The big news at the end of last week was that Pope Francis will be participating in the G7 meeting scheduled for mid-June of this year, in the Italian region of Puglia, specifically to speak on Artificial Intelligence. The Pope will join a session for invited countries, not being the Vatican a part of the G7.
In general, the Holy See always looked at the G-sessions (G7, G8, G20) with some suspicion, since these are “club of friends”, and not multilateral arenas where every country, even the smallest ones, have a voice and some weight.

However, the fact that the Pope is accepting to speak at the G7 in a lateral session show that Pope Francis wants to be a major player on the world stage, and the Big Wigs of the world appear ready to oblige him.

Another rumor is that Pope Francis will be travelling to New York in September for the United Nations’ Summit of the Future. The Pope most recently addressed the UN Security Council on June 14, 2023. Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Vatican Secretary for Relations with the States, read the speech at an event tailored to have the Pope speak via video message and the Grand Imam of al Azhar Ahmed al Tayyeb. It is unclear whether the Pope will address the UN via video or in presence. However, the Pope might actually want to be in New York.

If so, the Pope’s planned visit to Belgium (and Luxembourg?) would have to slide. His journey to Asia from September 2-13 would remain on the calendar, making the ninth month of 2024 a grueling road trip for the 87-year-old pontiff, who isn’t in the best of health.

For now, the news of the Pope’s trip to New York is just an indiscretion. It has yet to be confirmed. Within the Vatican walls, among other things, many are also doubtful that Pope Francis will be able to undertake the trip to Asia, which would see him visit four countries (Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor, and Singapore) in just over ten days.

If Pope Francis’ health conditions complicate a trip to Asia, it would be even more complicated to follow that trip with another long journey that would take him across several time zones in the other direction.

For now, the Pope and the Vatican are content to let the rumors swirl. That fact indicates something of Pope Francis’s precise will.

Pope Francis did receive a personal invitation from United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, with whom he maintains an excellent relationship. Pope Francis filmed a joint video message with Guterres on the sidelines of Guterres’ visit to the Vatican on 20 December 2019, a more unique than a rare event in the history of papal audiences.

Therefore, the Pope would be willing to answer yes, to undertake a complicated journey, and to return to the podium of the United Nations for a second time to launch his message to the world. The trip to Belgium would be slightly postponed to 2025.

If everything were confirmed, Pope Francis’ priorities and how he exercises his pontificate would be definitively clear.

There is nothing wrong with the Pope wanting to speak at international forums. However, there has never been a Pope who understood his presence at international assemblies in the pragmatic and political way of Pope Francis.

Pope Francis speaks as a politician among politicians; he adopts their language and becomes a social leader when he engages in dialogue with the political world.

It has been a theme since the beginning of the pontificate: the meetings with the leaders of popular movements, the indication of human trafficking as a central theme for the meetings of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, and the identification of the issue of climate change following a conversation with Ségolène Royale, who urged him to write a document in view of the COP21 in Paris.

There is indeed a need for the Church to speak in international forums and represent the poor and oppressed. This is what papal diplomacy is for, and this is what the Pope’s peculiar role on the world stage is designed to do.

There is, in other words, a thin line separating the Pope as moral leader from the parts of his role that would define him as a mere global leader like any other.

In South America, there is a thin border between being a bishop and a social actor. Ultimately, it’s a question of how you interpret the role. Pope Francis has consistently interpreted the Papacy as a global platform to launch the cry of the poor and oppressed and outline his outgoing Church.

What if the Church were indeed outgoing, but outward from herself?

This is the big question today.

If Pope Francis were to accept the invitation to the United Nations, his ambition to be a global leader would become fully evident.

These are the scenarios where the Pope prefers to speak. He would also have spoken at COP28 in Dubai last December, and he would have done so only as the head of state. The COP28 is a meeting that brings together heads of government and ministers. The decision to go to COP28 was particularly excessive from the point of view of protocol. Still, it is justified by the idea of using the pontificate’s moral weight to advance issues dear to the one who holds the office.

On the other hand, Pope Francis has taken part in meetings of interreligious platforms that would not have foreseen the Pope’s presence in themselves, such as the Abu Dhabi Conferences on Human Fraternity, the Cairo Peace Conference, and the Meeting of Religious Leaders in Kazakhstan.

For Pope Francis, the important thing is to be present, to speak, and to highlight his opinion.

From here comes Pope Francis’ second priority: controlling the narrative.

This priority is a consequence of his commitment to speaking as a global leader. All leaders need to control the narrative around them. Over the course of the last week, Pope Francis granted his umpteenth interview (more than a hundred were counted) to CBS, in which he reiterated his concepts of peace, care for our common home, and love for children.

The interview was organized around World Children’s Day, and it is clear that the Pope agreed to give prestige and prominence to the event because it must say something about him and his pontificate. World Children’s Day, after all, is a completely new institution that will go down in history because Pope Francis established it.

All the Pope’s interviews – including the book-length ones – are creatures to which Pope Francis agreed personally and without the filter of curial departments. They serve to tell something different about the pontificate, to introduce new narrative categories that only the Pope can control (such as the one on the Conclave that elected him because no one will be able to deny it), to create an image of his decisions and his governance.

However, what appears against the light is a leader alone in command, who works on self-perception rather than concrete reforms. Indeed, when he undertakes reforms, he either implements them in a personalist manner or approaches them with surface-level micromanagement. He is a Pope who wants to be a reformer but cannot reform because his vision is to act alone, with a few trusted collaborators, and without wasting too much time on great strategic and ideological plans.
Hence, the third priority is reform to change mentalities without structural reforms.

The Pope takes two steps forward and one step back on doctrine and pastoral understanding issues. The document on the blessing of irregular couples, Fiducia Supplicans, carries forward the mentality of the blessing of homosexual couples. The document on human dignity, Dignitas Infinita, reaffirms the Church’s doctrine on homosexual couples. The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith authorizes transsexual people to also be godparents at Baptism or Confirmation. Again Dignitas Infinita emphasizes that sex change is always a betrayal of God’s plan.

It’s not about changing everything to change nothing, as we read in Lampedusa’s novel, The Leopard. Instead, it is a change of nothing to change everything.


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