A World Parliament

More than four thousand political figures gathered in Rome for their Jubilee, coming from 92 nations. The Pope’s call for politics to be “service” and not “purely a question of demagogy and electoral advantage”

by Stefano Maria Paci

It was the largest parliamentary assembly ever convened on earth. The more than four thousand senators, deputies, heads of state, and government leaders who gathered on November 4th in the Nervi Auditorium in the Vatican came from 92 countries. Discussion went on for a long time in this unique “World Parliament,” where the white turbans of the Cameroon delegation, the cobalt blue tunics of the Nigerian deputies, the purple saris of the Indian congresswomen, and the gold shoes of the ministers from Mali added a concert of color. Three motions emerged from the debate, three burning issues brought to the attention of the international community: reduction of foreign debt, human rights, and religious freedom. At the conclusion of the session, a permanent council of world parliamentarians was created to consider the themes of the social doctrine of the Church.
Thus began this unprecedented assembly, the first Jubilee of government leaders, members of parliament, and politicians, attended by delegations from non-Christian countries like Iran, Israel, Kuwait, and Tunisia. A similar concentration of representatives of political power in the Vatican had never been seen before.
But it was not just a formal meeting, as might have been expected. John Paul II asked his guests to make a real commitment to the themes that are closest to his heart. And he made specific demands, throwing off-balance both the politicians of the left who place social issues at the forefront, and those of the right whose aim is ethical imperatives. Many of the members of Parliament who were present jumped in their seats as they heard the Pope’s incisive words.

Prisoners and debt

Among those defeated by society, the Pope mentioned prisoners first of all. And this is not a coincidence: freeing prisoners and canceling out debts were the essential points of the Hebrew Jubilee which gave rise, albeit in a radically different context, to the Christian Jubilee. John Paul II reminded those present of his appeal in June to the “leaders of countries” for “a gesture of clemency toward all those in prison.” “I renew today that appeal,” the pontiff said, as though to urge on the latecomers. He then used strong words to remind his listeners of “the scandal of the affluent society,” in which “the rich grow ever richer… and the poor grow ever poorer.” This is “the most serious sin of injustice found in the modern world,” he said, and must “deeply disturb” the “conscience of Christians.” The Pope also spoke about abortion and euthanasia. “A law which does not respect the right to life–from conception to natural death–of every human being, whatever his or her condition is not a law in harmony with the divine plan. Consequently, Christian legislators may neither contribute to the formulation of such a law nor approve it in parliamentary assembly.” And as to the family, “all laws which would do harm to the family, striking at its unity and its indissolubility, or which would give legal validity to a union between persons, including those of the same sex, who demand the same rights as the family founded upon marriage between a man and a woman,” are to be condemned.


But does this mean that Christian legislators are asked to withdraw into isolation when the laws do not coincide fully with their ideals? No, and since politics is also the art of compromise among different needs and demands, John Paul II said that both in the case of laws concerning life and those on the family, “it is licit for them to propose amendments which would diminish its adverse effects.”
The Jubilee continued the next day with an impressive Mass in St. Peter’s Square, attended by an even greater number of politicians: five thousand legislators and government figures and more than ten thousand local administrators. And while the Pope called them to a “high conception of politics,” inviting them to conceive of it “as service,” and not as “purely a question of demagogy and electoral advantage,” hanging from the central loggia of the Basilica was a large standard with the image of Thomas More, proclaimed the patron saint of politicians.