Cardinal Arizmendi: Political Vocation

Reflections on social commitment and the search for the common good in politics


Cardinal Felipe Arizmendi, bishop emeritus of San Cristóbal de Las Casas and responsible for the Doctrine of Faith at the Conference of the Mexican Episcopate (CEM), offers Exaudi readers his weekly article titled “Political Vocation”.



Back in 1980, when I was coordinator of the diocesan vocational ministry team in Toluca, we organized a Saturday and Sunday retreat with young people from different groups or movements, such as Days of Christian Life, Catholic Youth Action, Catholic Renewal in the Spirit and others, having as their central theme the political vocation of the layman, based on biblical texts and the ecclesial teaching. The objective was for them to reflect on this vocational option, as a concretization of the love of God and the love of their neighbor, of the community, of society. Among the participants, a young man had concerns about entering the Seminary and being a priest, but, as a result of this retirement, he decided to dedicate himself to politics, as a way of serving his people. He did it out of a Christian choice, because he discovered that God was calling him to spend his life in this dimension. Within the party he chose, which at that time was the majority, he rose to different positions until he became governor of the state, national president of his party, deputy and senator. Sometimes he told me how difficult it was to remain firm in his principles in the midst of so many intrigues, interests and corruption that he saw around him. He tried not to contaminate himself, but we cannot presume that everything is as we would like it to be.

We know people who are always involved in political affairs. Some by vocation, because they feel in their hearts the desire to do something for their people, even motivated by their Christian faith. Others, however, seem to have made politics just a profession, a way to make a living, a way to get rich, an ambition for power and to stand out, although to do so they have to sacrifice many things, including their health, their family and his belief. They care about power, money, fame, not so much about love for their neighbor. They relativize their loyalty to partisan militancy, because, if the ruling colors change, they change parties like they change socks. They do not act out of principles, but out of interests.

In these times of electoral campaigns, we must discern who aspires to a public position, from the presidency of the Republic to any position in a municipality, due to a vocation for service, or for other motivations. Who now gets very close to the people, seeking their vote, or who has always done so, even without holding political office. Who have demonstrated in their lives the willingness to do something for the community, and who are only now showing interest in solving local or national problems. Those who have vital experience of having helped people, knowing their reality closely and doing something for them, or those who work from a desk, far from the people who suffer the most. In indigenous communities that preserve their healthy traditions without corruption, the community assembly elects, for important positions, not those who campaign, but those who have demonstrated their ability to serve the people.


Pope Francis, in his encyclical Fratelli tutti, says:

For many, politics today is a bad word, and it cannot be ignored that behind this fact are often the errors, corruption, and inefficiency of some politicians. Added to this are strategies that seek to weaken it, replace it with the economy or dominate it with some ideology. But can the world function without politics? Can there be an effective path towards universal brotherhood and social peace without good politics?

We need a policy that thinks with a broad vision, and that carries out a comprehensive rethinking, incorporating the various aspects of the crisis in an interdisciplinary dialogue. I think of a healthy policy, capable of reforming institutions, coordinating them and providing them with best practices, which allow us to overcome pressures and vicious inertia. You cannot ask this of the economy, nor can you accept that it assumes the real power of the State.

In the face of so many petty and immediate forms of politics, I remember that political greatness is shown when, in difficult moments, one acts based on great principles and thinking about the common good in the long term. It is very difficult for political power to assume this duty in a national project, and even more so in a common project for present and future humanity. Thinking about those who will come does not serve electoral purposes, but it is what authentic justice requires.

Global society has serious structural flaws that cannot be resolved with merely occasional patches or quick fixes. There are things that must be changed with fundamental rethinking and important transformations. Only a healthy policy could lead it, bringing together the most diverse sectors and the most varied knowledge. In this way, an economy integrated into a political, social, cultural and popular project that seeks the common good can open the way to different opportunities, which do not imply stopping human creativity and its dream of progress, but rather directing that energy through new channels (176-179).


Let us support, not only with our vote, those who truly demonstrate a political vocation, a permanent willingness to serve others, not only in electoral times, but throughout their lives, even if they have not held public positions. And let’s educate young people to work and study not only longing to earn money, but to help the community.