Pope Francis: Radical for God, Radical for the Poor

By Jane Uymatiao, Originally posted at Blog Watch of the Philippine Online Chronicles

This recently-hailed Time’s Person of the Year was not among the top 3 contenders as the next Pope. Call him a dark horse but everyone was surprised when Jorge Mario Bergoglio (now better known as Pope Francis) stepped out into the balcony. I was one of those watching the live feed from the Vatican on TV. What defined this new Pope’s papacy was a very simple act –- he asked the crowd below to pray for him.  It was a totally unexpected move but one that showed everyone the mark of a Pope who would be more different than all others behind him.

For months now, we’ve seen just how radical he can be. He has refused to go around in papal robes, settling only for his plain white get-up. His home is a hotel meant for traveling clergy and cardinals instead of the opulent Vatican palatial quarters of past Popes. Call him a rebel with a cause because this Pope must be the bane of his security detail. Stories abound about him sneaking out at night to break bread with the homeless and the poor of Italy. He seems to love breaking protocol, catching ordinary people by surprise with phone calls he personally makes and gestures that make him more fatherly than papal. This gentle soul with a ready smile loves children and picks them up at will. But more than openly showing affection for the young, he is known to reach out and embrace even the ugly, the shunned and the oppressed in prison.

Let not his gentleness fool you though. Behind this charismatic smile is a steely determination to break down barriers that have plagued the Church for a long time. Without mincing words, he has declared ‘war’ against hunger, called unfettered capitalism ‘tyranny’and has called for all churches around the world to be true churches of and for the poor. This is understandable in part because he hails from Argentina, where the gap between the very rich and the very poor is painfully evident.

I see him now as one of the champions aiming to fight corruption in the world.

His declarations have left many shaking in their boots. The Italian mafia are allegedly agitated by his pronouncementsas he denounces some of their acts like laundering money, investing and doing business, some of which are with the church’s tacit tolerance. He has called out hunger as a “scandalthat millions of people suffer from hunger must not paralyze us, but push each and every one of us to act: singles, families, communities, institutions, governments, to eliminate this injustice”.

He is also not one to shun chastising one of their own. He called for an audience with a German ‘bling’ bishop, Franz-Peter Tebartvan Elst of Limburg, who had a bishop’s palace built to the tune of about 40 million euros, essentially fired him, and transformed the bishop’s palace into a soup kitchen.

Radical indeed is Pope Francis. But isn’t it about time we had a Pope who would not hesitate to call the kettle black?

When I look at our own Philippine situation, I can’t help but wish that Pope Francis were geographically closer to us so he could just as easily chastise clergy, politicians and individuals who make their presence felt in spiritual activities but in reality, have embraced and idolized materialism, enriching themselves in the process.

What would he have told the ‘Pajero bishops’? What piece of advice would he have given Janet Lim-Napoles with her Nazarene devotion as well as the many bishops who may have enjoyed material possessions under her care? How would he look upon politicians who mouth God and the saints even in privilege speeches but whose lives are riddled with scandals and whispered corruption stories? How would he react to public servants who try to keep up an image of service but scandalize people with their brazenness, show of power, impunity and demeaning treatment of the powerless?

In an 84-page document, known as an apostolic exhortation, as reported by the Guardian, he “has attacked unfettered capitalism as ‘a new tyranny’, urging global leaders to fight poverty and growing inequality in the first major work he has authored alone as pontiff.” The article went on:

“In it, Francis went further than previous comments criticising the global economic system, attacking the “idolatry of money” and beseeching politicians to guarantee all citizens “dignified work, education and healthcare”.

He also called on rich people to share their wealth. “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,” Francis wrote in the document issued on Tuesday.

“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

Corrupt politicians and self-serving public servants in the Philippines, take a good, hard look at what Pope Francis is doing. Listen to what he is saying because his words do not just apply to the Vatican or to Rome. He is addressing global leaders including politicians. He is addressing YOU (and me).

In this article, he is quoted as saying: “I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor.”He is calling for a renewal of the church when he said: “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”

Disturbed.Yes, how I wish more public servants in this country were truly disturbed by the words of Pope Francis. And bothered…enough to see the true state of the country, realize their false ways, turn a new leaf, make a difference, and serve the people with a selfless heart and a true vision.

Many Cardinals and church leaders are probably thinking now that we got more than we bargained for in the person of Pope Francis because he is truly rocking the boat. But maybe if we are to have a go at real change in the world, including a conversion of the heart, we do need someone like Pope Francis who will call out clergy and layman when needed. After all, Jesus himself was considered a radical in His time.