The Pope’s Talking, Let’s Hope Somebody is Listening!

Pope Francis meets refugees at the Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece, April 16, 2016. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)  April 16, 2016.

New Orleans    Pope Francis isn’t perfect.  None of them are.  All the same, it’s hard not to root for the guy, give him an attaboy and hope he pushes the Catholic Church and its parishioners to demand more social justice and social change.

The Pope issued something called an apostolic exhortation which is several degrees lower than an encyclical and doesn’t claim infallibility but is a guidance and, in this case, both a call to action and a word of caution, particularly to conservatives in the church.  The key takeaway was the Pope’s statement that the “defense of the innocent unborn needs to be clear, firm and passionate,” but “equally sacred, however are the lives of the poor, those already born,” along with the elderly and other victims whether of human trafficking or displaced migrants.

Not surprisingly, the Pope is not signing up for membership in Planned Parenthood, but he is saying that the one-hundred percenters on this issue need to step up on the issues of poverty and the demand for more equality and equity as an expression of their faith.  He argued that an all-consuming attention to abortion is “a harmful ideological error,” especially when it deflates and devalues fights for social change or claims that the struggles for change are “superficial, worldly, materialistic, communist or populist.”  Big amen to that point!

Hitting home, the Pope stated clearly that there is no claim to good living and holiness “that would ignore injustice.”  He was clear that he was talking about progress in dealing with economic inequality in his exhortation.  Give him another big amen there!

Furthermore, the Pope argued against false equivalencies.  He lashed out at church members that would claim dealing with poverty or the desperation of migrants was somehow a secondary or lesser issue compared to what he called “bioethical questions,” meaning abortion and right-to-life issues.  In a gut punch he referred to such comparisons as something a politician might say, “but not a Christian,” which has to rank in the religious community as a beatdown.

So, the Pope isn’t perfect, God knows.  Critics are clear that his work has not matched his statements about sexual abuse by clericals within the church for example.  Nonetheless, we have to embrace him as a fellow traveler when it comes to the fight for justice and equality for all people.  His voice has power and range there.  We need to hope it’s heard and heeded.  We need all the help we can get.

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“One of Us” and Fear of the Outsiders

Vigil for victims in Norway attacks AP Photo/Erlend Aas, Scanpix Norway

Vigil for victims in Norway attacks AP Photo/Erlend Aas, Scanpix Norway

New Orleans    Reading the tales of migrants struggling to flee civil wars in the Middle East is becoming a classic definition of the daily downer: unwanted, feared, and shunned. Women fleeing with children seem under constant attack, including sexual abuse. Countries erecting US-like walls and barriers of concertina wire at their boundaries. Even the Nordic countries, long liberal bastions of hope and support for oppressed migrants, are backlashing. Benefits in some countries are being halved. In other countries they are being warehoused far from cities with little support besides room and board. In some they are being deported once the host country feels that the coast is clearer in their native lands. Families are being separated and not allowed to unite.

I’m not pointing fingers given the current record in the United States and, other than Germany, most of the European Union as well. This is not our collective finest hour. I just had hoped the bar would be higher, rather than everyone racing to the bottom set in the US.

Reading One of Us: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway by Asne Seierstad about the horrific killing, first by planting a bomb at the center for government, Oklahoma City style, and then coldly and meticulously gunning down teens at a political party’s summer camp on an island not far from Oslo, prepared me for it a bit. I had resisted the book for the obvious reasons, though the reviews had been lavish in praise, because who really seeks out a book on mass murder for holiday reading. Unfortunately, the book is so well written and the story told so compellingly that even knowing the horrific ending, the reader is trapped in the hopes and dreams of the future victims and the nightmare of the delusions, egotism, and aspirations of the future killer.

The Norway story is not Newtown, Connecticut on steroids, but is a deeply disturbing political and personal tale as Breivik’s trajectory bends from youthful support and ambitions within a right wing conservative party in Norway to the phantasmagoric vision of an apocalyptical event that he expected would trigger a coup d’état supported by a mass movement on the right. All of this delusion came complete with a Unabomber-like manifesto where he was the self-anointed the leader of this hypothetical revolt. One thinks this is only possible in America, land of the two main parties and thousands of secret cells and “parties of one,” but no country, not even Norway is immune. The author’s “one of us” is a title taken from the eulogies for the victims, but Breivik was also “one of us” in terms of Norwegian society and the upper middle class, and though that theme is not pursued as diligently, it is also hard to ignore.

His whole fantasy was based in the same mainstream that is now flooding Nordic countries and the world. Norway for the Norwegians! Stop the Islamification of the country! Keep them out! Deport them! Stop the Muslims from raping Norwegian women and girls! This is not “Lillehammer” on Netflix. We have the classic conundrum where too many may agree with his goals, even as they disagree with his tactics.

It is worth worrying that the Breivik’s in country after country are not just one of them, but also one of us, unless we get a grip, lower the volume, and learn how to embrace, rather than shun the outsiders who will always be coming and have a place among us.

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