Posts Tagged ‘Pope Francis’

And a Little Child will Lead Them…

Monday, October 20th, 2014

Of all of the vices out there that crop up along the strait and narrow path like stumbling stones, the one that has nary held the slightest whiff of temptation for me is gambling.

Perhaps this is because of my general dislike of anything having to do with too many numbers (an awful, embarrassing admission for the son of a Certified Public Accountant, I know!), or it could possibly be attributed to a belief on my part that we work too hard for our incomes today to risk the proceeds of our labor to chance, but – despite numerous forays to bachelor parties both in Las Vegas and Atlantic City and many unsuccessful bids for making a quick million through uncountable office lotto pools – I have never been taken in by the dulcet tones of wagering’s siren’s song.

I mention this little fact in passing only by way of an explanation; for you see it was a little over a week ago when I initially started drafting this blog posting – which was then on the predicted winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize: Pope Francis!

This draft on Pope Francis wasn’t just a shot in the dark on my part – nor was it wishful thinking of an admirer (although I certainly am that)! Instead, I based my early predictions on whom all the bookmakers were saying was the likely shoo-in for this year’s most prestigious prize for peace. All across the world, news outlets were touting our current Pope as an odd on favorite: that is – of course – until last Friday when the Norwegian Nobel Committee – who awards the prize – announced that the TWO winners of this year’s award were a sixty year old Indian Hindu child labor activist and a 17 year old Pakistani Muslim schoolgirl and education activist, and decidedly NOT an Argentine septuagenarian who happens to lead the Roman Catholic Church! (my general skepticism of the inerrancy of statistical prediction thereby remaining intact!)) And despite his “loss “to them, I imagine that Pope Francis – with his emphasis on caring for the poorest and least among us – would most assuredly approve of the Nobel Committee’s choice of Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai as this year’s Nobel Peace Prize honorees.

The first recipient – Mr. Satyarthi – whom the Nobel Committee honored this year in recognition of his many decades working against child labor practices both within and outside India – has previously served as Secretary General of the Bonded Labor Liberation Front and the founder of the group “Save the Childhood Mission” since 1980; he has been credited with acting to protect the rights of over 83,000 child laborers around the world and was likewise a moving force behind the International Labor Organization adopting it’s Convention No. 182 which prohibits the worst forms of child labor.

Mr. Satyarthi’s co-honoree – Malala Yousafzai is a little better known. Only 17 upon receiving this year’s Nobel Peace Prize honor, Malala -as she is popularly known in the media – earned her celebrity in a manner that no little girl – indeed, no child – should ever become well-known: two years ago – at the age of only 15, after writing a blog post that described what life was like for a young woman attempting to go to school and gain an education in the Taliban controlled region of North-west Pakistan known as the Swat Valley –Malala was shot in the face at point blank range by a Taliban gunman on a crowded bus on her way to school. After a miraculous survival – where she was airlifted to Britain for treatment – Malala has gone on to become a best-selling memoirist, activist and advocate on behalf of educational opportunities for children – especially young women. At 17, Malala is the youngest person to have ever received the Nobel Peace Prize since it was first awarded back in 1901.

Both brave and well-respected honorees working on behalf of worthy and important causes, I think that the Nobel Committee did an outstanding job in selecting their honorees this year – particularly in the case of Malala and her advocacy on behalf of education for young women and girls. As someone concerned about development and peace, I know that there is almost no better predictor of the success for a nation’s thriving than when the education of girls is a priority. In these instances – when the education of girls in given prominence – young women tend to wed later, earn more and take better care of their families: it has been estimated that one year of primary school increases a girl’s future wages by 10-20%, and an extra year of secondary school increases her earning potential by 15-25%, and according to USAID, each additional year of female education reduces child mortality in those places by 18,000 births per year.

