According to the Gospels, Jesus consistently railed against the political classes that took great comfort in their privileged status under a ruthless imperialist system. Today, Pope Francis is doing exactly the same thing. Recent statements on his trip to Latin America shocked the world's political establishment to the core as he spoke in the same defiant spirit as Jesus Christ. He stands by his words and promises more of the same in an upcoming trip to the United States this autumn.
His statements in Latin America are further developing a refreshing and poignant theme.
The Joy of the Gospel
In 2013 he opened his theology of liberation in a spirited defence of working classes and disenfranchised people throughout the world in a document called “Evangelii Gaudium” (the Joy of the Gospel). In this document he invites the reader to “recover the original freshness of the Gospel” and in the attitude of Jesus places the benefactors of today's capitalist system squarely under the spotlight, a light that emanates not from the heavens above but from the hearts and minds of men and women throughout the world.
He rails against the cowardice of today's world's press, equivalent to the scribes Jesus aimed to expose and condemn when he walked among us. Francis said, “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” In so doing, he exposes the blatant adoration of the very wealthy from a press that is responsible for their apparent untouchable status.
He attacks the established capitalist order holding it and its functionaries responsible for the suffering of its victims stating those victims are not merely exploited but excluded. “We have created a disposable culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the exploited but the outcast, the leftovers”.
We can see here that his Evangellii Gaudium is more inclusive that Karl Marx or his adherents have been in standing up for the oppressed. Where Marx values workers in his envisioned march through history, the Pope, like Jesus, validates and lifts the poor. He speaks for them as he stirs their revolutionary spirit, a spirit born of ruthless oppression.
Francis calls on each and every one of us to wake from increasingly callous attitudes, from swallowing whole attitudes fostered by large media. He vigorously slams the “globalization of indifference”. “Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase; and in the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.”
It is difficult for any of us that enjoy the comforts of modern capitalist societies to not feel embarrassed by this statement. It is a statement that demands self examination and a fitting sense of shame for anything less than a sincere commitment to liberate the poor from their unbearable misery.
Capitalism: The Dung of the Devil
It is clear that Pope Francis will not be cowed by the foot soldiers of empire. They are today's version of the scribes and Pharisees Jesus so righteously aimed to eviscerate from his home in the bowels of the Roman Empire. In his recent tour of Latin America the Pope pulled no punches and appropriately went for the jugular of today's capitalist system.
Francis stated, "And behind all this pain, death and destruction there is the stench of what Basil of Caesarea, one of the church's first theologians, called 'the dung of the devil.' An unfettered pursuit of money rules. That is the dung of the devil." Unable to accept his condemnation, today's scribes and the Pharisees rallied quick to split hairs, to say he wasn't referring to capitalism proper, but greed. Such statements are not merely disingenuous, they are bullshit, they just add to the heap.
In Latin America he also apologized for the “many grave sins” committed against Aboriginal peoples in “the name of God”. In so doing, he held his putrid predecessors to account for the wholesale slaughter of the unsuspecting and accepting good native inhabitants. His verbal swath cut through the cultural genocide committed by European Empires with the collusion of the Catholic Church. No greater sin has been committed perhaps in the history of humanity. As for Hitler, his legacy died with him. The legacy of Columbus, Cornwallis, Cortes and all their brethren live on and we still celebrate those tyrants like heroes. We still benefit from their brutal conquests and we still knowingly oppress and condemn Aboriginal peoples to shacks, reservations, and unspeakable misery.
The Pope urged the poor to rise up against their “new oppressors” and referred to “corporations, loan agencies, free trade treaties, austerity measures, and "the monopolizing of the communications media.” as “new colonialism”.”
“Our common home is being pillaged, laid waste and harmed with impunity. Cowardice in defending it is a grave sin. We see with growing disappointment how one international summit after another takes place without any significant result.”
Protection of the earth's ecosystems is another “prevalent theme in his papacy”. He called for “ a new system of global justice based on human rights and care for the environment rather than economic profits.”
Previous to his trip to the Americas, he spoke frequently and passionately about the environment. For instance, on June 17th at the Vatican he “took a stand with mainstream science, saying the world no longer can dare to shrug as ice sheets melt, species vanish, coral reefs die, forests disappear, weather gets more extreme, agriculture is ruined and the poor suffer. We must be a part of “a new and universal solidarity” to save the planet, and ourselves.”
His statements are bound to shake the political classes and their financial masters, particularly in Latin American where Catholicism runs deep. He has validated the struggles of liberation struggles through the ages which have brutally been put down by American agents either by proxy or directly. In doing so, he is calling for the people to find the courage to rise up, to take their own destiny in their/our own hands not only in Latin American but throughout the world.
2000 years ago the establishment crucified Jesus Christ. It is very likely today’s political/financial establishment will crucify Pope Francis making him a martyr. Let us all pray that does not happen. It will take more than prayer however. It will take an immense security apparatus as well as our own support for him and his bold messages. Whether we are Christian, atheist, Muslim, or Jew it is up to us to open ourselves to the attitude of Jesus and Pope Francis and stand shoulder to shoulder with them in the Spirit of Christ as this blessed Argentinian boldly steps forward urging us to wake up. It isn't a matter of converting to Catholicism. It is a matter of elemental morality, of common human decency. He is asking us all to rise up.
Heed the call for the meek to claim our inheritance.