By Arley Gill
19 March this year would have marked the second anniversary of the 266th Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. In other words, Pope Francis has served just over two years as the head of the Catholic Church and it is my respectful view, it has been a remarkable two years.
From the outset, he brought a fresh sense of humility to the office, and he sought to ground the church in that humility and to create a greater focus on the mission of the church. He once declared that, he wished for a ‘poor church for the poor’. He practiced what he preached with his simple living in the Vatican’s guest house rather than the Papal palace; and eats with Vatican workers in the cafeteria. There is no doubt that Pope Francis is a humble man.
I must confess, however, that it is his astute political work that I am most impressed with. Both Presidents Raúl Castro and Barack Obama credit the Pope for brokering the deal which resulted in the normalization of diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba. This situation, between Washington and Havana, was arguably the biggest hangover from the cold war era, resulting in years of suffering for millions of innocent Cuban people. Pope Francis used his good offices to assist. That is worthy of high praise.
Secondly, the Vatican is due to sign an agreement with the “State of Palestine’’, thus effectively recognizing a Palestinian state; thereby, joining many nations around the world in doing so. Indeed, to the Jews, the Vatican is not just any other state and they are visibly upset. However, the Vatican is doing the right thing. The right thing, I contend, is the core of righteousness. It is righteous to be fair and to be just. It is righteous for the Palestinians to have their own state. This is a bold undertaking.
The Holy Father established the sex abuse commission to combat the sexual abuse of children by clerics. Whilst this problem may yet to be eradicated, it is fair to say that the church, under the leadership of Pope Francis, has made a more concerted effort to deal with that demon in the church.
On the issue of gay rights, the Pope once famously said, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who I am to judge?’’ Coming from him, this speaks volumes to sexual tolerance globally and would have gone some way to easing discrimination against gay persons.
The Pope has spoken to world leaders, especially the Europeans, on the issue of thousands of migrants trying to reach their shores and he has admonished Catholics to help. This is admirable; especially where, often times, religious leaders are stuck with teaching the scriptures rather than speaking out on current social issues.
Of course, his training and life as a Jesuit make Pope Francis a natural ally to the poor. He has invited vagrants for a meal and has consistently spoken out and stood alongside the poor and downtrodden in the society. I would like to see more bishops, priests, deacons and nuns doing the same. Some are simply too stuck up, and when they do stand up with the downtrodden and marginalized, it does not come across as sincere. Needless to say, this does not stop with the Catholic Church; some other religious leaders in Grenada and elsewhere also walk with their heads “in the air’’ as if they are already in heaven and do not spare sufficient thought to the poor and the homeless.
I observed that recently, the preaching, the singing and the dancing in the Catholic Church look more and more evangelical. I don’t know if Pope Francis has anything to do with that; but yes, you guessed right, I will attribute that to him, regardless.
President Raúl Castro, after his most recent visit with the Pontiff, said of Pope Francis: “I read all the speeches of the Pope, his commentaries, and if the Pope continues his way, I will go back to praying and go back to the church. I’m not joking.’’ It is an acknowledgement of the Pope’s sincerity and his work.
I suspect, though, that President Raúl Castro may not be the only person thinking that way.