By Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)
“It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good””
– Pope Francis
I liked Pope Francis the very first time he came to the scene in March 2013. This 266th pope is a very deeply intellectual person; he is very understanding, well-read and open-minded. I have enormous admiration for him, although while a believer I am neither Catholic nor member of any established church.
After Pope Francis’s investiture and a couple of sermons later, as could be seen from my blog, I have written about him several articles. I strongly felt at the time that he was the man in wait for the job and ever since from time to time I find things to scribble something about him.
The first article I wrote about him: New Pope is Francis I for St Francis of Assisi: What is in a name?, came on the day of his investiture and after I heard him speak to the faithful and the larger world.
In the article, I observed: “The 76-year old pope exudes air of friendliness, sympathy and determination, at the same time.”
I am not disappointed thus far. He still has with him his soft heart for the poor, the infirm and destitute; most importantly, he knows he has to speak truth to power and does it so well, as we saw in the US Congress today. Rest assured, he also knows the Biblically Christ’s way of washing and kissing the feet of his lesser fellow clergymen in his Church.
Pope Francis has brought humility into the historically powerful and wealthy Catholic Church – the very inheritor of Western values and civilization via the very Church of St.Peter – which across history unfortunately had failed to carry either his message or brought hope to those that needed it through the centuries.
This view is not oblivious to the many charity works the Church has undertaken in many parts of the world.
At the same time, let’s not forget that over the years the Catholic Church had most often been on the wrong side of history. One of the many examples of this includes the invasion of my country, Ethiopia, in the 1930s by Italian fascists under Mussolini’s command.
The consequence is that an estimated million Ethiopians lost their lives due to bombing from the air, ground attacks with more modern weapons and mustard gas. History has found the Church an accomplice of the Fascist regime, at least, through its refusal of request by the victim nation for intervention. The Catholic Church favored its cover-ups of mustard gas attacks against poorly armed Ethiopians, despite appeals by Ethiopia and also international humanitarian activists to enlist its intervention.
I hope someday the Pope will find reason to launch investigation into this and offer Ethiopia – a proud nation – the apology it deserves!
The essence of the Catholic Church’s worldliness in all the years has been better captured by my favorite writer Mario Puzo – in this case – his novel The Godfather. I borrowed the book from a friend who had also borrowed it from another friend and had the pleasure of reading it as a student at Haile Selassie I University in the early 1970s – I must add just for an overnight, before the movie’s screening the next evening.
While there is distinction between fact and fiction, I must stress, for me The Godfather has convincingly exposed fleshliness of the Church. In history, there are explanations for that.
In the past centuries this was attributed to ignorance of common folks across Europe and Church elites prevailing; in modern times the mafia was blamed for the Church’s corruption. Today’s blemishes would also appear tomorrow, when we read today’s shenanigans in tomorrow’s history pages.
Not surprisingly, since WWII it had been rumored that the mafia in Italy had a hand even in political power, which resulted with the 41st prime minister Giulio Andreotti being found guilty of conspiring with the Cosa Nostra. He could not be indicted because of statute of limitations.
All subsequent things I had read about the Church’s earthliness have also affirmed to me the same, prevalence of human frailties, weakness of the flesh, as the Church would put it, without allowing its fingers to point in its direction.
The consequence is that the Catholic Church of over a billion following worldwide started losing, not money, but its flock.
Fortunately, history has its ways and thus now it has evidently become the avocation of Argentina’s Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Pope Francis, to save the Church from itself. The miracle can clearly be seen in the man’s deft hands, if one cares to give thought to some of his important reforms in the past year and in 2015, including his strategies about effectualizing them.
Therefore, it should be a great honor for the Catholic Church in having him; he too has ably been employing with great dexterity and in style the opportunities it has afforded him to save the world.
Did I hear them say he used to love the tango dance, when he was a teenager? That must be his potion!
The fact that Pope Francis traces his roots to the Order by St Francis Assisi (1181-1226) explains his commitment to the environment. St Francis Assisi has been known as the patron saint of animals and the environment. This is said to be the reason why the Catholic and Anglican Churches hold annual ceremonies to bless animals on the clergyman’s day of feast, that is October 4.
On March 13, 2013, I wrote on my blog, “Also his naming of himself after St Francis of Assisi is another possible indicator of, as some experts already mentioned, his determination to be a reformist church leader.”
Pope Francis is the first non-European to head the Roman Catholic Church in its entire history.
Might I mention that, while Ethiopia has been a Christian country since literally the early days of Christianity, records show that it has maintained contacts with the Church. Since it had been predominantly Orthodox Christian, it only had minorities of adherents other faiths. However, the Catholic Church has maintained relations with Ethiopia, although formal relations through representatives started in 1937, while formalized with the Holy only in 1957.
Even then, its appointee representatives had been foreigners. To his credit, within nine months of his investiture, Pope Francis appointed an Ethiopian to strengthen the relations with Ethiopia through an Ethiopian representative of his Church.
I was privileged to be among the earliest to welcome his gesture on my blog, even ahead of the TPLF regime in Addis Abeba. They took essential details from my blog, to their credit with acknowledgement by Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom, to congratulate the appointee Mons. Berhaneyesus Demerew – including the picture, as it still appears on his Facebook page.
I do hope that Pope Francis would further look deep into Africa at this difficult time with his wisdom and blessings.
Below is the video of his speech in the US Congress on Sept 24, 2015. Full text of his speech can also be found here, courtesy of Vox.
Pope Francis says:
“…Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms.
But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject.”
“A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to “dream” of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.”