Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Gandhi and the Popes: From Pius XI to Francis

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Gandhi and the Popes: From Pius XI to Francis

Article excerpt

Gandhi and the Popes: From Pius XI to Francis. By Peter Gonsalves. [Studies in the Intercultural History of Christianity, Vol. 160.] (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang Edition. 2016. Pp. xv, 244. $72.95. ISBN 978-3-631-65789-8.)

The book consists of three sections, each focusing on a particular aspect of the personal and ideational intercourse between Mahatma Gandhi and seven Popes from Pius XI to Francis. Section A has a chapter on Gandhi's short visit to Rome on his way home from the second Round Table Conference in December, 1931, followed by an illustration of tributes and comments on Gandhi offered by the Popes (except Francis) on various occasions. Section B addresses certain similarities between Pope Francis and Mahatma Gandhi, two leaders whom the author sees as heralds of world-changing revolutions. The comparison covers various dimensions, from "non-verbal communication strategies" and "prophetic-symbolic actions" to ideas on religion and faith, and adherence to a life of poverty and service. Section C deals with the nature and extent of the influence of Christ on Gandhi and of Gandhi on Pope Francis. This is done, on one hand, by perusing Gandhi's views on topics such as Christ's divinity, the Sermon on the Mount, and Christian proselytization, and on the other, by identifying a 'Gandhian element' in the reformed Jesuit spirit which deeply influenced Bergoglio's experience as a member of the Church. The author concludes that it would be impossible to deny this two-way influence, although the ways of transmission may not always be traceable.

The account of Gandhi's visit to Rome in chapter 1 deserves special consideration. The author has had access to hitherto untapped sources in the Archivio Segreto Vaticano which shed new light on the real reasons for Pius XI's "not being able" to grant the Mahatma an audience. These documents confirm what could have only been supposed until now, namely that the Vatican did not intend to ruin the existing cordial relations with Britain at a crucial point in the political evolution of India. The analysis is accompanied by a reconstruction of other aspects of Gandhi's visit to Italy, such as his preparatory conversations with Romain Rolland, the 'official' welcome extended by the Fascist government, the meeting with Mussolini, and the controversial interview published in the Giornale d'Italia. …

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