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Gandhi and the Popes

From Pius XI to Francis


Peter Gonsalves

Gandhi today is universally recognised as an international icon, but did his influence extend to the Vatican as well? The author unravels the answer by pursuing six research targets. The book opens with a historical inquiry into Gandhi’s unsuccessful attempt to meet Pius XI, and then goes on to examine the writings and speeches of the Popes from Pius XI to Benedict XVI who alluded to Gandhi. Adopting a hermeneutical slant, it also engages in a comparative study of the thoughts and actions of Pope Francis and Gandhi, and highlights some remarkable similarities that call for an explanation. In the process, the book explores and assesses the popular claim that Gandhi was influenced by Christ, and the not so popular conjecture that Francis was influenced by Gandhi.
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6. Was Francis Influenced by Gandhi?


6. Was Francis Influenced by Gandhi?

In his book, Profiles of Gandhi, published to commemorate the centennial anniversary of Gandhi’s birth, Norman Cousins says, “Ultimately, the greatness of a man must be measured not by the amount of adulation accorded him but by the impact of his life on others.”1 Would it be an exaggeration to suggest that Gandhi’s life and teachings did have an impact even on the popes?

Through the study undertaken in our first two chapters, the reader has progressively been introduced to the esteem held by the popes for Gandhi’s unique non-violent and Christ-like approach in his victory over colonialism. His abiding influence on the popes seemed even more pronounced in the years following his assassination. This was either through the mushrooming of Gandhi-inspired movements in the West, or through personal reading and adoption of his methods by the popes and their acquaintances.

Regarding movements, we have already seen how groups led by Lanzo del Vasto, Simone Gébelin, Dorothy Day and Rajagopalacharya helped to enshrine Gandhian values in John XXIII’s encyclical Pacem in Terris and the Vatican Council Document Gaudium et Spes. Concerning the personal reading of the popes, we have highlighted Paul VI’s explicit tributes to Gandhi’s exemplary life and Benedict XVI’s occasional borrowing of Gandhian citations as a heuristic device. On the adoption of Gandhi’s method of satyagraha in the triumph of Poland over Communism we have the personal testimonies of Pope John Paul II and...

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