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Pope Francis’ political style on display: humble gestures, not fiery rhetoric

Pope Francis’ political style on display: humble gestures, not fiery
By Harry Bruinius, Staff writer SEPTEMBER 25, 2015

NEW YORK — Within the often stormy centers of secular power, Pope
Francis has brought a quiet and even deferential moral authority to
bitter political divides.

It is in many ways a moral authority rooted as much in personal gestures
and his deeply humble lifestyle as it is in the historic teachings of
the Catholic Church. He has washed the feet of those in , embraced
the disfigured, and opted for a simple four-door Fiat to get around this
week – actions of humility that have resonated around the world.

“I think he’s got really good political instincts, especially in his
instinct not to be overtly political,” says Terrence Tilley, professor
of Catholic theology at Fordham in New York. “That almost
sounds like a paradox, but it’s a kind of a style that keeps him
involved with the people, without regard to all the trappings of his

Recommended: How much do you know about Pope Francis?
Yet in the spirit of Jesus’ words to his disciples, perhaps – “Behold, I
am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as
serpents and innocent as doves” – the “pope of the periphery” has also
wielded his papal power this week with remarkable subtlety and shrewdness.

When he arrived in the United States on Tuesday, Francis immediately
waded into two of the most divisive political issues in the country:
immigration and climate change. “As the son of an immigrant family, I am
happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such
families,” he told Obama during the welcome ceremony Wednesday
on the South Lawn.

And the pope then praised the president for his proposals to combat air
pollution. “Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that
climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future
generation,” he said. “When it comes to the care of our common home, we
are living at a critical moment of history.”

Yet the author of “Laudato Si,” the controversial papal encyclical on
climate change, later that day made an unplanned stop at the convent of
the Little Sisters of the Poor, a “brief but symbolic visit,” the
Vatican said, showing support to the nuns suing the president over
Obamacare’s birth control provision, which they say violates their
religious .

“He’s an equal opportunity disturber in that, when we listen to some
things we smile, as we listen to other things he says we bristle,” New
York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan said last week. “But Jesus was like that,

During his stop in Cuba, too, the pope navigated his quiet moral
authority with a number of subtle gestures. And while many criticized
the pontiff for not meeting with dissidents or forcefully speaking out
for greater from the Castro regime, others saw the pope
sending clear messages, not only in his homilies, but again in the
places he chose to visit.

“Service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve
people,” Francis told a throng of thousands during last Sunday’s mass in
Havana’s Revolution Square, which includes a looming iron sculpture of
Che Guevara, the famous Argentine Marxist revolutionary.

And he later visited a group of students at the Felix Institute,
named for the 19th century advocate for Cuban independence – a Catholic
priest still considered a hero in Castro’s Cuba. The Catholic Church
offers workshops on business and economics here, and Francis’ visit
served to bolster the slow-moving economic reforms in the communist country.

And with the same spirit of reconciliation, compassion, and pastoral
service that has defined his papacy for the past 2-1/2 years, Francis
invoked symbols of Cuba’s heritage, telling the students here, “We need
to know who we are and where we came from…. The world needs young
people who will journey together in building a country like that which
[poet] José Martí dreamed of, ‘With all, and for the good of all.’ “

“Above all, Pope Francis came across as an agent of reconciliation,”
says R. Andrew Chesnut, the Bishop Walter F. Sullivan Chair in Catholic
Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, and an expert
on religion in Latin America. “And we saw him invoke the two great
symbols that unify all Cubans of whatever political stripes, whether
they’re in Miami or on the island itself, and that’s José Martí, the
father of Cuban independence, and The Virgin of Charity of El Cobre.”

Yet even at the shrine in El Cobre, Francis spoke of a “revolution of
tenderness,” a subtle reinterpretation of one of Cuba’s national themes.

And just as he had in Cuba, Francis invoked American heritage as he
spoke before a joint session of Congress on Thursday, the first pope to
do so. Using four Americans – Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr.,
Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton – the pope urged divided lawmakers “to
defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless
and demanding pursuit of the common good.”

Though he returned again to his main themes of immigration and climate
change during the address, he remained circumspect, clothing his forays
into politics as gentle moral exhortations. Even when he called for the
“responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage,” he
didn’t enter the divisive politics of abortion, but pivoted instead to
the need to end the death penalty.

On Friday, after addressing leaders at the United Nations, the first
Latin American pope will bring the his entourage to East Harlem,
visiting a group of third- and fourth-graders, children of poor
immigrants, many of them, at Our Lady Queen of Angels . And next
week he will visit the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in

“He’s been more attentive to the symbolism of the papacy in these
regards,” says John Sniegocki, professor of theology at Xavier
University in Cincinnati, Ohio. “A simple lifestyle, a simple papacy
resonates with people and gives more impact to his broader words and
broader critiques of global systems.”

Source: Pope Francis’ political style on display: humble gestures, not
fiery rhetoric – –

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