“So a Fly Cannot Get Through”
“It is too early to tell, but we are waiting for him,” Zelensky told reporters at a news conference on April 23rd.
Can a leader’s unexpected demonstration of courage and conviction change history? It happened in A.D. 452 when Leo the Great the Bishop of Rome met with Attila the Hun to demand that the fearsome Huns spare the Eternal City. It can happen again if Pope Francis will demand that the contemporary barbarian Vladimir Putin allow the innocent civilians trapped inside Mariupol to leave the besieged city.
Led by Attila, the Huns appeared invincible as they swept across Europe and then descended the Italian peninsula heading for Rome. One terrified contemporary described the Huns as “wolves” who were “fiercer than ferocity itself.”
Only Leo the Great, a 52-year-old Catholic bishop stood in Attila’s path. Leo’s cautious but prudent advisors urged him to pray for the city and then flee to the safety of nearby islands. But Leo refused and chose to meet with Attila.
Leo arrived with no arms or bodyguards. But he was garbed as a holy man. In Verdi’s great opera Attila, Leo dramatically demands, “Withdraw! The path now is barred; this is the territory of the gods!” Although we will never know what Leo said, we do know that Attila unexpectedly withdrew never to return to Rome.
Pope Francis now has a unique opportunity to assert papal leadership. The eyes of the world are focused on over 100,000 innocent civilians trapped inside the besieged city of Mariupol. Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his forces to blockade the city so tightly that “a fly cannot get through.” But a determined Pope Francis could get through.
Pope Francis can channel his inner Leo the Great and demand that the Russian dictator open a guaranteed humanitarian corridor for the civilians trapped inside Mariupol. If Putin refuses, the pontiff can and should travel to Ukraine to demonstrate his support for the people of Mariupol and help evacuate the civilians inside the besieged city.
President Zelensky may or may not be aware of the story of Leo the Great. But he is aware that Pope Francis could play a key role in helping to rescue the civilians stranded inside Mariupol. “It is too early to tell, but we are waiting for him,” Zelensky told reporters at a news conference on April 23rd.
Timid advisors inside the Vatican are undoubtedly arguing that travelling to Ukraine is too dangerous. Pope Francis should ignore their worries and listen to President Zelensky’s plea that he has “mission from God.” Zelensky is right. The Pope’s historic mission is concisely stated in the famous blessing, “Urbi et Orbi – to the city and to the world.”
The world is waiting. The time to confront evil is now. Pope Francis should remember Pope John Paul’s admonition, “Do not be afraid.” He should also recall Leo the Great’s fearless confrontation with Attila the Hun. Now is the time to leave Rome and directly confront Vladimir Putin with the evil taking place in Mariupol.
Author · Instructor