Two men who have recently attained very high office now, each in his own domain, search for encounters. The encounters for which they search are quite different from one another, though both are surely commendable. Let us examine their quests.
First we have Pope Francis, who is in various ways proving to be a man of uncommon vision and decency. Here is just one illustration, from a talk this week on Vatican Radio in which the Pope spoke of the need to encounter one another on our common ground.
“The commandment for everyone to do good is, I think, a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will create a culture of encounter. We need that so much. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am atheist!’ But do good; we will meet one another there.” It is in doing good that we will meet, that we will fulfill Creation’s destiny.
The faithful and the atheists, he said just two months ago, can be “precious allies…to defend the dignity of man, to build a peaceful coexistence between peoples and in the careful protection of creation.” Belonging to the Church turns out, in the Pope’s view, to be less important than belonging to each other.
Our Secretary of State, John Kerry, is also in search of encounter. He is a man of zeal, of passion and of conviction. But the encounter that is foremost on his agenda, the encounter of Israel and the Palestinians, remains elusive, his four recent trips to the region notwithstanding.
Often, he seems to me a lonely conductor, there on the podium on a stage that is empty of instrumentalists. Sometimes, when he leaves the stage for a recess, two clarinetists show up, one entering stage right, the other stage left. They are both virtuoso players, but they are playing different tunes, tunes that clash with each other. That is not the kind of encounter Kerry seeks to foster.