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Pope Francis and the Globalization of Indifference
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2013-07-29 12:30:18
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As most Ovi readers may well remember, just before the conclave which elected Pope Francis there was a suggestion that it would be much preferable and welcome all around that the cardinals hang their head in shame and proceed to disband the corrupt Catholic Church. Some seemed to approve and loudly applaud the idea. A controversy followed wherein the messenger carrying unwelcome opinions about such a Church as the institution about which the last acceptable bias is just fine in our times of political correctness was unceremoniously told to just shut up.

Then came the election of Francis to the Papacy. The silence from the same people who made the original misguided suggestion is now quite deafening. One wonders: have they changed their mind in any way? I for one doubt it.

In any case, keeping well in mind that historically it is a bit too soon, only four months later, for any definitive assessment and/or judgment on Francis’ papacy, I’d like to briefly reflect on just a few of his highly symbolical gestures so far. One may retort that symbolical gestures are just that and do not deal with real social problems; but then in a Church that is dedicated to the proclamation of spiritual symbols, symbolical gestures can be very telling and indicative of things to come. In fact I am already convinced that there will be much more of substance to come. One just has to remain well tuned.

As soon as elected Francis insisted in personally paying for the hotel he was staying in for the conclave. He then decided to live in a modest guest house rather than in the ornate Vatican Apostolic palace. He refuses to be carried around in pope-mobile He refuses to wear the red papal shoes and mantle and prefers the simple white tunic of a priest. He drives around a Ford focus and for lunch he stands in the cafeteria and waits on line with the others for his coffee to drip out of the machine. He sat alone at a table at first but by now several fellow Vatican residents have gotten accustomed to sit with him and just chat. He makes it extremely easy for people to love him with his incongruous approach and his plain spoken words.

Benedict XVI was the pope of ideas, a sort of professorial pope whose sermons resembled lectures. Francis is the opposite. Instead of arguing, he appeals to people with his modesty and humility; he is best understood through his symbolical gestures. I wonder how many have reflected on the fact that this Pope is the first non-European to be elected to the papacy since the middle ages. He likes to point out that he was born in Argentina to Italian immigrant parents, at the end of the world. It is this different perspective with which he looks at the Old World that permits him to correctly assess the financial crisis, the poverty and instability still plaguing the Western world as a whole, especially Southern Europe.

In his sermons, Francis often criticizes the "sophisticated church," which he accuses of revolving around itself and striving for power and wealth. By contrast, Francis wants "a poor church and a church for the poor." He wants it to venture out to the periphery, to the margins of society. This is the concept of the "theology of the people," of the Jesuits missionaries of Latin America which influenced Francis in the 1970s. Many of its adherents left their rectories and moved to the slums and were at times persecuted by the official Vatican bureaucracy.

His visit to the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa and the favellas of Rio de Janeiro was a gesture of deep compassion, and it offered a taste of his approach: going to the people, mingling with them, asking uncomfortable questions and questioning false assumptions. To be sure this is within the Catholic tradition of distributive justice but it has now acquired a face incarnating itself in Pope Francis

There is hardly any spot in Europe that is more peripheral than Lampedusa, an island in Italy off the coast of Sicily where Africa begins and where Europe is defending its fortress of prosperity to the exclusion of the so called “extra communitarians.” The implication is obvious: community and solidarity is due only to those who belong to the EU. When one looks at the way Greece a member of the EU has been treated by the Northern Europeans one realizes that it is due only to the Northern Europeans with the Germans and the French’s permission.

It is here in Lampedusa that many refugees from Africa arrive in their overcrowded boats seeking asylum and then attempt to proceed to the mainland of Europe. Many die at sea in the attempt. This is considered a serious problem by the EU bureaucracy and its myopic EU politicians.

During his visit to Lampedusa, the pope stood on an altar made from the wood of stranded ships on which refugees had died, and raged against the "globalization of indifference." He asked who was to blame for the suffering of refugees, and why so many people have forgotten empathy and lost the ability to weep. It was an harbinger of things to come. Stay tuned.  





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