A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to see the importance of advocacy on behalf of education for young women first-hand when I traveled over to Northern Tanzania along with other diocesan social action directors on a trip that was sponsored by Catholic Relief Services. While we were there, we had the opportunity to sit down with a local bishop who shared a meal with us. During our supper, we had the opportunity to ask him some questions regarding his ministry and the people in the diocese where he served. This particular bishop had a fairly significant population of Maasai people within his diocese, many of whom had begun to attend the local Church. When some of our group began to question him regarding the the Maasai’s tribal tradition of plural marriage (the Maasai traditionally practiced polygamy), and what he was doing to discourage such practices among his congregants, the Bishop smiled and responded that the most effective approach he had found to counter-act such practices was a “pastoral” one: when the local tribal chieftans of the Maasai had approached him with a request that their sons be educated at the local parochial schools, the bishop stated that he’d agree to their request only if in addition to having their sons attend the schools, that they sent their daughters for an education as well. He went on to explain that he had imposed this condition knowing full well that once the majority of these young women were thus educated, most would not elect to enter into a plural marriage but instead choose to marry only one husband given the opportunity to do so.

In recalling this story, it does not escape me that as I draft this blog post, the Bishops of the world are assembled over in Rome for an Extraordinary Synod of the Bishops on the Family”; in researching what to write about this year’s Nobel laureates – particularly Malala – as well as keeping up with some of the proceedings of the Synod in Rome, the words and actions of that extraordinarily wise Bishop whom I encountered in Tanzania kept returning to me: the brilliance of the solution to the “pastoral problem” he was presented with – the actions that he undertook on behalf of the girl children of his community so deeply respectful of both the dignity of those young women and marriage itself – that I remain in awe of his simple – yet not simplistic – wisdom to this day.

One of my favorite Scriptural passages from the Old Testament – particularly at Christmas time, but honestly at any time of year – has always been the 11th Chapter of Isaiah, Verse 6: “and the wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the fatling together; and a little child will lead them. With such a dearth of authentic leadership afflicting our world today, perhaps it is exactly here – with the children: Malala, the young women of the Maasai community, all children everywhere: boys and girls – that the simple quest for human decency, dignity and development should begin.

If the children thus lead, perhaps the “leaders” will follow, and we can begin to realize that the peaceable kingdom promised all those centuries ago in the beautiful words of Isaiah – a most worthy prize indeed!

Doing versus Being

Friday, July 18th, 2014

One of my very favorite stories from the four Gospels is the one recounted in the 10th Chapter of Luke where Jesus – during his public ministry when passing through town of Bethany – stops in to visit his good friends Lazarus, Mary and Martha. A familiar story to most Christians, Luke records in the Gospel not only Jesus’ visit to his friend’s home, but more particularly the activities that the two women of the household engaged in while Jesus is there to visit. Martha – whose last name was not “Stewart” but may as well have been – was busy rushing about the house preparing to entertain the Lord and his disciples, while her sister Mary sat quietly at Jesus’ feet listening to what the Lord had to say…that is of course until Martha – doubtlessly exasperated by what she I’m sure thought was her sister’s lack of consideration if not downright laziness – approached the Lord asking him to admonish her sister and encourage her to help in the preparations. In response, Jesus – whom never ceased or for that matter ceases to surprise us with his answers – instead flips the situation around and points out to Martha how her preoccupations had blinded her to that which was really important, chiding her by saying: “Martha…Martha…you are worried and upset about many thing ….Mary has chosen what is better…”

I love the humanity that Jesus shows to Martha in his gentle chastisement regarding her complaints about her sister – even Luke’s sequential usage of Martha’s name twice in a row by Jesus demonstrates – I think – how very fond Jesus was of Martha and her whole family (remember that it was upon the death of Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus that John in his Gospel records that Jesus himself wept so that the people witnessing it responded by saying: “See how he loved him”). In his gentle chastisement of his friend Martha, Jesus is reminding her that as we live our lives our responsibilities are numerous, but that when evaluated in the light of comparison to eternal thing, those things that once seemed so important begin to pale.

To be honest, another reason that I am fond of the story of Martha and Mary – and the gentleness of Jesus’ admonishment of his friend – is that I can absolutely see myself in both characters: sometimes I am Mary – choosing the “better way”, but I am as often as not Martha – keeping busy “about many things” but totally missing the boat!

