The Francis Revolution is crossing the Atlantic and coming to the heart of the nation’s Capitol. News broke yesterday that Pope Francis has accepted Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to address a rare joint session of Congress during his upcoming trip to the United States on Sept. 24.
This is the first time that a pope has addressed Congress and provides a world-class opportunity for the Holy Father to lift up the Gospel’s social justice message to the most powerful legislative body in the world.
So what will the Jesuit from Argentina talk about? Studying his nearly two-year tenure as the Bishop of Rome suggests that Pope Francis will focus particularly on the scandal of inequality and exclusion.
Last April, Pope Francis tweeted that “inequality is the root of all social evil.” The seven-word tweet caused an uproar in American media, but the truth is that Francis had been saying the same thing for years. In his 2013 letter Joy of the Gospel, Francis wrote “just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.”
With reports last fall suggesting that economic inequality in the United States is at its highest levels since the Great Depression, Pope Francis will likely call on our elected leaders to transform our economy into one where no one is left behind.
IN THE LARGEST currency change that the world has ever seen, the euro was launched on New Year’s Day 2002 with great excitement and ceremony in 12 eurozone member countries. At the time, the shared currency was considered to be a vehicle for tying together separate states and cultures with numerous economic benefits, particularly to trade, employment, and tourism.
Now imagine a humble, 90-year-old Catholic priest, vibrant yet shrunken and bent with age. In Italian, he addresses a group about the euro in the celebratory year of its launch. In one hand he holds up an unconsecrated host; in the other, a one-euro coin. They are the same shape, and nearly the same size. But the coin is shiny silver and gold. The priest speaks simply and directly about how, despite their similar appearance and promise of life enrichment, the euro is deceptive. The dominance of finance and capitalism that it supports is a false idol, he says, which leads to addiction.
This story was recounted by a number of Italian press outlets at the time. It contributes to the mythos of this man who writes extensively about the Eucharist, which he believes, in contrast to the euro, creates a relationship not just with God but with our fellow human beings.
I am co-owner of an online boutique store that empowers survivors of trafficking with employment.
I am a social entrepreneur.
I am an abolitionist.
I am…uncomfortable with these kinds of labels.
Because at the end of the day, I’m very ordinary, and these descriptors seem to imply that I’m not.
I live an ordinary life. I wake at the crack of dawn to drive my kids to school and then return home to work, trying to get most of my business done during the hours that my children are at school. Snow days and random holidays are the bane of my work life, and the words, “Sorry, hon, I’m working right now. Give me a minute?” come out of my mouth more than I’d like. I spend the lion’s share of my days on my laptop, troubleshooting, responding to emails, thinking about future lines of clothing, and making sure that the expenses won’t be more than that month’s income. Sometimes, in the midst of the daily humdrum of life, I forget that what I’m doing really does make a difference, half a world away, in the lives of survivors of trafficking.
One hundred years ago, during the First World War, the Christmas truce took place between British, German, and French soldiers in the trenches on the Western Front. On Christmas Eve 1914, soldiers from opposing sides, who were stationed there to kill each other, instead got to know one another, shared photos of loved ones, and even had a game of soccer.
This of course made their superiors furious, not just because the troops were disobeying orders, but because it is much harder to harm someone with whom you have formed some sort of relationship. The enemy is to be faceless and nameless.
The same holds true for millions of people living in poverty around the world this Christmas. They are the faceless and nameless ones. In reality though, the enemy that is poverty is not faceless. Poverty is about people; it is not about statistics. Poverty is also not just about a lack of material goods; it is more about a lack of dignity, a lack of a sense that you are important. We are reminded that poverty is always personal because it is about relationship.
IF A POLL WERE to be taken in North American churches concerning the causes of poverty, the results might be quite revealing. The major cause of poverty is widely assumed to be “underdevelopment.” Other prominent factors are believed to be laziness (we’ve all read about those exemplary ants in Proverbs 6), vices such as drunkenness, and, however subtly and discreetly expressed, the supposed racial and national inferiority of certain peoples. It’s a very comforting worldview, and one that our most popular politicians delight to propagate.
