There’s something different about the 266th pontiff.
I can’t quite put my finger on what it is.
“Is he really not all that Catholic?”
Well, no, I think he must be pretty Catholic if he’s the Pope.
“Is it the fact that he’s from Latin America?”
This is true, and I think it’s cool that he’s from Argentina, but no, that’s not it …
“What about the fact that he cares about the environment?”
Maybe that’s it—or at least part of it.
Abrahamic religions tend to perpetuate the mindset that the Earth should more or less be treated as an inert object intended for human use.
“Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it,” commands Genesis 1:28.
This doctrine stands in contrast to a number of other religious traditions. The Andean peoples of pre-Columbian South America venerated the earth goddess Pachamama and believed humans should live in a state of equity and reciprocity with her.
The ancient Greeks held their earth goddess, Gaia, who was thought to be the mother of both gods and mortals, in similar esteem.
The Western world has of course been profoundly influenced by Abrahamic dogmas. Regard for the Earth as basically a tool for human subsistence has been used to justify, under the aegis of religion, the rapacious acquisition of natural resources for human industry, at the expense of plant and animal life—in many cases, even those of native people.
I find it curious, then, that Pope Francis, the leader of one of the largest iterations of Abrahamic faith throughout history, published an encyclical arguing that, from a Roman Catholic perspective, humans have a responsibility to care for the Earth.
Granted, some of the groundwork had been laid by St. Francis of Assisi, who, “reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us,” according to the Pope. But still.
There is something oddly progressive, perhaps maybe even “cool” about this Pope.
We know that he hails from Buenos Aires and that while there, he lived modestly, applied himself to a rigorous daily routine and set about carrying out all kinds of humanitarian efforts. This article does a good job of redacting some of the Pope’s efforts prior to assuming office in Rome.
Along with his concern for the environment, Pope Francis has been a vocal supporter of immigrants. During his U.S. tour, he delivered a number of masses in Spanish, and that, of course, resonates not only with this Argentine compatriots, but with the entire Hispanic community in the U.S.
In Washington, he delivered a speech that moved Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner to tears.
Pope Francis claimed that, “All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity,” which sounds like it could have come right out of Aristotle’s “Politics.”
Issues like same-sex relationships, abortion and feminism, appear to be a bit more thorny for this pontiff, as one might expect they would be for any contemporary religious leader. But these aren’t my areas of expertise, so I’ll leave them aside for now.
I’m observing the Pope’s moves here as neither an ardent or disgruntled Catholic, nor as a harsh secular critic or a devout follower of another faith.
The claim that all people are inherently equal and hence should have equal rights and protections—perhaps the essence of social liberalism—is something that I think lies at the heart of both the Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.
It seems to me to be echoed in the way Pope Francis has lived thus far and in his exhortations to our law-making body on Capitol Hill.
Combined with his forthright and scientifically rigorous arguments for environmentalism, this emphasis on social justice makes the current Pope somewhat of an idealist crusader.
In the end, since he is first and foremost the leader of the Catholic Church, the Church’s crusades will be Francis’s crusades.
But I think we may yet hope that the egregious missteps of the year 1096 won’t be repeated in our time.
Perhaps under the leadership of someone who cares as strongly for the outcasts of society as well as for the Earth upon which we all live as Francis does, the Catholic Church may yet be on its way to carry out some noble endeavors.
Whether these come to fruition or not, we shall wait and see.
Featured Photo Credit: Pope Francis visits Palo Cathedral in one of his sorties in Leyte Province Saturday, Jan.17, 2015. The Pope announced his shortened visit to the province due to on going typhoon in the area. He made a quick blessing to items presented to him by some of the churchgoers in the cathedral before leaving. (Photo by Benhur Arcayan/Malacanang Photo Bureau/CC)
Horus Alas is senior philosophy major and can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.