Now I’m just about certain that neither Martha nor Mary were bloggers back in early 1st Century Palestine (although what they are up to in Heaven right now I cannot say!)…I am , however, a blogger… and sadly over the past few months I have been “busy about many things” and have not kept up with my postings on here the way I should, and for this I apologize. Like Martha, some of those things that I have been busy with were pretty important, and some, not so much…although in retrospect, the stuff we think is important going forward often turns out to not be so essential, while some of what we thought was not so important turns out – in that light of comparison to eternal things – to be pretty darn essential. Such as it was, some of what I spent my time on these past few months – at least on the weekends – was going to the movies: a  pretty frivolous pastime if you could ever think of one.. but a pastime that in retrospect is not engaged in without gaining some insights. So it was with several of the movies that I had the pleasure of seeing these past few months, and most particularly one I’d like to share some insights gained with you today, that being the live-action Disney re-boot of their animated classic Sleeping Beauty as told from the perspective of that stories villainess: Maleficent.

Spoiler Alert Ahead: I’m going to be discussing some details of the film Maleficent, so if you have not seen it yet but are intending too, please stop here – go see the film – and finish reading after…

Wonderfully acted by the beautiful and talented Angelina Jolie, the film is a re-casting of the cinematic life of a character that had previously been seen as the most-wicked of the plethora of villains in all the Disney cannon. In this re-cast, Maleficent is portrayed not as being wicked through and through, but instead as a person shaped by the circumstance of her own life and history: beginning as an innocent and orphaned child, she is betrayed and physically violated by one whom she trusts and loves, and in response becomes embittered and vengeful, seeking to overpower and vanquish her victimizer by any means necessary – even if those means entail the suffering of the innocent. It is only later in the story – when she is touched by true love and responds in kind – that Maleficent is restored to the person she was at the beginning of her journey: one who loves and, in turn, is loved back.

The film came out to great fan-fare; it was seen by some as a feminist retelling of the classic Disney fairy tale: portraying a powerful woman, strong in her own right, who fights back against the men that have violated her and those whom she cares for, and wins. Still others lamented this retelling as an “un-doing” of the classic villain of yesteryear – vicious, sadistic, elemental, unrelenting and irredeemably wicked.

There is perhaps something to be said for both these perspectives I suppose… I myself must confess that as a younger person I too liked that “good guy / bad guy” dichotomy:  a big fan of the original Star Wars trilogy, I liked knowing “who was who” – good guys wore white, and the bad guys wore black.. you knew who to root for, and at the end of the day you knew intuitively that the good guys would prevail. It was all very clear, very satisfying, very simple.

Today my view of things is a bit more nuanced…I don’t like the good guys versus bad guys dichotomy so much anymore…and that’s not because I don’t think that there is real evil in the world. As even a cursory examination of the day’s news will demonstrate, evil lies all around us: on the borders between the Ukraine and Russia, Israel and Gaza, our own southwest and Mexico, and we are no more immune from evil’s effects within our borders as evidenced by the tragedy of hatred between religions, ethnicities social classes, and neighbors, believers and unbelievers, and even within our own families  …sadly, evil is very real.

But as I have grown older and – hopefully – wiser, I have come to see evil less as something that people ARE, and more as something that people DO. Jesus of course knew this: with His vision for the eternal He saw beyond people’s immediate acts into their souls; He was able to offer forgiveness to others – even to His persecutors and crucifiers – recognizing their dignity as children of God despite their terrible acts. I think that Pope Francis recognizes this to, with his beautiful metaphor for the Church as a “field hospital”, dispensing those powerful antidotes for hate:  mercy towards all, and forgiveness for all those who seek it.

Perhaps this is why Maleficent resonated so strongly with me, telling a fairy tale where victory consists not so much in lopping off the monster’s head as much as “getting into it” with the curative power of love  – opening up the monster’s heart, rather than cutting it out.


