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‘Pope Francis’ Preference for the Poor is Not Left-Wing’

Fr. Juan Carlos Scannone, Pope’s Former Professor, Speaks on the “Theology of the People”

Father Juan Carlos Scannone, SJ, is in Madrid today, invited by two institutions of the Society of Jesus – the initiative In Parenthesis and the Review Razon y Fe [Reason and Faith]. This Argentine Jesuit was a Professor of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, today Pope Francis, who was later to be his Provincial and companion in the Community for several years.

At present Father Scannone is Professor Emeritus of the Faculties of Philosophy and Theology of San Miguel, Argentina, and writer of Civilta Cattolica (Rome). In addition, he serves as Director of the Institute of Philosophical Research in the Faculty of Theology and Philosophy of San Miguel, whose headquarters are in the Colegio Maximo de San Jose, of which the Holy Father was Rector from 1980-1986.

In this interview with ZENIT, the distinguished Religious of the Society of Jesus explains the characteristics of the so-called “Theology of the People” and its influence on the Argentine Pontiff’s thought, especially in Evangelii gaudium.

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ZENIT: What are the main features of the so-called “Theology of the People”?

Father Scannone: The “Theology of the People” thinks of the people as a nation: with a common history, a lifestyle, a culture, and a shared plan for the common good, although there are different interpretations, especially of a political sort. It thinks of a people that want to be a nation. However, in Latin America it gives special importance to the poor, because it is the poor who have mostly kept that common lifestyle and their legitimate interests: justice, peace, development for all, namely, the common good.

ZENIT: Has this theology influenced Pope Francis’ thought in some way?

Father Scannone: I believe it has influenced him. It’s not the only root, but it is one of the important theological roots of his thought and action.

ZENIT: In the “Theology of the People” the categories of the Marxist views are not used, no?

Father Scannone: The “Theology of the People” never wished to use the Marxist views as a way to understand the situation of the poor in Latin America. Rather, it sought in the history and culture of Latin America and Argentina interpretive categories that were neither of a liberal sociology nor of a Marxist sociology.

ZENIT: Can one speak of the “Theology of the People” as a development of the Social Doctrine of the Church?

Father Scannone: Not directly, but it does have a close relation, because the “Theology of the People” is something more. It’s not only the social aspect, but the whole understanding of the Gospel, of Revelation. Therefore, it encompasses all that is theological and not only what is social.

Now, in the social dimension there is a close relation with the Social Doctrine of the Church, with an accent on the subject of the poor, because in Latin America it is part of our tradition since Medellin up to our days. However, the Pope himself, when he speaks in Evangelii gaudium of those four principles, which he then enumerates, says that they are based on the contributions of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

ZENIT: The “Theology of the People” has also been called the “Theology of Culture.” In different interventions, the Holy Father has talked about the cultures of peoples. Does it have something to do with this current of thought?

Father Scannone: What the Pope says is that the Gospel must reach all peoples and all cultures. What Paul VI already said: the evangelization of the culture and cultures of man.

Each nation has its lifestyle, its culture; it interprets differently, — with different symbols –, the ultimate meaning of life, and that is what is proper to culture. The culture of the people appears also in the way of eating, of dressing, but much more so in art, thought and religiosity.

The Pope says that the Church as a People of God is multi-formed. She evangelizes all cultures and inculturates the Gospel in all cultures – not only in European culture, which she has done throughout the centuries, but in all the cultures of Asia, Africa, etc. He speaks of a multi-form harmony in the People of God, what is now being called inter-culturalism, which implies the inculturation of the Gospel in a culture and the dialogue of cultures, hence the subject of encounter. When he speaks of the culture of encounter, it is something that can be applied both within the Church as well as between peoples and between cultures.

ZENIT: There are those who label the Pontiff, who has come from “the end of the world,” a populist.

Father Scannone: The populist thinks of the people as something uniform, led forward by a caudillo [leader]. Instead, the image is that of the polyhedron, where there is no uniformity but the harmony of differences. As happens in the Most Holy Trinity in some way, which is the union of different relations. And the same thing happens in the Church and should happen in nations.

ZENIT: Is Pope Francis from the left wing?

Father Scannone: From the left wing – what does the left wing mean? If we are referring to the fact that he has made an option for the poor, this is of the Gospel, not of the Left. The Left could also have it, but I don’t need to be of the Left to opt for the poor. Christ opted for the poor, the sick, the disabled, victims. The Church has also done so in the course of history. And in all present-day theology, especially in Latin America after the Medellin and Puebla Conferences — which later culminated at Aparecida –, there is a preferential option for the poor, for the discarded, for the excluded, for the victims of history, etc. However, that does not mean that one is of the Left, but that one is Christian, evangelical.

ZENIT: And Peronist?

Father Scannone: Peronism exerted much influence in Argentina, and it also used the “pueblo” [the people] mentality.At the cultural level, it had its importance and marked many Argentines. Well, is the Pope a Peronist? No, because the Pope doesn’t meddle in politics, and much less so in Argentine politics. On the contrary, he wanted dialogue between all the parties and ideologies.

Now, the fact that Peronism favored workers and the poor and, on the other hand, that it also had a notion of “pueblo-Nation” one can commune with these subjects and yet not be a Peronist, no? However, one cannot say that the Pope is a Peronist, but that there are things in Peronism that are valid and are taken from Christianity, some, explicitly, from the Social Doctrine of the Church. And on that we all agree.

ZENIT: What message would you like to give to ZENIT”s readers?

Father Scannone: We must return to the Gospel, convert the Church pastorally. Aparecida spoke of a pastoral conversion. The Pope gives much importance to the Aparecida Document. And now, in some way, he sees the universal element it has. A Church that just doesn’t look at itself, but that looks out, to those who suffer, to people who need mercy, to those who don’t know Christ; it is a missionary Church – a reform towards pastoral conversion. A leaving behind obsolete structures, as the Aparecida Document also says, to be a missionary Church. In other words, like Christ, who is the mission in person. And we must take Christ to all the realms of reality and of society, including the whole of global humanity.. 

About Iván de Vargas

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