Pope Francis and the Politics of Liberation

Pope Francis came back home to the Americas by first visiting Cuba and then the United States. It was a much anticipated visit that did not disappoint, as exemplified by the joyful crowds of everyday people as well as the famous who received him. Many of Pope Francis’s words and actions were inspiring to those who hold dear the values of justice and fairness. Yet his visit did disappoint those wishing for more or even different messages. It is this disappointment, however, that we will have to live with and embrace what we can.

Here in Washington, the head of the Holy See spoke truth to power when he addressed a joint session of Congress, a body where Republicans hold majorities in both chambers. Raising the specters of immigration, the death penalty, and climate change, Pope Francis challenged the Congress on its chosen path of failing to seek the common good. Dialogue for achieving progress and peace are what’s missing from our politics—and this lack of engagement is hurting the country and the world, he said. Intriguingly, Dorothy Day, an American woman who founded the Catholic Worker Movement, was held up as a model. “Her social activism, her passion for justice, and for the cause of the oppressed” are what the pope wanted today’s Americans to know about someone who once walked among them not long ago. If only our elected officials were as blessed in spirit as Ms. Day (and, therefore, is it any real wonder that Speaker John Boehner decided to retire so soon after the pope’s address?).

The parts of the papal visit that pique concern are the pope’s canonization of Father Junipero Serra, who helped colonize California, and his private visit with elected Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, who is contemptuous of her own civil authority. Both of these acts, along with no outward movement on contraception, can lead one to wonder just how open Pope Francis really is. Yet, it is worth remembering that he is ultimately a religious leader and not a public governmental official and, as such, he can more easily embrace sinners over saints.

Finally, President Obama recognized the power of this pope’s voice by greeting him at Andrews Air Force base when he arrived—a first. Both leaders are disciples of the liberation of people for peace, with the thawing of Cuban relations through diplomacy as a prime example. May this papal visit be the start of a new humanism for a country that considers itself a union of immigrants and a United States of America. May that value be resurrected anew.

Kristin Cabral, Chair
PPC Faith and Values Task Force

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