Pope Francis: The World is Not Round

Globalization has drawn a wide range of cultures into encounter with one another. While this process of globalization affects everyone, it particularly challenges Catholics as they struggle to reconcile this reality into their faith lives. How do such culturally diverse groups of people ascribe to this one, universal Church? Pope Francis provides an image of two contrasting geometric figures to aid in rethinking how we encounter the multicultural Church. It is an image, moreover, from which any person of good will can benefit.

At General Congregation 36, a world-wide meeting of Jesuits, when asked about his thoughts on the effects of globalization and the problems of colonization, Pope Francis spoke about the danger of conceiving this process as a “sphere,” that is, as a process of standardization. This standardizing process seeks to impose a single world-view, a homogenous vision for society, economics, politics and culture. In contrast,  the polyhedron, a multi-sided geometric figure, better preserves this multicultural richness. “Our image of globalization should not be the sphere,” Pope Francis reflects, “but the polyhedron. It expresses how unity is created while preserving the identities of the peoples, the persons, of the cultures.”1  

For Pope Francis, this geometric metaphor offers a way to shift the individual’s disposition when thinking about the issues of globalization. We should not see the world as a homogenous, standardized sphere, but rather a multi-sided, yet unified, polyhedron. He has used this metaphor previously, and as other writers have noted it is potentially complicated. Pope Francis, however, is merely advocating for a shift in thinking about the process of globalization as potentially positive. In fact, all people of good will can benefit from adopting such a shift in how better to encounter the multicultural world.

 

To see the globalized world in regards to the polyhedron requires both cultural humility and spiritual openness. Humility is a central spiritual disposition in the Christian life, and is especially important in Ignatian spirituality. Spiritual poverty, or humility, allows us to be empty of our preferences and be wholly open to Christ. Cultural humility speaks to a similar tension. If in our multicultural encounters we lack an openness to learn or, worse, have an unreflective arrogance, we indeed block ourselves off to the richness of the body of Christ. We intentionally or unintentionally globalize in the spherical fashion. Rather, like Christ who models humility for us in the Gospels, we too ought to seek a cultural humility in our encounters to better open ourselves up to the experience of Christ in others. Having this spiritual openness better disposes us to grow in our own faith lives, and it deepens our experience with the truly Universal Church. But even for non-Catholics, recognizing how cultural humility and an attitude of openness better prepares ourselves for richer encounters with our neighbors across the globe. Adopting such a disposition is easier said than done, but it will be a great start to keep a spirit of  humility and openness at the center of our cross-cultural encounters.

The polyhedron can be a helpful way to understand the desires Pope Francis has for each of us. Seeing the globalized world and the multicultural Church as one united through a variety of rich identities will help us grow as a global society and in the Body of Christ. We must reflect on our own cultural heritage in the context of a globalized society, recognize the reality that we will continuously be drawn into global encounters, and better dispose ourselves to be culturally humble and spiritually open. The unity of all Christians and all people lies not in our cultural identities, however, but in our faith in Jesus and our trust in one another. If we start there, we might be surprised at how we continue to grow in appreciating the many rich cultures both in the Catholic Church and throughout our polyhedron world.
This post is an adaptation of a presentation given at Saint Louis University’s ATLAS Week.

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Image courtesy Catholic News Service/Paul Haring.

  1. This quotation comes from a question and answer session with the Pope at General Congregation 36.

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