By eschewing many of the trappings of his office and reaching out to all people, Pope Francis has positioned himself to speak with unprecedented moral authority. If one were to boil down the essence of Pope Francis’ ministry it is a message of hope, of respect for the sanctity of life, of the dignity of human beings, and a call to action to leaders everywhere to accept responsibility for finding solutions to the problems of mankind.
His charge to leadership, whatever their venue, is to build bridges that bring people together in search of shared interests. He challenges leaders to set aside personal agendas and to develop a process whereby people can work together toward the common good.
This message is of particular importance to the leadership of democratic governments because democracy demands cooperation among those with opposing points of view. Pope Francis’ support of the negotiations with Cuba and the controversial Iran agreement regarding the use of nuclear power are examples of this process. The Iran agreement is far from perfect but it is the outcome of a commitment of the parties to find common ground and to begin the process of replacing suspicion and mistrust with cooperation and goodwill.
Maybe this is why Pope Francis was chosen at this particular point in history; a time when so much is at stake for humanity. We live in a world that is in desperate need of solutions that benefit all people and not just a select and privileged few. It is almost as if the Pope senses that democratic governments are teetering on the precipice of collapse. This is most certainly true in the U.S.
We have become a people divided at almost every turn, filled with bitterness and resentment for people who are different than us whether rich or poor; white or black; Muslim, Jew, or Christian; citizens or immigrants, legal or illegal; conservative and liberal. The inability of our elected representatives to put the interests of the whole before the interests of the few places our democracy at risk.
When some leaders seem compelled to impose their points of view on others, the very premise of democracy is threatened. The more difficult it becomes to find common ground the more imperative it is that we do find it.
The U.S. population is more diverse than it has ever been in almost every conceivable way and never again will it be less diverse than it is today. As a result, certain segments of our population are at odds with other segments and the differences threaten our society at its core.
Whether issues of race, poverty, government spending, immigration, healthcare, public education, aging, social welfare, or the environment the issues that divide us are cavernous in their extreme. The irony is that each of these problem sets have solutions that will not only serve the interests of all parties but can also transform American society to a new level of prosperity and world leadership. They are solutions, however, that can only be found beyond the boundaries of conventional wisdom.
Not one of us has the right to put our own selfish interests ahead of the interests of others whether we are elected representatives of a legislative body, a president or governor, or even a county clerk in Kentucky. Neither do we have the right to play God and sit in judgment of others. Perhaps sharing this message is one of the things Pope Francis has been chosen to do.
We all have a responsibility to give the best of ourselves to our brethren and to our communities. We have a duty to accept responsibility to do what is right and just, knowing that if any judgment is passed it is we who will be held accountable.