DEFINING MOMENT FOR HUMANITY
-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
Pope Francis is currently on a visit to the United States and the United Nations. This historic visit is not only taking America, but in fact, the whole wocrld by storm. It is a defining moment for humanity!
Pope Francis landed in the United States on Tuesday, September 22nd evening (US time). In an unprecedented welcome, President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and their daughters, along with Vice-President Joe Biden and his family travelled to Joint Base Andrews outside Washington to welcome the Pope. The US President does not normally go to welcome a foreign dignitary; by doing so, Obama has sent a message to the American people and the world leaders, that this Pope’s visit is being taken very seriously.
In a typical style which has characterized his Pontificate, Pope Francis is expected to communicate those values which are not only dear to his heart but also which the world needs so desperately. These include: simplicity of lifestyle; saying “no” to unbridled consumerism; an appeal to care for refugees and immigrants; to feel responsible for climate change and the way natural resources have been plundered by those who want to maximize their profits.
Last evening after being welcomed by President Obama, Pope Francis travelled in an ordinary black Fiat hatch-back car which was smaller than the huge limousines normally used by dignitaries. A powerful message for the people of the world’s richest country that he rejects pageantry and prefers a life which is humble and simple!
Pope Francis is known for his blunt critique of capitalism and of the market-driven economy. He has minced no words on this subject in his path-breaking Encyclical ‘Laudato Si: On the Care for our Common Home’ “Many people know that our current progress and the mere amassing of things and pleasures are not enough to give meaning and joy to the human heart, yet they feel unable to give up what the market sets before them” (#209). On the plane from Cuba to the US yesterday, Pope Francis told the journalists that his critique of capitalism is consistent with the social teaching of the Church.
Climate change, global warming and the wanton destruction of natural resources will surely figure prominently in some of his key addresses. In ‘Laudato Si’ he states “the warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world” (#51). It is significant that one of India’s leading dailies (DNA, page 1) today in a major headline stated that, “Law aids tainted firms to continue mining: backed by a new law, it’s business as usual for miners accused of illegally extracting iron ore in a massive Rs 1 lakh crore scam”. But do we care?
Pope Francis has always demonstrated a tremendous compassion for refugees and immigrants and for the human rights of all people very specially the poorest of the poor. When he speaks to the United Nations General Assembly on September 25th on the “Sustainable Development Goals”, he is bound to express these concerns to those world leaders who care to listen to him. He will emphasize the urgency to end poverty and ensure peace for all. He would certainly call for a paradigm shift in the way countries respond to endemic issues and of the way the powerful and vested interests would rather keep war and conflict going on in several parts of the world, for profiteering and greed.
These next days are surely going to be special not merely for the US and the UN, but for the ordinary citizens in every corner of the world. Pope Francis through word and witness has brought a new breath, a fresh ray of hope to many. He is bound to challenge the world leaders in no uncertain terms. Will they have the courage to accept his challenge? And particularly, will India do so?
23rd September, 2015
(* Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.)
Address: ‘PRASHANT’, Hill Nagar, Near Saffron Hotel, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad - 380052