In his inaugural address last fall, Pope John Paul II said that "we the Papal plural have no intention of political interference, nor of participation in-the working out of temporal affairs."
Something has obviously happened since those words were uttered. According to a Reuter's dispatch of December 24, "the Pope has strengthened in the past few days' the impression that during his reign the church will be at the center of international affairs."
There are several reasons for this new assessment of the likely impact that the 58-year old pontiff will have on world affairs. For one, Pope John Paul on Christmas Day at St. Peter's read Christmas greetings to "each and every human being" in 24 languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Russian, and, of course, English.
A few days earlier the Pope confirmed that he would travel to Mexico next month to attend a conference of Latin American bishops. Some experts feel that the Pope may try to defuse the overtly Marxist "theology of liberation" espoused by many in the Latin American clergy. He may use his experience — that of one who has lived and labored under Communism — to at least warn of the danger of collaborating with Marxist movements. It is not felt however, that John Paul II will risk an open confrontation with the "liberationist" priests.
The most interesting example of the Vatican's new activism in world affairs, however, concerns the naming of a papal envoy to help mediate a border dispute between Chile and Argentina. It is the first time in nearly a century that a pope has attempted to settle an international dispute. Pope Leo XIII adjudicated a Spanish-Portuguese dispute over the Caroline Islands in the Pacific in 1885.
Regarding Chile and Argentina, the two Latin (and heavily Catholic) neighbors have been threatening to go to war over the control of a group of three tiny islands in the Beagle Channel at the tip of the South American continent. Last year Argentina rejected an International Court ruling that awarded the islands to Chile. The islands are virtually useless of themselves but have strategic and commercial importance, since the nation that controls them will claim large and rich fishing grounds in the South Atlantic.
Both the disputing countries have accepted Pope John Paul's offer to help settle the dispute which dates back about 100 years. Cardinal Antonio Sanore, age 73, has already left the Vatican for Argentina on the first leg of a diplomatic "shuttle" that could carry him back and forth several times between Buenos Aires and Santiago, the Chilean capital.
Now, what ever happened to that earlier profession that "we have no intention.... of participation in the working out of temporal affairs?" Today Latin America, tomorrow...?