Pope Francis – exceptional catalyst of change
By Osmond Ekwueme
In all history, there is only a few times that a truly, spiritually, motivated, and Christ-like religious person comes about. The Pope seems to be saying adestes fideles…come faithful all Christians and let’s discuss what it means for us as Christians, seekers of justice and people working together for the common good. Non-Christians too, have shown incredible sense of admiration and appreciation for Pope Francis. No other Pope in my lifetime has had such a common touch and such a degree of genuine and demonstrated compassion as he has. “I am a sinner” said Pope Francis soon after he was elected as Pope. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner. That is the definition of the people of the Church, which he shepherds. With that as his rationale, his attitudes, behaviors and pronouncements attempt to insure that all of them remain connected to, comfortable with and within the Church. He puts off no one; he welcomes everyone. It explains everything including his humility about himself.
As a devout Catholic and a Knight, seeing the Vicar of Christ strive to really promote the teachings of Jesus by acting like Jesus acts in the Gospels was enthralling and brought an internal peace. Pope Francis grasps that Roman Catholicism is ensnared in an awkward divorce from personal and social realities. He has dared to speak out the profound selfishness that dominates American politics that denies our shared responsibilities for each other in a nation founded on the basis of equity. The message of Christ still lives on in me. I am thrilled that Pope Francis dares to speak out about social equity. I applaud the Pope for his efforts to restore the moral authority of the Church. His advocacy of the interests of the poor helps raise our consciousness. His avoidance of the traditional opulence and grandeur of the papacy to focus on the poor, even society’s outcasts, suggests he believes in the New Testament and is following the guidelines of the Gospel. Religion calls communities to seek the “transcendent dimension of human existence and our irreducible freedom in the face of every claim to absolute power” the Pope said. “Faith without works is dead”; the Book of James tells us. Real Christian charity means going out of your way to help the other. Jesus was all encompassing and this is exactly what Pope Francis has been reminding us what true Christianity is all about.
Pope Francis glows as a moral leader who practices without preaching. He is extraordinary as he speaks from his heart. His message is carried in the ancient Biblical commandment from the Hebrew Scriptures; Love your neighbor as yourself. To many it looks paradoxical to say that someone is caring for his/her own spirit by healing others. But that’s how human attachment works. It’s all personal. The healer and the healed are a whole that needs both parts to be complete. Many Americans rejoice in watching and listening to such an exalted man of great faith work his magic in America in which the poor, neglected and discarded are overlooked by the media. Watching Pope Francis is the key to understanding his heart, since every picture tells a thousand words and his photos will tell a story of humility, extreme magnanimity, Christlike attributes as well as an inner light that is bright enough to enlighten the darkness of men’s hearts. That’s what truly great leaders do. They leave an indelible imprint on people’s hearts and souls, not just their intellect. He is humble. He is one of the true voices on behalf of God, who is also humble. God is with this man in a peculiar way; this is a prophetic voice in our hearing. I see Pope Francis as that person and I am remarkably grateful that he came during my lifetime for me and my family to observe first hand. He is not making threats, he is calling for action from all of us.
I do love these off the cuff interviews with Pope Francis. The questions seem to set him off in one direction or another while his faith always brings him back to the Jesus of the Gospels with a resounding love for the poor, the immigrant, the imprisoned, all those we (me included) like to despise.
The Pope is bringing to our attention to some of the problems we have right now in our world. He is not saying he has all the answers, he is saying that all mankind have all the answers. Just like in medicine…where there is pus, it must be drained….ubi pus, ibi evacua. Some politicians said it was best to leave climate change in the realm of politics, not religion. Actually, I think it is better to leave climate change in the realm of science and not politics. By the way, the Pope is a head of State, and has all the right to address climate change. Plus, the Vatican has a whole hoard of scientists. The Pontifical Academy of Sciences is International in scope, multi-racial in composition and non-sectarian in its choice of members. The work of the Academy comprises six major areas: Fundamental science; Science and technology of global problems; Science for the problems of the developing world; Scientific Policy; Bioethics and Epistemology. Most politicians don’t know the difference between today’s weather and the climate.
The Pope cannot impose his views on anyone nor has he shown any desire to do so. He comes to tell us what he believes Christ would want. None of which will impact the separation of Church and State. He presents a religious view of the world, as he believes it should be according to the teachings of the Church and Jesus. He has the same freedom of opinion, speech and religious views as everyone in USA does. That right is guaranteed to everyone…including visitors. What he has said is non-political and biblically based. The Pope has only criticized the excesses of Capitalism…not the system itself. That is in keeping with the words of Jesus.
All Catholics, indeed all Christians, should be welcoming a return to the original message of Christ, which had less to do with rigid adherence to the minutia dogma, than with a message of universal love and compassion for those less fortunate than yourself. It is no accident that this Pope with his message rises to prominence at this time in human history. His message resonates. The Pope seems to first believe in what is fundamental to all religions: deep spirituality. One definition is the deepest values by which some live their lives, the courage of ones’ convictions; as Mother Theresa said “the good you do may be forgotten tomorrow, do it anyway, for in the end it was never between you and them”
The spiritual mission with which Pope Francis brings the poor and deprived to the center of global attention; the way he has redefined the whole paradigm of development and change; the manner in which he brings peripheries closer to the center, all this together establish him as an exceptional catalyst of change…..a change that goes beyond Vatican and narrow confines of faith too.
Osmond Ekwueme MD, Ph.D. is a Knight of Columbus, and lives in WI. USA