The news struck the whole world – the Pope was visiting the United States of America, and Barack Obama personally, on 23 September. The Pope’s US trip may have seemed like an uncontroversial event that wouldn’t draw any backlash, however it has raised several political questions.
We have to consider the mere fact that Pope Francis has made a huge U-turn regarding his teachings. He is more active in social media, and shows tolerance towards samesex couples. Bearing in mind his predecessor’s point of view on certain issues, it is understandable that some of the Republican Party members don’t welcome this change of direction from the leader of the Catholic Church. He is becoming more popular and concessive, so according to Republicans, more liberal, like a Democrat.
Furthermore, Pope Francis has talked many times against global capitalism. His argument is that the material progress that accompanies the expansion of the market is based on the exclusion and suffering of the powerless, and this is immoral. In addition, he speaks up against climate change, as in his latest United Nations General Assembly speech. He contemplated the right for everyone to have a clean and habitable environment as a basic human right.
So when he arrived in DC, the Republican Party naturally questioned the legitimacy of the Pope to speak on these issues. Which is pretty strange coming from the side of American politics that most often speaks of “Religious Rights”. For the record, I have to agree that he was out of line to say that the deal to lift sanctions against Iran “is a proof of the potential of political good will and of law, exercised with sincerity, patience and constancy”. It may seem that the Pontiff’s visit is just a political tool for the White House.
However he did not only mention Iran. With political intentions or not, the Pope has often spoken about serious issues, and this day was the highlight. What he spoke of went beyond politics: caring for the marginalized and the poor; advancing economic opportunity for all; serving as good stewards of the environment; protecting religious minorities and promoting religious freedom, welcoming and integrating immigrants and refugees, globally. This last point might be political while the first four aren’t necessarily. What else would you expect from the leader of the Catholic Church other than advocating for the protection of refugees who have no home because of war, oppression and terrorism? This coming from a person who gives spiritual guidance to people all around the world, so it seems a universal truth for him.
So those people who have criticised these values as liberal and harmful for too long, may now find themselves on the other side of the fence. Admitting that the value system, which they’ve identified with till now, proves to be the opposite of what they have been arguing for. So they would rather question the whole competence of an over 2000-year-old religion.