Build bridges, not walls: Pope Francis' religious diplomacy

The deceit of history consists in making us believe we live in the present; when in reality, history is all there is, and everything is but mere repetition.

As European leaders gathered in Rome on Friday to award Europe's most prestigious prize, the Charlemagne award, to Pope Francis, one could not help but notice the degree of irony surrounding the ceremony. As history recounts, in the 8th century, Charlemagne unified most of Western Europe and was later crowned by Pope Leo III as the Holy Roman Emperor.

Back then, a political leader was coronated by the supreme religious authority. Nowadays however, it appears roles have been reversed, as European leaders themselves have turned towards the Pope in search of social, political and economical advice in these times of distress.

As the Union faces an impending Euro crisis, a refugee crisis, cultural and political fragmentation and many more aggravating issues which are fracturing the foundations of post-war Europe, the guidance of the religious leader sure seems suitable.

"Today more than ever, their vision inspires us to build bridges and tear down walls."

Pope Francis, in delivering a message of hope, invoked the founding fathers of the European project, and exhorted European political leaders to follow their footsteps and that "Today more than ever, their vision inspires us to build bridges and tear down walls."

In a mournful voice, Pope Francis asked:

"What has happened to you, the Europe of humanism, the champion of human rights, democracy and freedom?. The home of poets, philosophers, artists, musicians, and men and women of letters?. The mother of great men and women who upheld, and even sacrificed their lives for, the dignity of their brothers and sisters?"

as he urged European leaders to " to change radically the models that had led only to violence and destruction ... [and] dared to seek multilateral solutions to increasingly shared problems".

Furthermore, he alluded to three required capacities for Europe to rebuild itself and not abandon the values which cemented its foundations as a bastion of human rights for half a century. He remained confident that Europe would give birth to a new humanism based on three ideas: the capacity to integrate, have dialogue, and "generate."

But Pope Francis' involvement in political matters is nothing new. Ever since he was elected in March 2013, Pope Francis has constantly met with leaders from around the world. He met with Iranian president in January to discuss geopolitical issues and foster interfaith dialogue. And he took part in the U.S- Cuba relations among other significant affairs.

Pope Francis has definitely reshaped the Catholic church. As the first pope from Latin America, his travels and talks to diverse world leaders and public audiences have renewed the image in ways previous Europeans Popes had not.

He has been a prominent voice in bringing core problems such as climate change to the forefront of our political, cultural and social discussions.

At times when the church had been losing influence, his commentaries on such pertinent issues for younger generations, has definitely revamped the image of the Church and managed to capture the hearts of many around the globe.

He is clearly turning out to be a major force in global politics, just look at the very U.S election process. His remarks on global economic inequality and the care for the poor, as well as his condemnation of the excessive and corrosive effects of unfettered capitalism and consumerism, has won him the praise and admiration of U.S Senator Bernie Sanders.

However, Pope Francis' adventurism in hot political issues has won him some detractors as well. His speech on immigration and border security was lambasted by Donald Trump whose response to the Catholic leader was nothing short of Trump's confrontational tone.

Nonetheless, for many, specially younger generations, the image of a progressive Pope has restored, if minimal, the Church's credibility which had been until recently, heavily under scrutiny due to various scandals.

There is no doubt that Pope Francis has reinvigorated the Catholic Church. In this sense he is a revolutionary with a penchant for religious diplomacy. He has been an advocate of dialogue, mutual respect, and tolerance. And has definitely infused the figure of the Pope with tremendous soft power. It should be interesting in the coming years to observe how he wields it in the mediation of global issues concerning the international community.