By Dave Kitchell
I’m not a member of the Roman Catholic faith, but if I were, I think I’d be proud of the new leader cardinals chose for my denomination.
For those who may have missed it, Pope Francis, the first Papal choice from South America, is distinguishing himself right away as someone who is going to stand for being actively religious in the big picture sense, and that’s something that’s not necessarily been fashionable among religious leaders.
When he assumed the role after Pope Benedict stepped down, Francis surprised some by making a long-distance call from Vatican City back to South America – just to cancel his newspaper subscription. It was thought to be a joke at first, but it wasn’t. It’s just a sign of a man who lives and breathes the notion that no job is too small for him to do, even if he has an entire country and denomination at his disposal.
Francis took his name from St. Francis of Assisi, an austere model of devotion and selflessness. In this material world, it’s a concept that may be lost on many of us, but Pope Francis is focusing on a constituency that has no Super PACs, universities, clothing lines or branding – the poor. This week, he’s taking aim at the world’s largest corporate bankers and the concept of greed which he refers to as a cult. That may be harsh to some, but the fact is that the gap between rich and poor people in this world is growing, even as we continue to grow in population.
Since Mother Teresa’s death, no one major world figure has stepped forward to assume the pulpit of spokesman for the poor like she did so marvelously.
There are several good reasons to think about the poor and lift them up from the bottom rungs of the ladder. One is that the largest percentage of poor people in this country and the world are children, the portion of the population that has little say in how much they eat each day or how much is tucked away for their college education. In Indiana, there is a segment of the poor who will not benefit from enhanced medical services they would have enjoyed had Medicaid been expanded for them as it has been in other states.
What Francis can draw attention to is not just the concept of greed in the world, but the creeds of so many religions, nations and organizations which can set aside differences and work to nourish the truly needy. If Francis could solve hunger issues in North Korea or central Africa alone, he should win a Nobel Peace Prize. It won’t be easy, but it is necessary.
He also has the issue of resources facing him. As the world grows, demand for petroleum isn’t the only demand growing. There will be more stress on immigration in certain parts of the world, more people to feed which means more food to plant and process, and more jobs that have to be created to maintain economic stability around the globe.
According to some theories, that should all happen whether a pope raises issues associated with population or not. But the reality is that there are few people, if any, who bring the clout to a discussion like a pope can. Pope John Paul II was critical in so many issues of world importance, including the end of Communism in Poland.
There are those who will quote the passage from the Bible that reads “The poor will always be with you” and interpret that to mean that whether we work hard to help poor or not, it won’t matter. I don’t think that was the intent of that verse. I take it to mean that it means the poor will always be the responsibility of those who aren’t, and it’s up to us to do something about it.
From what I’m witnessing so far, Pope Francis has a similar sentiment.
Dave Kitchell is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.