An identity for the papacy

Joseph F.X Zahra's article on The Sunday Times of Malta

There is no need to get into a complicated search for the identity of a still young papacy. Pope Francis’s major characteristic of directness and candidness simplifies life for many looking for the significance of his message and what he is representing. He addresses a much wider audience than the adherents to the Roman Catholic Church, while being mostly concerned about the future of humanity and its relationship with creation rather than with the now and present.

It is a message of a global moral leader to all people irrespective of ethnicity and faith. It calls for social and economic reforms that are aimed at the survival of the human person.

Let us start with his perception of the intimate link between the person, creation and God, and the sad state that this relationship is in today. In Laudato Si’, the encyclical letter “on care for our common home”, he writes that “the violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she ‘groans in travail’ (Rom. 8:22) (#2).”

Most of his thesis is now vindicated by the conclusion, even if mild and toned down, emerging from the Paris climate change summit. Politicians and policy-makers, business people, scientists, artists and educators are finally recognising that we cannot destroy our own habitat, and that short-termism and the philosophy of the now or nothing is simply unsustainable.

And this is why Pope Francis’s message provokes conservatives and those that have a ‘boundless thirst for power’ in keeping to their comfort zones and preach the status quo. This is the challenge with which he confronts economists, bankers, politicians and businessmen – the provocation to rethink and reform the economic system in a way that addresses the social problems created by the misuse and abuse of natural resources and people since the start of the industrial revolution.

Poverty and marginalisation are the result of this thirst for power and money, an expression of greed and selfishness. Technology and globalisation has changed the social and economic world, and this requires a redesign of the way we look at economic growth (improvement in the quality of life), profit (investment in research and development and innovation), and the purpose of business (as in respect for community and solidarity).

Pope Francis proposes an economy that is based on human freedom and which respects human dignity, and it is this freedom that breeds creativity and innovation.

Democracy and market eco­nomies go hand-in-hand. But they are also risky as they can be abused not only by businessmen and consumers but also by the State and by regulators through over-imposition, sleaze and corruption, and the patronising attitude through a welfare state that renders the poor and marginalised dependent on the handouts of power-hungry politicians and so-called regulators.

The Pope of the ‘south’ is not a statist, far from it. His belief is that the ‘south’ (the poor; refugees; workers abused by the wrong side of globalisation), need to help themselves in coming out of the state they are in.

The significance of solidarity is further strengthened by the Pope’s definition: that “which allows all people to become artisans of their destiny”. “Every person is called to self-fulfilment.” Evangelii Gaudium).

Pope Francis, as a good Jesuit, condemns inaction, indifference and apathy. The message is that through tension and restlessness, but also through conversation and dialogue, the Church can act as a role model and animator in the troubled journey towards a better spirit of community.

The opening of the extraordinary jubilee of Mercy in Bangui, the capital city of war-torn Central African Republic, is much more than symbolic. The Pope puts words to action – walking the periphery, modesty, respect towards humanity and the environment and social justice are the foundations of a better world.

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