Saturday, September 26, 2015

Reflections on the Pope's visit to America

Electoral politics in both Canada and the United States have had to peek out from behind the wall-to-wall coverage of the Pope's visit to America this week. And the juxtaposition of the two "theatres" provides some remarkable evidence.
First, the decibel level of the Pope's encounter is decidedly lower than that of the political titans.
Second, the subjects, while overlapping, are framed very differently. In the political arena, the pursuit of power over, hard power, aggression, hubris and victory generates language of winning over opponents. On the Pope's stage, the pursuit of community, acceptance, tolerance, harmony and caring generates language of openness, innocence, interactivity, humility and sharing.
And the "audience response" to the different stages is also remarkable dissimilar.
In the case of the political theatre, many are disenchanted, disillusioned, vindictive, cynical and even hopeless, whereas, in the Pope's lens, magnified onto the televisions' screens the audience is aroused, uplifted, hopeful, charmed and even ecstatic,  as well as touched and blessed. Thousands eagerly attend events just to be in his presence, different from the 'rock-star' that American media uses as it comparative model, but merely to be present in case a touch, a blessing, a selfie, or even a memory is available and possible.
Now to the subjects: capital punishment, global warming and climate change, equality and poverty, geopolitical conflict, the sale of arms, refugees and immigration and tolerance of human differences....these are included in virtually all of the Pope's public statements, but their inclusion is not designed to divide but rather to awaken, and to engage. People of all religious persuasions agree that Pope Francis, attempting to emulate his namesake in caring, including human beings as part of the environment of the universe, the earth, God's gift to each of us, represents the caring and the inspiring and the uplifting and the hopeful side of the spiritual life. Even his now-famous declaration on a jet months ago, when asked about the faith's response to gays, "If one is gay and is searching for God, who am I to judge?" echoes in the minds and hearts of thousands as they gather in the streets, on the White House lawn, in Central Park, and today in Philadelphia.
  • Over-ruling his security staff by asking them to bring a "delinquent" little girl who crossed the barrier keeping the crowd at bay from the Pope-mobile to him for a blessing and a kiss,
  • mingling with crowds while walking,
  • attempting to engage in a digital image with school children,
  • asking those gathered at Catholic Charities to sing in a spontaneous gesture of welcome,
  • confronting the powerful with words and perceptions and an attitude of compassion and urgency to work together to end war, and to save the planet, and to abolish the death penalty
  • committing to an exhausting schedule for a middle-aged human, at 78
  • previously empowering negotiations to bridge 50 years of divorce and estrangement between Cuba and the United States and then publicly asking Cubans to open their hearts and minds to faith 
  • canonizing a controversial and conflicted and reputedly brutal Franciscan monk, from an order previously in competition with his Jesuit order in Mexico and what is now California
  • addressing the United States Congress (the first Pope in history)
  • repeatedly asking others to pray for him, a sinner
The ministry of this Jesuit-trained priest in the barrios of Argentina records his commitment to the poor long before his elevation to the papal throne.
Without showing signs of changing the dogmatic Roman Catholic absolutes of:
  • no female clergy, 
  • no abortion (while offering a year of 'clemency' or forgiveness for those who have had an abortion), 
  • no contraception, and
  • no gay marriage or clergy
  • no divorce (while reducing the number of 'hearings' from two to one for marriage absolution)
and while continuing to address the complications of clergy abuse of young boys, Francis has attempted to emphasize the caritas (charity) virtue of the Roman Catholic church. After his predecessor Benedict whose veins flowed with dry ice, Francis exudes warmth, compassion and humility. He comes to a world starved of hope, connectivity and community, (ironically in the tidal wave of digital technology,) and gluttonous of acquisition of material 'things', addicted to maintaining superiority and terrified of its loss or damage in any and all matters and manners. He takes full advantage of all of the most advanced communication vehicles, strategies and tactics, (operating outside the church's and the Vatican's 'high' walls, for the most part) in his herculean attempt to restore a world in which people mattered, not only the rich and the powerful, but ALL people.
Yesterday, as represented by people attending (and contributing to!!) church, obeying church dogma, staying in all marriages, defying premarital sex and contraception, covering sins with extreme hypocrisy and the resulting neuroses, uncontaminated food, the thaw in the Cold War, the precarious stand-off (buy-off?)  in the Middle East, and the dominance of Christianity is wrapped in liturgical robes, mitres, bishop's staff, beautifully harmonious music, exuberant and sycophantic acolytes cheerleading as talking heads, politician's tears, and presidential welcome.
It is a symphony of mixed and conflicting notes, voices, images and 'rushes' with which no single politician or political party (or even rock star or revolutionary) could reasonably expect to compete.
When the White House, the Congress, Fifth Avenue, Central Park, Madison Square Gardens and even American Airlines are all transformed into ecclesiastical bodies for the drama, eagerly funded by corporate advertisers for 24-7 coverage on MSNBC and CNN, the question of the separation of church and state are, for the moment, muted, even silenced with the consent of the 'governed'.
We are all, for the week, participants in a spiritual spectacle, a political event, a mass movement of human bodies, minds and spirits that would compel the most committed sociologist, and we are left with memories of our perceptions, feelings, and our own questions of the meaning of the events.
And we are also left wondering if there is really any possibility or likelihood that whatever warmth and hope we experienced will flow over the conversations on Monday between Obama and Putin, (who just this week opened a new Moscow mosque that accommodates 10,000 Muslims), or between Merkel and her peers as the EU seeks a resolution of the refugee migration that threatens to drown some of her members, or between Merkel and Assad, should he agree to her invitation to attend talks designed to end the war in Syria.
Was the vote in the United Nations to affirm the 15-year commitment to end world poverty this week a reflection of the capacity of the spirit of the Pope's visit to permeate the General Assembly? Or, for those pragmatists, agnostics and secularists, was it merely an expression of a global fear in the face of such a massive migration of starving and dispossessed human beings from many quarters that would render the current refugee crisis a mere blip on our collective consciousness?
One million, or will it be two million attendees at the Pope's Mass in Philadelphia today, (along with thousands of "Pope-o-potties," courtesy of Paul  Hunter of CBC) could render the political system irrelevant or awaken it to do what it was designed to do, to govern for all people. Or more likely, merely pass as another image in a historical video-museum, one to which our grandchildren will point in their quizzical penetration of why nothing really meaningful transpired as the impact of this drama.

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