Pope Francis on Saturday told mayors that they must go to those on the margins of their communities in order to learn how to best serve the common good, including the needs of the poor, unemployed, and migrants and refugees.
“To you, mayors, let me say, as a brother: You must frequent the peripheries, those urban, those social and those existential,” the Pope said Sept. 30. To do so is to learn from the best school, he continued, because it teaches us about the real needs of people, shows us injustice, and helps us to build better communities, where everyone is recognized as a person and citizen.
“I think about the situation in which the availability and quality of services is lacking, and new pockets of poverty and marginalization are formed,” he said. This is where a city becomes divided, he said: on one side of the highway are the secure and well-off and on the other are the poor and unemployed — including families and migrants who have no support.
Pope Francis’ speech was made in an audience with Italian mayors, members of the National Association of Italian Towns (ANCI), in the Clementine Hall of the Vatican Sept. 30.
In the audience he spoke about the specific issue of immigration, saying that he understands that many people are uncomfortable in the face of the massive arrival of migrants and refugees. This discomfort is understandable, he said, especially when there is innate fear of the “stranger,” and the already-present wounds of economic crisis, lack of community, and inadequate response to emergencies by the government.
Francis said that these challenges can only be overcome through personal encounter, including the mutual exchange of artistic and cultural riches, as well as the knowledge of people’s places and communities of origin. “I am delighted to hear that many of the local administrations represented here can be among the main advocates of good reception and integration practices, with encouraging results that deserve broad dissemination. I hope that many follow your example,” he said.
It is this way that politics can fulfill the “fundamental task” of helping people to see the future with hope, he noted, saying that it is “hope in tomorrow that brings out the best energies of everyone, of young people first of all.” If a mayor is close to his or her people, directing everything toward the common good, then things will go well, he continued.
Pope Francis also spoke about the symbol of the city as it is found in Sacred Scripture.
At the beginning of the Bible we hear the story of the history of Babel, a city "unfinished, destined to remain in the memory of humanity as a symbol of confusion and loss, presumption and division, of that inability to understand that makes any common work impossible,” he said. The Bible also closes with the vision of a city. But unlike the city of Babel, the new Jerusalem "smells of heaven and tells of a renewed world."
It is significant, the Pope continued, that the image of the city recurs throughout Sacred Scripture. It teaches us that human society can only stand when rested on the foundation of true solidarity. Envy, unbridled ambition and a spirit of adversity, on the other hand, condemn us to the violence of chaos. To move away from this we need a politics and economy centered on ethics, "an ethics of responsibility, relationships, community and the environment," he said.
"I would like to talk to you about a city that puts the public well-being above private interests, not allowing corruption or the privatization of public spaces, where the 'us' is 'reduced to slogans, to rhetorical artifice that masks the interests of few,'" he said. It is this view that helps people to grow in dignity. “It promotes social justice, therefore labor, services, opportunities,” he said. “To embrace and serve this city it takes a good and great heart, in which to preserve the passion of the common good,” he encouraged, “because what contributes to the good of everyone also contributes to the good of the individual.”
If we do this, he concluded, “then the city will advance and reflect the heavenly Jerusalem.” “It will be a sign of God's goodness and tenderness in man's time. A mayor must have the virtue of prudence to govern, but also the virtue of courage to move forward and the virtue of tenderness to approach the weakest.”