Pope Francis did something important in Bolivia last week.
He fanned the flames of people who work for justice — here in Louisville and around the world.
Speaking at the World Meeting of Popular Movements in Santa Cruz July 9, Pope Francis told activists — from union representatives to fishermen — to continue their struggle to combat the “many forms of exclusion and injustice they face.”
During his 55-minute speech, he focused primarily on economic justice and ecology.
He called the financial system that runs the world intolerable.
“Farmworkers find it intolerable, laborers find it intolerable, communities find it intolerable, peoples find it intolerable. The earth itself — our sister, Mother Earth, as St. Francis would say — also finds it intolerable,” he said.
When people make money their god, he said, “it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home.”
Pope Francis also pointed out, “perhaps the most important” task in the world today is to defend Mother Earth.
“Our common home is being pillaged, laid waste and harmed with impunity. Cowardice in defending it is a grave sin,” he said.
We are cowards — and committing a grave sin — if we fail to defend the Earth. Cowardice isn’t a word ordinarily applied to those causing harm to the Earth — especially corporate polluters and the CEOs at the helm.
If you take a moment to recall the Beatitudes, though, this characterization falls right into place. Take another look at these precepts in the Gospel of Matthew:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after justice, for they shall have their fill.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Read these carefully; pray about them. It’s easy to take for granted that we know what they say. But do we really live by these virtues?
Some people do and Pope Francis would like to see more of us — all of us — join in.
To those who think they can’t, the Holy Father points to the Blessed Mother, “a humble girl from a small town lost on the fringes of a great empire, a homeless mother who turned an animals’ stable into a home for Jesus with just a few swaddling clothes and much tenderness.”
“Let us say ‘no’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality, where money rules, rather than service,” he said. “That economy kills. That economy excludes. That economy destroys Mother Earth,” he said.
Pope Francis said the goal must be the creation of “a truly communitarian economy, one might say an economy of Christian inspiration. … It is an economy where human beings, in harmony with nature, structure the entire system of production and distribution in such a way that the abilities and needs of each individual find suitable expression in social life,” he said.
Here in the United States, where pillars of parish life also are often financial leaders in the community, it may be tempting to dismiss the pope’s words. Who is he to talk economics, after all?
That would be the wrong question. Who am I, who claim to be a follower of Christ, to dismiss the Gospel?
Pope Francis isn’t saying anything new — it’s there in black and white, plain as day in Scripture; we hear it every Sunday from our clergy and lectors. Pope Francis is giving it new urgency.
Who will respond?