October 18, 2015: Power to Serve
From Paul Turley
Pope Francis is far from the most powerful person in the world. He is the leader of a tiny city state of 44 hectares (110 acres) with an armed forces with a little over 100 members. However, it is possible that the Pope is currently the most influential person on the planet.
Spiritual leader to a community of more than 1.2 billion people spread across most of the world's countries, a spiritual influence on millions more, and, since his election in 2013, a significant contributor to the important global events of our time, the pope surely understands the influence he can have.
During his recent visit to the USA, the Pope said the following at a mass in New York City, that quintessential big city: “In big cities, beneath the roar of traffic, beneath the rapid pace of change, so many faces pass by unnoticed because they have no ‘right’to be there, no right to be part of the city. They are the foreigners, the children who go without schooling, those deprived of medical insurance, the homeless, the forgotten elderly. These people stand at the edges of our great avenues, in our streets, in deafening anonymity.”
During an address to the US Congress, the pope urged the Congress to reject “a mindset of hostility”toward immigrants. And, while he did not address “hot button”issues such as same-sex marriage directly, Francis did urge US bishops to use less harsh language, be less critical, and offer a more welcoming approach. The pope encouraged the bishops to focus less on such issues and more on pastoral care.
However, it was not just what the pope said in his formal addresses; it was his wordless gestures, off-agenda meetings, and spontaneous his responses to people that indicate how well he understands his influence.
On his visit to the White House, in a country responsible for the consumption of about a fifth of the world’s total oil, the pope arrived, not in the kind gas-guzzling SUV favoured by the security services with which he was surrounded, but in a small, energy efficient Fiat. Nothing needed to be said; volumes were spoken.
This silent message is the natural outworking out of his plea to priests in 2013: “It hurts me when I see a priest or nun with the latest-model car,”he said. ”You can’t do this. A car is necessary to do a lot of work, but, please, choose a more humble one. If you like the fancy one, just think about how many children are dying of hunger in the world.”
As The New Yorker has it, “What has lifted Pope Francis above the political fray and reinvigorated his office in a way that could barely have been imagined under Pope Benedict, is his peerless ability to convey to ordinary people of all religions and political views his version of Catholicism –a version based largely on the life and teachings of Saint Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order. From choosing to live in a modest guest house, rather than in the Apostolic Palace, to washing the feet of a young Muslim prisoner, to inviting dozens of homeless people to tour the Sistine Chapel, Pope Francis has lifted up the papacy by puncturing its grandeur, infusing it with humanity, and, where necessary, cleverly exploiting the power of imagery.
Not power; influence.
God, teach us that greatness
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