During his visit to Washington, DC, Pope Francis calls for civil civic engagement to solve problems. Will we listen?
Thousands have flocked to see and listen to the Pope in Washington, DC over the past two days. They have not been disappointed. The Pope has inspired. And he has reminded us all, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, that it is the duty of compassionate people to look for opportunities to solve problems by working with, rather than demonizing, those of different faiths and political creeds.
First, the Pope reminded the members of the U.S. Congress, which is nearly the least productive in history, that: “A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces.”
Second, the Pope reminded us all that life is complicated and that people are often called upon to make difficult choices in complex circumstances: “There is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners.”
For me, these words also serve as a reminder that there is room for disagreement among well-intentioned people, particularly on complicated issues. In the context of American political life, we should avoid the temptation to see policy in normative binary terms (good or bad, right or wrong, moral or immoral, capitalist or socialist, right or left, conservative or liberal). Although you would not necessarily know it from watching speeches on the floor of Congress or cable TV news programs, Americans have the capacity for complexity and can see (apparently as many as 50) shades of grey. We can, for example, acknowledge and accept that fixing federal programs is not always a choice between “more spending” versus “market-based reform.” We understand that balancing our budget is not necessarily a choice between “taxing the rich” and “cutting spending.” We would welcome more Jack Handeys in Congress. And the Pope has reminded us that God does not, in fact, forbid compromise.
These are indeed rare words in Washington, DC. My question is this: Was anyone really listening? Of the thousands who gathered to hear the Pope speak, how many will write their elected officials tomorrow and urge action on immigration reform? Caring for the impoverished? Ensuring environmental protection while pursuing economic growth?
The symbolism of the Pope on the steps of the Capitol of the world’s leading democracy should not be lost on anyone. It was a call for civil civic engagement to solve pressing problems. Who will heed the call?