Rosemary Ganley The Peterborough Examiner February 11, 2021
These days, early 2021, we are weary and dispirited, I think it safe to say. We are looking for leadership from anywhere, and leadership of the broadly spiritual kind, as well as the political.
I’ve been finding some in Pope Francis’s recent letter to the world, written during the pandemic since last March, and published speedily by Simon and Schuster in only two languages, Spanish and English.
It is down-to-earth and accessible, almost folksy, with many personal examples of change of heart. It is called “Let Us Dream.” I am astonished at its frankness and self-revelation.
My writing over 40 years shows a frequent focus on the church of my formation, Roman Catholicism, and its supreme leaders. I’ve been enthusiastic about John XXIII, disappointed by the next two, John Paul II and Benedict, and now, although with deep feminist reservations, positive about Francis.
The organizational church is vast, both very flawed and at the same time, important in the lives of many people in the world. In a global pandemic, a climate crisis, and rising populism threatening democracy, Francis’s behaviour and his words are worth considering.
Elected pope in 2013, he is 84 years of age, an Argentinian, the son of Italian immigrants, a Jesuit priest, and celibate. He is the 266th Pope of the church. I downloaded this short book to my Kindle, and I have been uplifted.
Five years ago, I rejoiced when he issued “Laudato Si” about the climate emergency. It brimmed with science, good sense and an ecumenical ethic that led to its being hailed around the world.
Just as we locked down, the Pope called his good friend, British journalist Austen Ivereigh, to come and chat. Francis wanted to speak to the world, and Ivereigh guided him to organize three sections, following the format used by liberation theology in the 1970s: observe, judge and act.
It is clear that we are not “all in this crisis together.” It is a class and race-based pandemic, exposing deep lines of inequality around the world. I heard today that Israel, which has control over the Palestinian territories, has reluctantly sent 5,000 doses of vaccine there. UN Women is crying out about western countries buying up available vaccines at any price. People without running water and crowded into slums have little chance to practice precautions. Francis notices all this. He plans a trip to Iraq in March.
Only 149 pages in length, “Let Us Dream” is remarkably open. The Pope says he has had three “COVID moments,” including serious lung disease in his 20s, a feeling of desolation when sent to Spain to study, and a sense of inadequacy as bishop in Buenos Aires in the 1990s. “They were a purification, giving me greater ability to forgive and a fresh empathy for the powerless.”
He pleads again and again that priority attention be given to the poor and the natural world. No return to old ways. Rather, new growth after a harsh pruning. He is ever astute. “When people lose a sense of the common good, we are left with anarchy or authoritarianism in a violent, unstable society.”
He warns of pessimism, narcissism and discouragement “Be an island of mercy in a sea of indifference” he says. “The economy is not the stock market: it is the well-being of a society.”
“I am at the end of my life,” he says, “overwhelmed but not hopeless. Go to the margins, to the saints next door - offer every person access to a dignified life, while regenerating the natural world.”
This Pope shows a broad grasp of modern culture, mentioning poets, musicians and women economists. He refers to the “MeToo” movement, to George Floyd, to the Rohingya and Yazidis.
He is fiercely critical of the global economy, obsessed with profit but heedless of people and the environment. “We are being sifted,” he says.
Altogether “Let us Dream” is a pleasure to read and an affirmation for these days. I’m tempted to call Francis a global spiritual director.
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