He’s shaken things up on issues like homelessness, crime, sexuality, and reproduction — but isn’t he really just doing what Jesus would do?
A former chemical technician and Night Club bouncer, Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio would sneak out of the church at night to help the homeless. He would sit with them in the street, offer them food, and even eat with them. When asked why he did this, he would simply say that he wanted those less fortunate to know that someone cared. These nightly escapades would be destined to stop…or so hoped the Vatican’s Security Office after Bergoglion took the role of Pope Francis. Boy, were they ever wrong.
Before we go on with the story, a couple of things to put this article into perspective:
First off, many people might not realize just how big of an influence the Catholic Church has. It is not only single largest religious organization in the planet, with over 1.2 billion followers, but its central state, The Vatican, is viewed as an Sovereign State under international law. Beyond any charity and social work, it operates the world’s largest non-governmental school system and runs the largest non-government provider of health care services in the world. And even though the Church is run by a council, its official head of state, comparable to a president or prime minister, is still the Pope, a position that is usually given to a priest for the remainder of his life.
Second, even though I am Latino, I am not Catholic. Regardless of the stereotypes, not all Latinos are Catholic. But I did attend several Catholic private schools, including some time with the Jesuits. When I was growing up, the best educational options were either Military or Catholic private schools. Being a non-Catholic in a Catholic school meant you had to develop a thick skin, strong debating skills, solid theological knowledge, and a pretty quick “fight or flight” instinct, as there is never a shortage of people, be it a student or a teacher, more than willing to remind you that you’ll go to hell for not being Catholic. This left me with a serious dislike for anyone trying to shame others into obedience.
It was during those times that the Church condemned homosexuality as a deadly sin, yet scandals of sexual abuse against young boys filled the papers. Any girl found pregnant, or any boy involved in a pregnancy, would be expelled, yet we received constant sermons on charity, love, and piety, all from rather elaborate altars. You tend to become rather jaded after a while, and I learned to seriously question anyone who carried a label of “you either agree with me or you’re wrong.”
So when news of the antics of Pope Francis (or ‘Paco’ as many Latinos started calling him) started slipping into the media, I was more than pleasantly surprised. A Pope personally doing some good deeds would catch the attention of anyone who was raised within a religious culture based on guilt. Maybe it was the jaded side of me that made me think the Vatican Council would shut these capers down. I was so wrong.
It started with him making random calls to people who had sent letters to the Vatican. One of the calls that caught the media’s interest was when he spoke to a woman who was a victim of rape. He just wanted to let her know that she wasn’t alone and that her letter wasn’t ignored, that she wasn’t ignored. And that’s when things started getting interesting.
He removed the protective glass from the “pope-mobile” and would randomly step out of the car and walk among the crowds. When asked if he feared for his life, his answer was rather appropriate; “How can you talk about faith in god and humanity though three inches of glass?”
While London is installing spikes under bridges to keep the homeless away, and Florida made feeding the homeless illegal, the Pope set up a shelter for the homeless in the Vatican, and asked all members of the Church to be more hands-on when helping the poor and sick. He got rid of most of the exuberant luxuries of his position, auctioning even some of his personal possessions, including his Harley Davidson, to benefit the homeless.
While many states try to discriminate marriage equality, promote religious intolerance, and want to limit contraception and abortion options, citing religious reasons, the Pope has openly criticized that society has become too obsessed with judging abortion, gay marriage, and contraception. While so many try to push a literal view of the bible, he promotes a world where religion and science can coexist.
He walked around with prisoners, offering mass to them, listening to their problems and issues. He began supporting environmental causes and has spoken against war. He has promoted the ideals of not only tolerance, but acceptance towards anyone who wants to do good, irrelevant of gender, sexual orientation, or even religious ideas.
And yes, he still sneaks out of his church at night to spend time helping the homeless. Guess you can’t teach an old priest new tricks.
You might wonder what’s so important about a religious leader making statements on abortion, or on the acceptance of Science, or even on other social issues. Remember how the Catholic Church is the largest health care, educational, and social service provider in the world? Any comments from this source will have a direct effect in the opinion of those administrating the services, influencing what programs will be endorsed or what strategies will be put into place.
Openly dismissing Creationism, criticizing the limited offerings of contraception and abortion based on religious reasons, or simply viewing people with the dignity of human beings and not simply as church goers or service consumers, DOES have a direct influence worldwide.
The Catholic Church was the religious organization that brought us the Inquisition and several mass genocides. And yet they are becoming a bastion of social tolerance and progressive acceptance, using the examples set in their own beliefs of charity, love, and hope.
Yet many “Christians” criticize his actions, dismissing them as simple publicity stunts. Other people accuse him of trying to save face for the atrocities the church has done throughout their history.
If it’s a publicity stunt, or a way to pay back for all the wrongs the church has done, I don’t know. In truth, I don’t care. The reality is that a lot of people are being helped, and many more are given hope. Maybe if more CEO’s, Politicians, Social and Religious leaders would follow these strategies, instead of focusing on negative campaigns and mudslinging, more people would benefit. After a while they might actually end up doing some good.
In fact, when one of the oldest and most conservative religious organizations in the world becomes more progressive, tolerant, and charitable than many who call themselves Christians, it might be time to reconsider if you really know what that word means.
Photo: Flickr/n i f