When it was announced that Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was elected pope of the Roman Catholic Church, I felt hopeful – the now Pope Francis has over his career earned a reputation for humility and a deep commitment to the poor. A television commentator poetically described this as Pope Francis’ devotion to “The Last Ones” – the poor, the disenfranchised, the weak, the neglected, the powerless and the suffering.
The Last Ones. Thank goodness, there is potential for a world stage and megaphone for those voices. I am struck by just the phrasing – “The Last Ones.” Not the “me first” or the “me-me-me” ones or even the “wealth/job creator” ones. The Last Ones. The ones who count least because they can’t or won’t contribute. People who are difficult to stomach because they are lazy, costly or even criminal.
With regard to The Last Ones, conversations surrounding our educational, social welfare, criminal justice, emergency assistance and health-care systems often contain a labeling aspect, i.e., “Don’t make good people pay for the sins of bad people.” Or that libertarian chestnut, “This is my life, don’t you dare tell me what to do.” All fine and good, but both viewpoints ignore the unmistakable, inescapable reality that we’re all in this together and therefore are only as strong as our weakest links.
Are there lazy, good-for-nothing, unethical, ignorant and unworthy folks among us? Of course there are. I personally know a number of them, and, incidentally, one or two have quite a bit of cash, so while an argument can be made about the undeserving poor, there’s a correlative one that can be made about the undeserving rich. For me, it’s basically a wash as far as who is entitled to stuff and who isn’t.
We all need to stop looking at the world through punitive, self-congratulatory eyes, and that’s why I’m feeling hopeful about the election of Pope Francis. He wasn’t an insider’s frontrunner, even after coming in second to Pope Benedict the last time around. In some quiet, invisible way, his candidacy rose to the very top among an elite, rarefied group of men – all more or less candidates for the same position themselves. He was something of a surprise choice who upon election now seems like the obvious one.
If as head of one of the largest spiritual organizations in the world Pope Francis embodies a radiant humility and commitment to the poor and miserable, if he can through his office exude an authoritative and muscular – yet serene – compassion in a world absolutely brimming with rage and anxiety, and if he can exert the kind of charisma and authenticity that reminds us that we’re all in this together, humanity will follow his lead regardless of personal religious affiliations or lack thereof. That would be a game-changer – something surprising and invisible, maybe even original, rising to the top despite all the odds. And hopefully as well, it will seem like the obvious choice all along.