In a visit to Japan from November 23-26, 2019, the leader of the global Catholic Church gave an astounding speech on a topic that touches on critical issues such as immigration, political polarization, violent extremism and more: diversity.

Speaking to an audience of young people at the Cathedral of Holy Mary in Tokyo on the 3rd day of his visit, Pope Francis did not mince words in calling on youth to embrace diversity, saying that humans are not “mass-produced on an assembly line”:

“As I look out at you, I can see the cultural and religious diversity of the young people living in Japan today, and also something of the beauty that your generation holds for the future. Your friendship with one another and your presence here remind everyone that the future is not monochrome; if we are courageous, we can contemplate it in all the variety and diversity of what each individual person has to offer. How much our human family needs to learn to live together in harmony and peace, without all of us having to be the same! We were not mass-produced on an assembly line. Each one comes from the love of their parents and their family, and so each of us is different, each one has a story to share. We need to grow in fraternity, in concern for others and respect for different experiences and points of view!”

Pope Francis, history’s first Jesuit pope, shared that this “culture of encounter” is possible and that “young people have the special sensitivity needed to carry it forward.”

In the same speech, the 82-year old pope made sure he connected with his young Japanese audience by touching on familiar subjects: bullying (which he called an “epidemic”), discrimination, selfies, and the pressures of a “frenetic” society ruled by competition and productivity.

On bullying, he shared, “The cruellest thing about bullying is that it attacks our self-confidence at the very time when we most need the ability to accept ourselves and to confront new challenges in life. Sometimes, victims of bullying even blame themselves for being “easy” targets. They can feel like failures, weak and worthless, and end up in very tragic situations: “If only I were different…” Yet paradoxically, it is the bullies – those who carry out bullying – who are the truly weak ones, for they think that they can affirm their own identity by hurting others. Sometimes they strike out at anyone they think is different, who represents something they find threatening. Deep down, bullies are afraid, and they cover their fear by a show of strength.”

With that, he challenged young people to “stand up” to bullying and urged them to work against “fear, division, and conflict” despite differences. The Catholic Church, after all, is built upon the legacy of Jesus Christ who is an outsider himself.

“…looking to the life of Jesus gives us consolation, for Jesus himself knew what it was to be despised and rejected – even to the point of being crucified. He knew too what it was to be a stranger, a migrant, someone who was “different”. In a sense… Jesus was the ultimate “outsider”.”

To do so, Pope Francis reiterated the importance of fostering understanding and empathy:

“…this involves developing a very important but underestimated quality: the ability to learn to make time for others, to listen to them, to share with them, to understand them. Only then can we open our experiences and our problems to a love that can change us and start to change the world around us. Unless we are generous in spending time with others, in “wasting” time with them, we will waste time on many things that, at the end of the day, leave us empty and confused.”

The pope concluded his speech by leaving his own comment on “selfie culture” as a manifestation of the evils of modern society.

“…in order to grow, to discover our own identity, our own goodness and our own inner beauty, we cannot look at ourselves in a mirror. We have invented all sorts of gadgets, but we still can’t take selfies of the soul. Thank God! Because to be happy, we need to ask others to help us, to have the photo taken by someone else. We need to go out of ourselves towards others, especially those most in need…

The topic of diversity and peace was a central theme in Pope Francis’ visit to Japan this year. Aside from his dialog with young people, he visited a Peace Memorial, refugees, and the Atomic Bomb Hypocenter Park in Nagasaki.

In an emotional speech at the atomic bomb memorial, the pope waxed poetic on the dangers of nuclear weaponry:

“One of the deepest longings of the human heart is for security, peace and stability. The possession of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction is not the answer to this desire; indeed they seem always to thwart it. Our world is marked by a perverse dichotomy that tries to defend and ensure stability and peace through a false sense of security sustained by a mentality of fear and mistrust, one that ends up poisoning relationships between peoples and obstructing any form of dialogue.

“Peace and international stability are incompatible with attempts to build upon the fear of mutual destruction or the threat of total annihilation. They can be achieved only on the basis of a global ethic of solidarity and cooperation in the service of a future shaped by interdependence and shared responsibility in the whole human family.”

As the world is continually threatened by war, divisiveness, and violence, one thing is clear: we need more global leaders actively calling for peace and embracing diversity. To assist in the concrete actions and reforms needed to promote peace, words are needed, too.

Words – those that urge for kindness, empathy, understanding, and acceptance – can change the mindset of millions of people – especially the young.

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