The President and the Pope

I couldn’t help but being struck by the two approaches taken over the last few days by President Obama and Pope Francis regarding the poor and the less fortunate.  The President, as reported in today’s New York Times, was quoted as saying, “Racial tensions won’t get better; they may get worse, because people will feel as if they’ve got to compete with some other group to get the scraps from a shrinking pot.”  Several things are implicit in this statement.  First, the president assumes that only people of color are being left out of the flimsy economic recovery that’s occurring under his watch.  While it is true that there is, and has been, a disproportionate share of unemployment between the African American and White communities, that problem has been exacerbated and has grown during the last four and a half years under Obama’s Presidency.  Secondly, the quote clearly once again pits one group against another.  Under the guise of discussing the need for racial calm, the President states that racial tensions “may get worse.”  This language doesn’t bring unity; rather, its aimed at causing fear, divisiveness, and resentment towards “some other group.”  It only serves the President’s own interest in distracting from the real problem: his failure to lead.  It is fraught with discouragement – certainly not the audacity of hope.

To the contrary, Pope Francis, during the World Youth Conference this weekend in Brazil, talked extensively about the need for service to the poor and unfortunate. As reported in the Associated Press, over three million people came to see him celebrate mass on Rio’s Copacabana beach.  Pope Francis was quoted as saying, “No one can remain insensitive to the inequalities that persist in the world!  No amount of peace-building will be able to last, nor will harmony and happiness be attained in a society that ignores, pushes to the margins or excludes a part of itself.”  The “slum pope” as AP said he is dubbed for his work with the poor, is quoted further as saying, “You are often disappointed by facts that speak of corruption on the part of people who put their own interests before the common good. To you and all, I repeat: Never yield to discouragement, do not lose trust, do not allow your hope to be extinguished.”  He further criticized a culture of selfishness and individualism which is common in today’s society.

So I put these two quotes side by side.

First, President Obama: “Racial tensions won’t get better; they may get worse, because people will feel as if they’ve got to compete with some other group to get the scraps from a shrinking pot.”

And, Pope Francis from his first Encyclical, “Lumen Fidei,” or “The Light of Faith”: “We need to return to the true basis of brotherhood.  Faith teaches us that every man and woman represents a blessing for me, that the light of God’s face shines on me through the faces of my brothers and sisters.”

© 2013 James Stuckey

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