Pollyannaish? …maybe….naive?…perhaps… But in an ever diversifying world where our differences from one another become more pronounced by the day we need to learn new ways of communicating across our varieties, a new way of seeing one another not as enemies or opponents, but as brothers and sisters and all children of God. This does not mean that some of us will not “Do” evil – we know that this side of the Second Coming we are all capable of evil acts, but we must try to remember that no one of us is beyond the redeeming power of forgiveness, or the converting power of mercy.

I’d like to close as I began, with reflection on a movie: a powerful one – one of my all-time favorites – Sir Richard Attenborough’s 1982 classic “Gandhi about the life of the father of modern India,   Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Near the films ending, Gandhi – great practitioner of non-violence that he was and no stranger to violence and confrontation himself – cautions those to whom he is speaking that the only place in the world where “evil” was running about was “is in our own hearts”, concluding that it was there – in our own hearts – where all our battles against evil ought to be fought. This might have been an apocryphal statement on the film-maker’s part attributed to the Mahatma… I am not sure. But to me – even if it was – it provides sage advice still.


Pace e Bene ..e Grazie!

Thursday, November 28th, 2013


As a very occasional blogger, it has occurred to me that I have at times used this space as a sort of rant: a veritable digital soapbox where I can electronically shake my fist at “the powers that be” over the injustices that still too often plague our globe. While I still I do think that it is the duty of concerned Catholics to raise our voices – digital and otherwise – out of concern for the unfairness of this world – and especially for those on the margins – at this particular time of year I also believe that we should recall, and be grateful for, the many good things that we have in our lives. One particular perk that I’d like to give special thanks for is one I enjoy as a benefit of working in for the Justice and Peace ministry here at Catholic Charities: all of the great invitations I receive to some pretty wonderful events. There is one in particular I’d love to share a bit about that was held this past Monday evening.

As a result of the generosity of the Archdiocesan Office of Black Ministries, and the Pierre Toussaint Scholarship Fund here at the Archdiocese, as well as the group Allied Faith and Family and the Weinstein Group– – I had the opportunity to attend a private screening of the new movie: “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, which is not scheduled for general release until this coming Friday. The film itself was extraordinary, detailing the events from the equally extraordinary life of President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, from roughly the beginning of his public life up through his long imprisonment by South African authorities for his work in opposition to that government’s Apartheid system of racial discrimination, to his release and eventual election to the presidency of that country after its first multi-racial free election. The picture, adapted from Mandela’s own autobiography, is beautifully filmed with wonderful vistas of the African countryside featured prominently, and the subject matters that the movie touches upon – from repression to liberation to imprisonment and eventually to triumph – are profound enough to, I think, eventually have it regarded as an epic film. It is the personal portrait that it paints of President Mandela and his struggles with the leadership of the African National Congress and the Anti-Apartheid movement, however that I think are particularly noteworthy. Often times at the conclusion of a particularly great leader’s life, accounts of their deeds are recalled in a haliographic fashion, where these great men – and of course women – seem to trod among ordinary mortals, ever assured of their convictions and ever triumphant in their efforts.  This movie suffers from little of that: growing out of a hatred of the way that native South African people were treated in their own country, it shows Mandela early on as a man of justice who – despite his flaws and very human defects – undertakes a lifelong crusade to end the racially discriminatory practices of his country by using any means necessary, up to and including violence.  It is only later on -during and after his 27 year imprisonment for his anti-apartheid politics where he loses just about everything meaningful in his life: his possessions, his family, even his limited freedom – that we witness President Mandela begin to change. Never giving up on the belief in the his own dignity and the dignity of his own people, Mandela  gradually comes to realize that for all their power, his white oppressors lived in perpetual fear of their own minority status – their own ultimate powerlessness – and that it was from that fear that all of their actions were twisted into the atrocity that was Apartheid. It was during this period that Mandela’s struggle became about more than just opposing white rule, and grew to be about affirming the human dignity of all. So much so that after his release from prison – when the country was on the brink of violent revolution – Mandela risked his reputation and leadership of the anti-apartheid cause, and the respect of his own wife, to appear on television to address his nation, declaring his forgiveness of those who had imprisoned and taken so much from him. His actions that night have been credited by many for helping South Africa to avoid a violent, racially polarized civil war, and to helping that wounded nation move toward a racially integrated healing.  It is through such actions that President Mandela became more than just a man of justice for his people, but became equally a man of forgiveness and, ultimately – a man of peace. Thankfully despite recent illnesses, President Mandela’s long life and example on this Earth is – as of this writing – not yet completed, but certainly the people of South Africa – and the entire world – should be grateful for the extraordinary example that his life is to all of us.

