I wonder whether the Catholic Church is mature enough to appreciate the words of its supreme pontiff. But it may not be easy for the community of the faithful to reject them.
This writer is not a Christian, but a materialist who does not believe either in god or in any religion. But I do respect the genuinely faithful in all religions. Pope Francis attracts communists like me in many ways. He is a spiritual teacher who has shown himself to be adept at rewriting the old chemistry between communism and religious beliefs.
The world has been observing the words and deeds of Pope Francis since he occupied the Holy See of the Catholic Faith in 2013. His concern for an equitable and just society is palpable. Whatever may be the outlook and philosophy of those who desire a better world, he opens up possibilities of consensus.
In his encyclical, Fratelli tutti, released recently at the Vatican, the pontiff unequivocally declared that all the magical theories of market capitalism have failed — including its mesmerising promise of the “trickle down”. In his Apostolic Exhortation in 2013, The Joy of the Gospel, the Pope described this theory as a myth. He said that the trickle-down promise cannot solve the problem of new types of violence and inequality created by neoliberal reforms. The new encyclical, published in the Vatican magazine, L’Osservatore Romano, and brought out after the COVID-19 lockdown has already influenced the thinking processes and mindsets of many. Jesus’s emphasis on the humiliated and afflicted finds a voice in the stand taken by the Pope.
In Laudato si, in 2015, he described the economic injustice imposed by globalisation. It made a microscopic minority richer while the great majority of the poor were driven to the margins of mainstream social life. This, says the pontiff, is great injustice. He did not hesitate to say that the resources of the earth belonged to the entire humanity and that the rich have no special ownership or authority over them. Pope Francis has talked about the injustice meted out by “capital” to the vulnerable sections of society. The extreme right-wing in America has branded him a “Communist at the Vatican”. The Pope responded by stating that he was not a Communist, but if they spoke the right things, he would affirm them.
What always resonates in the pontiff’s message is his constant concern about the future of the world. In the third encyclical, he says that there can be no justification for war. This is also significant in that the pontiff rejects the concept of a justifiable war long held by the Church. The military-industrial complex that rakes up contentious issues to feed the arms trade, fuel animosity and stoke war will never agree with such a position. The Trump administration and the right-wing Republicans oppose him.
Behind the Pope’s composure is the conviction that the function of faith is to love, not bruise. In 2019, when he entered into discussions with Sunni-Muslim leaders at Al Azhar in Egypt, he described it as a tryst of human brotherhood. He has approached the problems of migrants with the same sentiment. To the forces of extreme nationalism and hatred, he has made clear the Church’s attitude — one that is a departure from the times when the Church cooperated with these forces.
After the pandemic, humankind will attempt to rebuild the world. Even then, some people are very likely to think that the path shown by capitalism is the only way. But it’s a path where disaster stalks at every corner — it would be wrong to not see the forces of capitalism behind climate change, global warming and the spread of the pandemic.
It is suicidal to hope that new life will sprout in the shade of the old power structures. The new age demands new thoughts and ideas. The future of ideologies and religious teachings depends upon their response to these challenges. It is to this platform that Pope Francis enters, addressing us all as brothers and sisters. What makes him different is his infinite and unconditional love. That is why, though not a believer, I feel like loving him.
As its head, the pontiff does not hesitate to question the attitude held by the Church for many a century. We assume that he is guided by the desire to direct the Church and the faithful along the pulses of the changing world. Of course, he has faced criticism — and will continue to do so. His position on homosexuality has not found total endorsement from his flock. But the humiliation heaped on the LGBT community needs to be called out. Messages of universal brotherhood cannot help to correct past mistakes. These messages need to be informed by a sense of justice — and therein lies the importance of Pope Francis.
This article first appeared in the print edition on November 5, 2020 under the title ‘Full Marx to Pope Francis’. The writer is secretary, National Council of the CPI and a Rajya Sabha MP
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