Reflecting on Gandhi’s 1931 visit to Rome and the echo of his message in Pope Francis’s pronouncements.
Rome, the Eternal City, is still as inviting as ever. But there is a certain new thinking in the air in Italy’s capital, born of three factors — prolonged economic recession, political instability and the arrival of a progressive new Pope in the Vatican. I am here to give a talk at the Pontifical Council on Inter-religious Dialogue on my book Music of the Spinning Wheel: Mahatma Gandhi’s Manifesto for the Internet Age. I am also participating in an international meeting for peace, whose theme is “The Courage of Hope: Religions and Cultures in Dialogue”. It is organised by the Community of Sant’Egidio, a voluntary spiritual organisation dedicated to serving the poor, inter-faith harmony and conflict-resolution, three activities that were close to Gandhi’s heart.
Before coming to Italy, I had tweeted about a recent speech by Pope Francis that the whole world is now talking about. I had highlighted the close similarity between Gandhi’s rejection of economics without ethics and the Pope’s flaying of the current global economic system that has put “an idol called money”, and not people, at its heart. Speaking extempore to loud applause from a large crowd of unemployed youth in Sardinia, the Pope — he has quickly earned the reputation of being the Poor Man’s Pope — said, “Let us all fight the money idol, against an unfair system without ethics in which money rules everything. To protect this idolatrous system we abandon the weakest, the elderly, those who have nowhere to sleep... Even the young are abandoned and left without dignity.”
Safeguarding human dignity is the true teaching of Jesus Christ and Gandhi, and Pope Francis is giving impassioned voice to this philosophy. In his thoughtful speech at the peace conference, Italy’s PM Enrico Letta, whose coalition government is sought to be destabilised by Silvio Berlusconi’s supporters, touched upon another Gandhian theme — conflict-resolution through dialogue. Back from the UN General Assembly, he said the global community heaved a sigh of relief that America’s imminent military strike on Syria had