Passersby are reflected in the doorplate of the Russian Embassy to the Holy See on Via della Conciliazione, the main road leading to the Vatican, Feb. 25, 2022. Pope Francis visited the Russian Embassy to the Holy See the same day to express his concern about the war in Ukraine. CNS photo/Cindy Wooden

Editorial: Open door of hope

  • March 3, 2022

Last Friday morning, in the leadup to Lent, with Vladimir Putin’s invading troops on the doorstep of Ukraine, Pope Francis paid a surprise call on his neighbours at the Russian embassy on Rome’s Via della Conciliazione. 

“Mr. Ambassador, the Pope is at the door,” Exaudi Catholic News characterized the visitor’s welcome, acknowledging puckishly those might not have been the exact words used by diplomatic reception staff.

The sentence did capture perfectly the spirit of the gesture by the Holy Father who, whether we always agree with and understand him or not, is one of the most startling pontiffs in Church history.

Of course, Francis did not execute his pop-by just to drop off a loaf of unleavened bread or chit-chat about the glories of Roman traffic. He went to press the dire case for peace in Ukraine and to urge, in exemplary priestly fashion, an “examination of conscience” by those (Commander Putin, call home) guilty of the looming carnage.

Later, he would designate Ash Wednesday as a day of fasting and prayer for Ukraine, a call all Catholics should have at heart. But beyond the crisis inflicted upon that battered, bloodied and valiant country by its mad-dreams-of-empire neighbour (admittedly, it’s hard to think of much else right now) the Pope’s knock on the ambassador’s door is a perfect point of Lenten meditation on his constant urging that the Church herself be in the world, and therefore ceaselessly active in the world.

Put another way, it presents the papal embodiment of the authentic meaning of hope realized in the Good News. Hope, yes, hope, even in the face of imperialist abomination such as the Russian brutalizing of Ukraine.

Hope, that is, explicitly differentiated from secular expectation. Did Francis expect the ambassador to hop right on his iPhone, convey the Holy Father’s message of peace to the Kremlin, and effect an immediate troop stand down? Let’s go way out on a limb and say probably not.

He went anyway. He knocked, and the door was opened to him.

Let’s reflect on exactly who made that particular promise, those glorious words of hope, to all of us. And what if the ambassadorial door had been slammed shut in Francis’ face? Let’s go out on a far more solid limb and say this most startling Pope would doubtless have just kept knocking.

For what the Holy Father demonstrably knows, is what the rest of us, quite forgivably, tend to forget as the world, with its mud and its blood, invades our spirits. As the Servant of the Servants of God, he knocked — as we must knock — on the door so that Christ will open it to us. He acted — we act — to show the world how Christ lives in us.

What abundance in this season of Lenten denial to give us hope not only for the liberation of Ukraine, devoutly as we pray for that, but for the freedom of the Resurrection at Easter.

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