I will always remember the image of the young man in Tiananmen Square who stepped in front of a tank and stopped the Chinese military and caused the entire world to watch in awe. I will always remember the election Pope Francis who chose to wear a wooden cross and bow for the blessing of the people. Today Senator Portman, an Ohio republican, stated a change of heart on marriage equality because his son is gay.
How courageous it was for that young man in Tiananmen square and how inspiring to the rest of the world. He may never know how many people were willing to stand for human rights because of his actions. Likewise, Pope Francis sent a powerful message this week when he wore a wooden cross, bowed for the blessing of the people, took a bus, and paid his own hotel bill. The symbols did not require the courage of stepping in front of a tank, but did require the humility that is so rare today. The trifecta was today when Senator Portman publically discussed his desire for his son to have equal rights. He put aside his judgmental beliefs about sin and embraced the forgiveness and compassion that are signs of God’s Divine power.
What if one person chooses to lead with concern for the suffering of others and let that concern guide his or her actions without any concern for self? What if that leader chose not to take on a judgmental attitude about the sins of others? I think we would follow, just as people followed Jesus. I hope and believe that Pope Francis has the humility that is needed today to approach policies that are desperately needed.
It is clear that we must address poverty and violence. There are currently 28 pieces of legislation that have been introduced in the 113th Congress related to guns and an additional 46 that address poverty. The sad fact is that gun violence has a greater impact on people in poverty and not just in the United States. The trafficking in guns has a devastating impact in Africa and not just is lives.
Knowing the impact of guns and violence on poverty, today the increase in the minimum wage was rejected in the House of Representatives. The current minimum wage is 35% below the poverty level. One must ask, how is that we can set a minimum wage below the poverty line when we know it is not a livable wage? Likewise we must ask businesses, especially large and profitable businesses with excessively rich owners, how it is that they do not voluntarily pay higher wages. If we know that those in poverty are at grater of violence what are we saying when we pay low wages? How much is a life worth? How do your justify your greed and what do you tell yourself to make it acceptable?
I look to Pope Francis with hope. I look to him because he voluntarily took a vow of poverty. He chose wood over gold. He chose to pay his own bills, to live in modesty, and to cook his own meals. As a Cardinal he said,“…the duty “to work to change the structural causes and personal or corporate attitudes that give rise to this situation (of poverty), and through dialogue reach agreements that allow us to transform this painful reality we refer to when we speak about social debt.” Cardinal Bergoglio said the challenge to eradicate poverty could not be truthfully met as long as the poor continue to be dependents of the State. The government and other organizations should instead work to create the social conditions that will promote and protect the rights of the poor and enable them to be the builders of their own future…” Chris Nunez, said “maybe he’s reiterating, in his own words, exactly what the late and much loved Dom Helder Camara (Brazil) said about the nature of violence. #1 violence is structural violence that inhibits the ability of the people to participate in the economy in a way that helps them escape poverty.” Violence is not just gun violence. Domestic violence, war, and terrorism all keep people in poverty.
I choose to be close to the poor and the victims of violence. I choose to be close to them because the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and where I find the poor and where I find the victims of violence I will also find my Lord.
The LORD confronts the evildoers, to destroy remembrance of them from the earth. When the just cry out, the LORD hears them, and from all their distress he rescues them (PS 34:17-18)