The embattled Pope Francis

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

Almost a year ago, on November 24, 2013, Pope Francis issued a 288-page document which was supposed to bring the Church into the 21st Century. He called the document Apostolic Exhortation (Evangelii Gaudium) of the Holy Father Francis to the Bishops, Clergy, Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World. My personal interpretation was that the Pope wanted the Church to become more relevant to the challenges and culture of Today’s World in the 21st Century.

In fact, in the first paragraph, he explicitly said: “With Christ, joy is constantly born ANEW. In this Exhortation, I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a NEW chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out NEW paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.”

In his personal behavior and public comments, Pope Francis has been consistent with his pronouncements he made in his Papal Exhortations. But it seems the world, including the Bishops, is not ready for the winds of change that he is trying to introduce.

The topic of Family Life was expected to bring changes in the Church’s treatment of homosexuals and divorced or separated persons. The issue seemed relatively simple. Will the Church allow them to receive communion? After all, when the topic of homosexuality came up in one interview, Pope Francis had said: “Who am I to judge.?“ But the Synod turned down this proposal.

There are bishops and members of the clergy who are trying to put up a brave front in discussing this rejection. Our very own Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle has been quoted as saying: “The drama continues.” Some members of the clergy have said that in giving communion, they will not ask whether the person asking for communion is gay, lesbian, separated, divorced or a single parent.

I had high hopes that the Church was ready for some cultural changes. After all, in Paragraph 47 the Pope had said: “The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open. One concrete sign of such openness is our church doors should always be open so that if someone moved by the Spirit comes there looking for God, he or she will not find a closed door. There are other doors that should not be closed either.

Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the door of the Sacraments be closed for simply any reason...But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.”

During the past year, it was not only the Church that has praised the new Pope. The world seems to have welcomed his message of simplicity and humility. Media, all over the world, has welcomed the new “rock star.” Millions greet him when he travels even to places like South Korea where the crowds were bigger than the Catholic population of the country.

One of his most talked about messages was Paragraph 54 in his Exhortation where he said: “...some people continue to defend trickle down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in sacralised workings of the prevailing economic utility. Meanwhile the excluded are still waiting.”

To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of Indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain , and feeling a need to help them as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.

The Culture Of Prosperity Deadens Us; We Are Thrilled If The Market Offers Us Something New To Purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.”

Yesterday, it was the iPhone 5. Today it is the iPhone 6 and tomorrow, the iPhone 7.

AIM Professor Mario Lopez has the simplest and clearest explanation of “trickle down” theory. The technical term is marginal utility. According to him, this basically means that if the rich become richer, they are supposed to consume less and save more. Therefore, the savings will turn into investments which will supposedly create more jobs for the poor.

But as Pope Francis has said, it is this ruthless culture of prosperity that has made income inequality wider and wider even in rich countries like the United States. As the rich become richer, they do not save or invest, they increase their level of luxury consumption. From large cars, they shift to luxury cars. From buying rib eye steaks, they shift to wagyu; from five star hotels, they shift to six star hotels; from sailing boats to yachts then to bigger yachts; and so on.

It becomes worse in developing countries, where the rich, as they become richer, spend their money in rich countries rather than in their own country. They send their children abroad to study and pay tuition fees and lodging expenses abroad with money earned in the Philippines. They buy homes and condos in the United States or Europe; increase their consumption of foreign made luxury brands and invest their money in the more advanced economies also with money earned in the Philippines. If there is any “trickle down,” it happens in the United States, Canada, Australia or England and not in the Philippines where it is needed by the poor. All these acts are defended on the basis of the so-called concept of free market or capitalism.

In Paragraph 56 of his Exhortations, Pope Francis said: “While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those Happy Few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation...To All This We Can Add Widespread Corruption And Self Serving Tax Evasion, Which Have Taken On Worldwide Dimensions. The Thirst For Power And Possessions Knows No Limits. “

But, today, how many Catholics have taken these Exhortations seriously? How many of the rich Christians continue to be guilty of tax evasion and money laundering? How many continue to maintain secret bank accounts in the British Virgin Islands and similar money laundering hubs?

Even the world seems indifferent. While the world economy continues to struggle, the number of billionaires have doubled since the 2008 worldwide financial crisis.

After the recently concluded Synod, some observers have said that in the Catholic Church change takes centuries not weeks. But perhaps the embattled Pope Francis can take some inspiration from Greek mythology. Hercules was given the task of cleaning the Augean Stables in one day. He realized that even a hero had to sometimes become dirty and smelly to accomplish a heroic task. Hercules was able to clean the stables in one day.

In his last paragraph, the Pope wrote: “We implore her [Mary] maternal intercession that the Church may become a home for many peoples, a mother for all peoples, and that the way may be opened to the birth of a NEW WORLD.”

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