each other with considerate words, to serve the world with love, we can bring an end to the violence that plagues our world. Pope Francis said: “Only those who serve with love are able to protect.” This is a duty to protect that does not require military force. It is true security. It is a protection that extends from ourselves to all of creation.
Pope Francis also spoke of hoping against hope. Our love, tenderness, service, and protection lead to hope against hope that peace is possible. This is a just peace message of just peace possibilities.