November 20, 2014, Thursday — Pope Francis addresses the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization FAO)

“These people are just asking for dignity. They beg us for dignity, not for charity.” —Pope Francis, speaking today to officials at FAO, the UN Food and Agriculture headquarters in Rome

Two points about the Pope’s remarks today in Rome to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization:

1) the Pope’s emphasis on the word dignity — he said that the poor, the hungry, do not so much wish to receive charity — food and water — as to have their dignity granted, or restored; and

2) speaking to an audience of international government officials and functionaries who are part of a “global elite” which often can be quite critical of the Catholic Church, its leadership, and its moral teachings, Pope Francis received cheers and standing applause.

Taken together, these two points reveal much about this pontificate.

Strikingly, many traditional Catholics (as I have noted in my recent letters) have been critical of Francis since his election on March 13, 2103. These Catholics, often laudably coherent in practicing what they profess, have faulted Francis for allegedly not being clear enough in his presentation of the Church’s moral doctrine. They have suggested that Francis’ winning the applause of “the world” is a danger sign, not a positive development.

So Pope Francis has won the affection and respect of the world’s poor, and of many “liberals,” Catholics and non-Catholics alike, but has run into problems which what one would have thought would be any Pope’s “core support group,” conservative Catholics.

If many of the sharp critics of the Pope have been the more publicly devout members of his own Church, many of his admirers have been those estranged from the Church, and critical of or skeptical toward the Church.

This makes Francis’ pontificate quite fascinating.

And this is why its next phase — the phase from now until the conclusion of the Synod in October 2105 — will go far to determining the historical importance of this pontificate.

During this next phase, the Pope will likely continue to win high marks from those who have admired him up to now.

No other public figure in the world right now is able to speak with such authenticity and impact on the problems of the poor.

The root source of this credibility is his emphasis on the dignity of the poor.

The poor love Francis because he doesn’t condescend, speak down, to anyone. Rather, he talks to the poor as to equals, and as if they have great dignity even in their neediness.

In this, Francis is following the teaching of Christ, who taught that the poor should be cared for as one would care for Christ.

In recent decades, the global elites have been more or less impervious to Christian moral teaching, though a grudging respect was shown to Paul VI and John Paul II (not so much to Benedict XVI, perhaps the most unjustly vilified public figure of the past half century). They have mocked the Church’s teaching on contraception, they have mocked the Church’s conviction that widely available abortion would not improve, but harm, the lot of women, and so forth.

But Francis is admired by many in these “global elites,” as these videos show.

Francis has spoken clearly on many occasions about Church moral doctrine, so the claim that his overall teaching is confusing is not true.

He has occasionally left space, sometimes considerable space, for confusion.

But these occasions have been exploited by the media. They have been blown up, exaggerated. He has been presented as a “progressive” even when his whole way of life is similar to that of a monk, with his life revolving around prayer and the liturgy.

Leaving space for confusion has been the Achilles’ heel of this pontificate thus far.

But precisely for this reason, this “weak point” in the pontificate is likely to be “shored up,” starting now.

Francis will begin to speak more clearly on Church doctrine in order to slowly win back those “conservatives” in his own flock who have been worried and disappointed in recent months, while all the while retaining his credentials on “the left.”

Those credentials are so “solid” now that Francis is in an enviable position: he can become clearer, more “conservative,” without altering his positions on the love of the poor and oppressed a single bit.

Thus, Francis is in a position to surprise us.

He might, for example, in part for ecumenical reasons (to reach out to the Orthodox with their rich liturgy) decide to celebrate Mass publicly according to the old rite (the old Latin Mass), something even Pope Benedict never did.

And, he might consider a public prayer for Russia which would involve consecrating that country to Mary’s Immaculate Heart — perhaps together with the Russians themselves — if the meaning of such a consecration could be clearly articulated and understood as a positive thing and a blessing, not something spiritually colonizing or condescending.

Here are two Rome Reports videos (with the text of the video) which, if you have time for one or both (they are just a minute long each), you may watch to see how Francis was teaching today in Rome.

Video #1: Francis to staff at FAO


Text: Pope to FAO staff: We may be facing a war for water

November 20, 2014

Pope Francis held a brief meeting with the employees of the Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO, in Rome. He thanked them for their silent fight against hunger and their promotion of good nutrition and agriculture in the world. He asked them to remember that each one of their decisions influence the life of individuals.

POPE FRANCIS: “I know you have a spirit of solidarity and understanding towards everybody. I know that you go beyond all the paperwork and see behind each practice the sad faces and hard situations of those who suffer from famine and thirst. Water is not free, as we usually think. It will be a huge problem that could lead us to another war.”

More than tackling a social issue, the Pope told them, the FAO’s work is all about respecting the dignity of the people.

POPE FRANCIS: “These people are just asking for dignity. They beg us for dignity, not for charity. And this is your job. To help them embrace their dignity.”

A huge applause welcomed his words. The Pope was also greeted with several cheers’, a treat uncommon in official visits to the UN.

Video #2: Pope Francis to a global congress convened by FAO

Text: Pope at FAO: There’s food for everyone but not everyone has access to it


November 20, 2014

Pope Francis arrived to the FAO headquarters in Rome and was welcomed by the Director General of this organization, José Graziano da Silva.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization held its Second International Conference on Nutrition. Pope Francis addressed its assembly with a speech that criticized that profit often overshadows the food industry.

POPE FRANCIS: “It is also painful to see that the struggle against hunger and malnutrition is hindered by “market priorities”, the “primacy of profit”, which have reduced food to a commodity like any other, subject to speculation, also of a financial nature. And while we speak of new rights, the hungry remain, at the street corner. They ask to be recognized as citizens, to receive a healthy diet. We ask for dignity, not for charity.”

Using an image that John Paul II used during his visit to the same organization back in 1992, Pope Francis talked about the so called “paradox of abundance.”

POPE FRANCIS: “There is food for everyone, but not everyone can eat, while waste, excessive consumption and the use of food for other purposes happens before our very eyes.”

Any kind of pressure on food distribution, the Pope continued, is unacceptable. He also said the planet should be taken care of.

POPE FRANCIS: “I remember a phrase that I heard from an elderly man many years ago: God always forgives… our shortcomings, our abuse, God always forgives; people forgive at times; but the Earth never forgives. We must care for our sister the Earth, our Mother Earth, so that she does not respond with destruction.”

The Pope concluded that individualism and division in society end up taking away the dignity of the poorest. He also called on the international community to save lives by tackling world hunger.

(to be continued)

The Anthropological Question

“You live in a deranged age, more deranged than usual, because, in spite of great scientific and technological advances, man has not the faintest idea of who he is or what he is doing.” —Walker Percy (1916-1990), American Catholic convert and writer, author of The Message in the Bottle and Lost in the Cosmos

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