By Other Words
By Emily Schwartz Greco*
Battles are raging over whether local government officials have a religious right to refuse to marry same-sex couples. And the federal government may shut down over a dispute concerning funding for Planned Parenthood’s non-abortion reproductive health services.
As if those melodramas weren’t creating enough faith-tinged headaches, here comes Hurricane Francis.
After a three-day jaunt in Cuba, the People’s Pope will fly to Washington. He’ll become the first pontiff to address Congress while quite possibly urging lawmakers to take firm action on climate change and to promote immigration reform.
Pope Francis has a few other things planned for his U.S. visit, too — like delivering mass. In Spanish.
Among a host of reasons Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl cited: It’s the Argentine-born pontiff’s native language, the pope will be canonizing a Spanish-American Jesuit missionary on that occasion, and he’d like to show some deference to our nation’s growing Latino population. One out of three U.S. Catholics are either Spanish-speaking immigrants or descendants of Latin Americans.
Rush Limbaugh, who loves to hate what Pope Francis says about capitalism, is already complaining. This linguistic choice also clashes with Sarah Palin’s recent call for immigrants to “speak American.”
After shaking things up in D.C., Francis will mosey over to New York City, where he’ll bless undocumented immigrants and address the United Nations General Assembly, speaking truth to power more globally.
Then it’s off to Philadelphia, where he’s got a packed agenda that includes visiting prisoners held at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility. There’s a good chance that he’ll wash the feet of several inmates.
Right-wingers shouldn’t try to declaw this pontiff by badmouthing him. British writer Austen Ivereigh makes a few things clear in his biography, The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope. Among them: Having made afflicting the comfortable while comforting the afflicted a lifelong habit, Pope Francis isn’t vulnerable to bullying.
Perhaps more than his embrace of migrant rights and climate action, the pontiff’s calls for economic justice are what irk conservatives the most.
“Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society,” Pope Francis said in Bolivia two months ago.
This kind of analysis has raised the volume in a debate over whether the pope is Marxist, or at least socialist.
It’s an ironic conversation. As Ivereigh describes in detail, the hyper-humble Catholic leader formerly known as Padre Jorge Bergoglio spent most of his last 30 non-papal years battling the misconception that he wasn’t leftist enough.
In addition to openly criticizing Cuba’s government, Francis has tried to set the record straight about his mindset since becoming pope. A passion for helping the poor and the powerless, not ideology, drives him to make stunning statements and gestures as he calls for worldwide systemic change.
Regardless of why House Speaker John Boehner thought inviting the Pope to address Congress was a good idea, the Catholic Republican from Ohio appears calm before this storm.
“I’m not about to get myself into an argument with the pope,” Boehner told The New York Times in July. “I’m sure the pope will have things to say that people will find interesting, and I’m looking forward to his visit.”
Boehner probably won’t have any epiphanies about immigration, climate action, or economic justice. But he’s right: It will surely be an interesting encounter.
*Columnist Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords.org