Pope Francis has written a highly personal letter to the people of Argentina thanking them for their support and good wishes on his fifth year as head of the Church and asking for forgiveness if he has offended them.
The letter, written in the Pope’s native Spanish, was made public this weekend by the Argentine Bishops’ Conference at the Holy Father’s request.
In it the Pope says he was moved by the fact that “people from different religious, political and ideological backgrounds” came together to express “their closeness to me on the fifth anniversary of my election”. Francis received a congratulatory letter from Argentines to commemorate his fifth year at the Vatican.
This confirms that it is not impossible to find reasons to meet and that "unity is superior to conflict", the Pope said.
The phrase “unity is superior to conflict” is a popular refrain of the Pope. He used it twice in a general audience speech at the beginning of his pontificate and again when he called Italian President Giorgio Napolitano to express his appreciation for the then 87-year-old leader’s decision to remain in post while a new government was formed.
Francis said “my love for my country is still great and intense” and admitted to praying every day for Argentina and its people “that I love so much”.
He continued: “And to those who may feel offended by some of my gestures, I ask your forgiveness.”
The Pope has been criticised in Latin America for not taking a harder line against alleged sexual abuse by priests.
“Although God entrusted me with such an important task, and helps me, he did not free me from human frailty. That’s why I can make mistakes like everyone else,” he said.
The Pope asked Argentines to rejoice over things he does well and “feel them as your own”, adding: “You are my people, the people who have trained me, prepared me and offered me to serve people.”
He concluded the letter with a request for their prayers and a call to action: “I ask for all of you, to be channels of good and beauty, so that you can make your contribution in the defence of life and justice… to improve the world with your work [and] to take care of the weakest.”
Observers consider this a reference to the current bill in Argentina’s Congress which would legalise abortion.
PICTURE: Woman holds Argentine flag while standing in St Peter's Square as Jorge Mario Bergoglio is elected Pope in 2013 (Image/PA).