Douglas Roche


August 17, 2015

Pope Francis' trip to the United States in September, including speeches to the U.S. Congress and the UN General Assembly, will certainly put a spotlight on how the leader of the Catholic Church sees the solution to global problems challenging human security in the world today.

The pope is not coming into these political bear pits to offer only spiritual consolation. He has a lot to say about the unjust economic system that is at the root of much suffering today and he's not afraid to involve himself in political discourse.

A prime example of Francis's activism is his widely acclaimed encyclical, Laudato Si', in which he calls on people to take "swift and unified global action" to protect our common home against consumerism, environmental degradation and global warming.

The pope provided a setting for U.S. and Cuba to meet to re-establish diplomatic relations. He conferred with Russian president Vladimir Putin in a lengthy meeting. He spoke out for recognition of the "state of Palestine." He hosted mayors from around the world at a working meeting on the environment.

In these actions, Francis is personally projecting the interests of the Church in the well-being of all humanity. These interests were not suddenly discovered by Francis. Rather, they stem from the large body of social teaching of the Church stretching back to the end of the 19th century.

The Church's teaching on social justice was summed up in one of the great documents of the Second Vatican Council, The Church in the Modern World, in which it was affirmed: "The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the [people] of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these too are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ."

The force of his personality is driving these ideas forward. But the pope is not a Lone Ranger. Doubtless, not every prelate is in full support of Francis' dynamic outreach, yet it cannot be said that this pope has jumped ahead of his Church.

Nor can it be said that Francis has exceeded his predecessors in involvement in worldly affairs. Pope John XXIII played a key role in defusing the Cuban Missile Crisis and Pope John Paul II intervened to help Poland stand up to communism and is credited with helping to end the Cold War.

Incidentally, both popes have been acclaimed saints.

So Pope Francis stands on a strong base. And the rock-star treatment he is receiving indicates how hungry the world is for the leadership of hope and action. The pope is popular because he has stepped into a vacuum.

Look around the world. Try to find a political leader who lifts people up and shows them a vision of economic justice, sustainable development and peace. If people are cynical today, it is because political leaders, or I should say those politicians who pretend to be leaders, have made them cynical.

The present U.S. presidential campaign is a disgrace and an insult to the intelligence of caring people. The Canadian scene may not be quite as vituperative, but it is hardly inspiring.

The rest of the world is filled with grasping and corrupt political figures whose disingenuousness is their chief characteristic.

Francis is seen as a humble straight-shooter unafraid to take on global capitalism. The revolution he is sparking is not conflict in the streets but conversion in the heart.


The millions who turned out to catch a glimpse of him in South America were responding to their spiritual hunger for justice. Even hardened New Yorkers will be carried away in a frenzy for Francis.

Francis is taking on the big global issues: economic exploitation, the arms trade, pollution, human rights abuses. Framing all his messages are his signature notes of love and mercy. His spiritual teaching definitely connects the body to the soul.

People are stuck in the clay. He doesn't just offer them hope to hold on; he wants to unclog the clay holding them down. That's why the people love him.

Of course, those who persist in thinking the Church has no business in "politics" profess to be shocked or disenchanted at Francis' boldness. But the politics of life extends far beyond partisan wrangling.

The politics of life is how seven billion people are to live in peace on a damaged planet. That is an issue crying out for spiritual leadership. And Pope Francis is responding.