But if you look up “underdevelopment” in a concordance ... you find precisely nothing. The Bible contains a few scattered references attributing certain instances of poverty to laziness, drunkenness, and other assorted causes, but hardly enough to substantiate any of them as the basic cause.
Market speculation and pursuit of profits are hindering the global fight against hunger and poverty, Pope Francis said Nov. 20.
In an address at a U.N. conference in Rome on nutrition, the pope urged the world’s wealthiest nations to do more to help those in need.
“Perhaps we have paid too little heed to those who are hungry,” the pope told delegates from more than 170 countries attending the global gathering at the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization.
“It is also painful to see that the struggle against hunger and malnutrition is hindered by ‘market priorities,’” the pope said.
“The hungry remain, at the street corner, and ask to be recognized as citizens, to receive a healthy diet. We ask for dignity, not for charity.”
The Argentine pope has often called for greater compassion and justice for the world’s poor since his election last year, and he has made charity a priority of his pontificate.
“Excuse me, sir. I don’t have any cash, but I have a credit card, and I’m going to that restaurant right now. If you’re hungry, I’d be happy to have you join me.”
Well, I said something like that, though my French was a little rusty, and I might not have said it quite right.
The man was sitting on the sidewalk outside the train station. I’d just arrived in Paris after an overnight ride, and I was tired and hungry. The sign he was holding caught my eye: “I’m an out-of-work architect, and I need money for rent for my son and me.”
You just never know with panhandlers and street beggars. Are they telling the truth, or have they simply figured out how to pull our heartstrings? It’s easy to choose to ignore them, or to toss them some cash and pay off a guilty conscience. Don’t stop, just toss some coins and keep rolling on by. I was living in Madrid at the time, a city of five million people. Beggars are a daily fact of life in a city like that, and you need to find a way to deal with them. Eventually they become like busy intersections, crosswalks, gawking tourists, and all the other impediments to travel.
At the same time, I couldn’t help asking what Christ would do.
IT’S EASY to lose heart when tackling the painful challenges we live with—poverty, racism, violence, sex trafficking. We volunteer and donate our time and money, but do those efforts really make a difference?
Nicholas D. Kristof, a New York Times columnist, and Sheryl WuDunn, a former Times reporter who works in finance, had the same question; A Path Appears is the result of their investigation. The husband-and-wife team canvassed the giving world, interviewing socially minded people working as individuals or in community with nonprofits, corporations, for-profit organizations, and everything in between. Turns out millions of lives are being transformed next door and across the globe—including our own.
Bernard Glassman, for example, is an aeronautical engineer who wanted to do something about homelessness. After researching the issue for six months, he decided jobs were the most urgent need and started Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, N.Y., a for-profit company whose mission is to employ homeless men and women.
Absolutely, say organizers of a first-of-its-kind conference to be held by atheists of color in Los Angeles this weekend. And, they add, it’s about time those issues got some attention.
Called “Moving Social Justice,” the conference will tackle topics beyond the usual atheist conference fare of confronting religious believers and promoting science education. Instead, organizers hope to examine issues of special interest to nonwhite atheists, especially the ills rooted in economic and social inequality.
“Atheism is not a monolithic, monochromatic movement,” said Sikivu Hutchinson, an atheist activist, author and founder of Los Angeles’ Black Skeptics, one member of a coalition of black atheist and humanist groups staging the conference.
“By addressing issues that are culturally and politically relevant to communities of color, we are addressing a range of things that are not typically addressed within the mainstream atheist movement.”
The conference is unusual for an atheist gathering in another important way — its lineup of speakers includes members of the religious community. Hutchinson, often an outspoken critic of religion, described the conference as “effectively an interfaith conference.”