On the ride home in the cab that night – contemplating the movie that I just saw – I began to reflect on the incredible leadership President Mandela has given the world, and how lucky we are to still have him with us. I recalled many conversations I’ve had over the past couple years about Nelson Mandela, and what his life and example have meant for the world, and how often those same conversations had ended in lamentation over the dearth of world leaders today who demonstrate the moral courage, growth and gravitas that a President Mandela did. Smiling to myself, I recalled that I often would join in that same lamentation too – but no more! I strongly believe – as the old cliché goes –that “there’s a new sheriff in town”    or,  in this case, on the world stage – who possesses some of the self-same “gravitas” that Mandela does, and – just as the old cliché goes as well – he too wears a white outfit…but it is there the analogy stops. The person I am thinking of definitely does not carry – or even possess I’m sure – a Colt 45 and a round of silver bullets, and he is not a fictional hero come on the scene to save the day. Instead, he is a very flesh and blood septuagenarian who goes by the name of Francis.

There has already been plenty of ink spilled across newsprint – and bytes expended on the blogosphere – about our Pope Francis: about what kind of Pope he is, and about what his Papacy will mean to the Church and the world. I don’t intend to render my opinion here regarding these matters. Instead would like to share with you just a bit of why Pope Francis moves me as a leader, and why I count his leadership of our Church as one of the particular things I am most grateful for in this season of thanksgiving.

A man of justice, from the very beginning of his papacy less than one year ago – when he announced the choice of his new name as the same as the “little poor man of Assisi” – Pope Francis has bound together the work of the Church with particular care and concern for the poor and suffering of this world, to the point that – in the birthplace of Saint Francis on his Feast Day this past October – he stated his desire that the Church truly be a “Church of the Poor”. A man of forgiveness, Pope Francis just concluded the Year of Faith this past weekend on the Feast of Christ the King by recalling the passage in Luke’s Gospel, where Jesus – hanging on the cross – addresses the Good Thief with words of forgiveness and not condemnation. Pope Francis reminds listeners that: “whenever anyone finds the courage to ask forgiveness, the Lord does not let such a petition go unheard.” A man of peace, it should be remembered that back in early September, in the wake of the atrocity of the Syrian government’s almost certain use of chemical weapons against its own people – when a military intervention by the United States in the civil war there was almost certain – it was Pope Francis who – while denouncing Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons – was almost alone among the world’s leaders who drew attention to the question of whether military intervention would have a plausible chance of improving the lives of those in peril,  as well as advancing the security of those who would “go to war in the name of peace”. In response to the proposed military intervention, it was Francis who called the world to a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria and the Middle East. While it is scientifically difficult to measure the efficacy of prayer, we should recall that it was only AFTER that day of prayer and fasting – as well as AFTER Secretary of State John Kerry’s off the cuff remark that a U.S. military response could be avoided if Syria agreed to open its chemical weapons program to international to oversight and eventful destruction – that a diplomatic solution to the crisis was considered and ultimately pursued. If as they say, the “devil is in the details” in this case – on this particular occasion – it seems that the Holy Spirit was in the gaff!             

One a politician, the other a pastor: yet both men of justice, of forgiveness of peace. There is much in our world that we have to be grateful for, and certainly such witness to our Gospel values should be included among those things. During his lifetime, Saint Francis of Assisi was known for greeting all he encountered with the expression “Pace e Bene!” or – in English – “Peace and all Good!”. Now I am not one to try to “one-up” great Saints, but on this one occasion if you will allow me permission, I’d like offer up “Pace e Bene e Grazie” – peace and good and thanks – for these two great men, and wish you and yours every blessing for a wonderful Thanksgiving!