As a recovering "cathaolic" and more precisely as a proud practicing atheist, I find myself in uncharted territory. I despise organized religions. Everywhere you turn somebody is killing, bombing, terrorizing in the name of God. A god, whose existence has never been proven, and most importantly nowadays, does not have a Facebook page or a Twitter account.
Once in awhile a charismatic figure appears on the world stage: Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, The Dalai Lama: spiritual, compassionate, non-violent men, capable of changing planetary consciousness.
I did not imagine that such a person could come out of the Vatican.
But a tsunami named Francesco is that man. He hails from a place down under where its most revered icon, until now, was Eva Peron. In less than two years he has tried to show us where we are so that we know how to get somewhere else. And it's not a simple task teaching Christians to be Christian.
The 266th Vicar of Jesus Christ on Earth stepped on the balcony of St Peter's Cathedral April 2013. The Catholic Church and the world at large have not been the same since. A man whose obvious humility, empathy, and dedication to the disenfranchised, is perfectly suited for our times.
His humanity is revolutionary.
What has emerged so far is the tone of the dialogue combined with a defined sense of justice. Gone are the fire and brimstone speeches replaced by groundbreaking comments on a score of sensitive subjects. He has tackled and addressed science, corruption, divorce, poverty, exploitation, mafia, globalization, the environment and most importantly he has made the historical first fledgling, timid, embrace of gays as members of the world community. The latter is a monumental shift if one considers the engrained anti-LGBT culture within the Catholic hierarchy.
It does not yet mean that we can sit at the table as equals but the door is ajar. Simply by being non-judgmental and embracing the right of homosexuals to live their lives with dignity and respect, Pope Francis is quietly saying there is room for everyone under the cupola. It is a subliminal message of unprecedented universal tolerance. In tone and substance, his words "Who am I to judge" were the most uplifting words ever spoken by a pontiff to the LGBT community, anytime, anywhere. New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan said that the pontiff wants the Church to study same-sex unions, ‘rather than condemn them.’ And that's stunning in itself. Concern instead of censure? What a powerful message to send to the one billion Roman Catholics on this Earth.
He has been blunt, attacking tax evasion, migration, debt, corruption, sexual abuse, and the excesses of free markets. He has repeatedly spoken against mass layoffs: "attempting to increase profits by reducing the work force and thereby adding to the ranks of the unemployed is unconscionable, it is an economy of exclusion and idolatry of money by a financial system which rules rather than serves". Words that Jesus himself would have spoken if he were here today.
Francis seems unfazed by the expected backlash many of his comments have generated. The "Who Am I to Judge" phrase has grabbed headlines around the globe and it has become the key narrative of his pontificate.
It is sublime, divine, irony to watch the GOP scramble. After having played the GOD card for years it finds itself in a quagmire to rebuff the most revered and loved critic of income inequality. True to script once the trump card became worthless the GOP has pulled the second best in the deck:
Rush Limbaugh, and the ultraconservative American Catholics, called the Pope's message “pure Marxism.”
In response to his critics a smiling and almost chuckling Francis said:
"Am I a Communist because I speak on behalf of the poor and the homeless? That's odd because the love and concern for the poor is the core of the Gospels, it is the social doctrine of the Church, and it is the true meaning of being Christian.”
Francis has also called for interreligious dialogue; "so that there will be an end to all forms of fundamentalism and terrorism, which gravely demean the dignity of every human being and exploit religion.”
Recently he even had to say this on the matter of science: “I am happy to express my profound esteem and my warm encouragement to carry forward scientific progress.” It would be nice if Republicans were capable of that kind of enlightened thought. But, in the U.S., that might take a miracle.
There are moments in time when history suddenly accelerates its course and punishes those who remain behind, and history can be even harsher on those who try to set up obstacles and barriers in its path. This is one of those watershed moments.
Last month, Raymond Burke, America's highest-ranking cardinal at the Vatican, was officially removed from the Vatican's Supreme Court. The ultra-conservative and anti-gay cardinal continuously challenges the jurisdiction of Pope Francis, and the new receptive stance on homosexuality. Even the Catholic Church is moving ahead of anti-LGBT lawmakers and extremists in our country.
Pope Francis is not afraid of opening the sea and leading his flock to a new promised land. He is already changing the course of history through his words and symbolic gestures, distancing himself from an archaic religious dogma that has alienated so many of its followers.
No, I am not a born-again Catholic but he is my choice for Man of the Year. If they let him work, and live, he might turn out as The Man of the Century.
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