By Timothy Egan
SEPT. 24, 2015
The petty, the partisan, the hateful fell away — most of it. The bickering, the backbiting, the treachery was tamed — for now. No one shouted “You lie!” The powerful were made to look powerless. Words were used to uplift instead of to wound.
When the People’s House beheld the people’s pope on Thursday, it was historic for the deed itself, church meeting state in a secular democracy. But you can hope that it becomes historic for what may follow. You can hope. For a moment, a morning, a day and maybe more, a broken political system felt the soft diplomatic breeze of the Francis Effect.
A pope who took the name of a pauper said money should serve the common good, and he said this in a place where money mostly serves the well-connected.
A son of immigrants reminded a nation of immigrants not to hate those who seek a better life in a new country.
Pope Francis addressed the General Assembly on Friday. It was only the fifth time that a pope had addressed the United Nations.Dot Earth Blog: A Day for an Ecology-Minded Pope and Sustainable Development GoalsSEPT. 25, 2015
A lover of the land implored the land of the free to protect and restore its great natural bounty, a common home imperiled by human excess.
And John Boehner wept. Yes, the speaker of the House can be brought to tears by a beer ad, but in the spirit of the occasion, let’s take his emotion as evidence that the words of an old man speaking halting English will live for some time.
To see your political views validated, or opposed, by the vicar of Christ is to miss the point of what he said before Congress. The challenge is not to view his remarks as left or right, a yard gained or lost in a ceaseless struggle. For what is political, or even controversial, about asking people to be more openhearted, to see dignity in the forgotten and the passed over?
At its core, the pope’s message was how to live a life and share a planet. Simple. He didn’t scold, and he didn’t lecture. The professional calling for those people in the room, he said, did not have to be ruled by base elements, their principles owned by the highest bidders: “Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good.”
It’s been a looooooooooong time since this Congress did anything for the common good. Republicans, who run the place, may well bring the government to a halt, in just a few days. Their ranks are stuffed with politicians who think, just after the warmest summer on record, that climate change is a hoax, and that immigrants should be harassed and herded away.
But consider what the Francis Effect has done so far. Cuba and the United States, after a half-century freeze, have opened doors to each other, at the nudging of the pope. While the great cathedrals of Europe are still largely empty of worshipers, Francis has prompted many a lapsed Catholic to take a second look. A church that was identified with concealing sexual abuse, a very stratified version of organized crime, and scorning of those living nontraditional lives, is presenting a far different face in the forgiving smile of Pope Francis. Instead of being known for what it’s against, the church is showing what it’s for.
He wasn’t talking about financial gain when he said, “I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of dreams.”
So what is political about the task of maintaining a livable planet for future generations? “I am convinced that we can make a difference,” said Francis, on climate change. “Now is the time for courageous action and strategies aimed at implementing a culture of care.”
And what is partisan about appealing to the common story of every American but the Native Americans? “We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners.”
It was stirring, also, to hear the head of a church that once killed infidels warning against murder in the name of God, the scourge now of the Middle East. “A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of religion, an ideology or an economic system,” he said. “But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil.”
After he was done, and the weight of his words hung in that chamber of frequent discontent, Francis went to see the homeless in the capital of the most powerful nation on earth. He was following the words of his namesake, Francis of Assisi, to “preach the gospel, and when necessary, use words.”