Here Comes the Pope!

 

130919_FG_PopeFrancisLiberal.jpg.CROP.article568-largeWarsaw    The Organizers’ Forum is assembling in Poland.  There are Catholic churches everywhere, and they are huge, part of the legacy of Pope John Paul.  The news everywhere though is focused on the first visit of Pope Francis to the United States and what that really might herald.  Francis has thus far been a breath of fresh air in repositioning the Catholic Church on numerous issues, especially poverty and climate change.  It’s fair to ask how much change is really coming and what we can expect.

Long reports in The New Yorker and The Guardian make it clear that perhaps the biggest sea change will not be external or doctrinal, but a cleaning up of the Church’s financial scandals.  An Australian cardinal has been brought into the Vatican to clean house.  In a surprise for Rome, the language of finance is English and the new crew speaks it freely.  Reportedly an American woman financial wizard has also been brought in on the team, which is also a first.  The easing out of the past financial administration which had some of the tinge of the mob around it is not unimportant particularly in Italy where the financial footprint of the church is huge.  The Church’s real estate interest in Italy is estimated at 20% national and 25% in Rome itself.  The total global real estate portfolio has been estimated at two trillion dollars which is comparable to the GDP of Russia, India, or Brazil.  This is a mess worth attention.

Where there doesn’t seem to be enough progress yet under Pope Francis has been on the abuse scandals.  SNAP, the US-based Survivors’ Network Abused by Priests, continues to be a discordant voice on the Francis lovefest and perhaps with good reason.  They are demanding that past records of abuse all be opened which is unlikely to get much traction given the wide chasm between the Church saying it’s sorry, which Francis is spectacularly adept at doing, and their demand for it to come clean.  More troubling are the reports that though the policy in the United States has changed where accused priests are no longer just sent elsewhere and moved out of the line of fire, this policy has not become global and continues to be maintained in other countries.  Francis needs to step up on that front immediately.

Critics are also clear that the new policy of mercy on abortions and annulments in Francis call for jubilee and forgiveness in the coming year is much, much less than a policy change.  The mercy is based on individuals admitting to sin and asking for forgiveness, making it unclear that there will be a line at the confessional booth.

A friend pointed out to me that the Guardian reporter had noticed there was a cash machine in the Vatican now, which is certainly a sign of modernity.  Looking at the machine though the language it used was Latin, so we need to remember what we are dealing with here.

The good news remains the emphasis on the poor and immigrants, as well as Francis own personal humility.  For those of us riding that train, we have a new conductor and that is a relief within the Church.  An Argentine critic, Ruben Fufino Dri at the University of Buenos Aires cautions:

“Francis is a great showman.  His repositioning of the church is paternalistic. It is not a strategy for empowering its followers. This is by no means a revolution.”

That’s hardly a surprise to hear either.  The Vatican’s rejection of some of President Obama’s candidates for the meeting with the Pope, including gay and transgender representatives, is a good reminder of reality.  This is the Catholic Church, one of the great conservative institutions of the world, we must remember.

At the same time, Francis has opened a window, and we need to try to push as much air through in this moment as possible, especially for our people!  With the welcome to America, we need to welcome the Church to the 21st Century as well.

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Pope Francis is a Cheerleader for Organizing!

150712131441-03-pope-0712-exlarge-169Rock Creek, Montana    Hey, are you having a bad day? Not sure things can ever be any different? Not sure it’s worth the effort to get out there and hit the doors, talk to your neighbors or co-workers, and do what has to be done?

Here’s some good news: you have a friend! Pope Francis, that’s who. Listen to this line from his remarks recently to the World Congress of Popular Movements meeting in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia:

“…the future of humanity does not lie solely in the hands of great leaders, the great powers and the elites. It is fundamentally in the hands of peoples and in their ability to organize. It is in their hands, which can guide with humility and conviction this process of change.”

In fact you may have been down at the mouth for a simple reason according to Pope Francis “…suffering from an excess of diagnosis, which at times leads us to multiply words and to revel in pessimism and negativity.”

So, rather than wallowing in negativity, there has to be change, or as Pope Francis says:

“I would insist, let us not be afraid to say it: we want change, real change, structural change. This system is by now intolerable: farmworkers find it intolerable, laborers find it intolerable, communities find it intolerable, peoples find it intolerable … The earth itself – our sister, Mother Earth, as Saint Francis would say – also finds it intolerable. We want change in our lives, in our neighborhoods, in our everyday reality. We want a change which can affect the entire world…”

For organizers especially, the Pope has some words of comfort that almost make you blush hearing them when he says praises our work with people as “fish in the sea of the people,” as Mao recommended:

“This rootedness in the barrio, the land, the office, the labor union, this ability to see yourselves in the faces of others, this daily proximity to their share of troubles and their little acts of heroism: this is what enables you to practice the commandment of love, not on the basis of ideas or concepts, but rather on the basis of genuine interpersonal encounter. We do not love concepts or ideas; we love people…”

The Pope was doing a bit more than cheerleading for organizing in his Bolivian remarks. He asked social movements and organizers to take on three “tasks.” First to force the economy to be “in service to the people,” secondly, he wants us to “unite our peoples on the path of peace and justice,” and, finally, “to defend Mother Earth.” Underscoring those tasks is his analysis, which is important. He identifies part of the fight as being against a “new colonialism.” One face of this colonialism is the “anonymous influence of mammon: corporations, loan agencies, certain “free trade” treaties, and the imposition of measures of “austerity” which always tighten the belt of workers and the poor.” Another face, are you listening to us Comcast and the like, is “ideological colonialism,” which he defines as “…the monopolizing of the communications media, which would impose alienating examples of consumerism and a certain cultural uniformity….” In another interesting concept, Francis argues that we should unite people through with a methodology that is “polyhedric, where each group preserves its own identity by building together a plurality which does not threaten but rather reinforces unity.”

This guy, Francis, is worth watching. And, I’m not saying that just because in Bolivia he also spoke of organizers as “social poets,” which I dearly love. He may be willing to give courage to act and not just heart and soul to social movements. Here is the clarion call in his oration to the people we organize:

What can I do, as collector of paper, old clothes or used metal, a recycler, about all these problems if I barely make enough money to put food on the table? What can I do as a craftsman, a street vendor, a trucker, a downtrodden worker, if I don’t even enjoy workers’ rights? What can I do, a farmwife, a native woman, a fisher who can hardly fight the domination of the big corporations? What can I do from my little home, my shanty, my hamlet, my settlement, when I daily meet with discrimination and marginalization? What can be done by those students, those young people, those activists, those missionaries who come to my neighborhood with their hearts full of hopes and dreams, but without any real solution for my problems? A lot! They can do a lot. You, the lowly, the exploited, the poor and underprivileged, can do, and are doing, a lot. I would even say that the future of humanity is in great measure in your own hands, through your ability to organize and carry out creative alternatives, through your daily efforts to ensure the three “L’s” (labor, lodging, land) and through your proactive participation in the great processes of change on the national, regional and global levels. Don’t lose heart!

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