Is Pope Francis a Radical?
By Bill Ayres
As we prepare for Pope Francis to visit our country what should we expect? Is he just another pope who speaks good words or is he really a radical out to save the environment and bring justice for the poor and oppressed by challenging capitalism and its "dominate technological paradigm."
The word radical means getting to the root cause of a problem. Francis understands that the root cause of hunger is poverty and the root cause of poverty is powerlessness and injustice. He follows the teaching of Jesus who taught his followers that leadership means service, not domination, especially service to the powerless, the poorest of the poor. Many believe "that the problems of hunger and poverty will be resolved simply by market growth." Francis dismantles this myth in his recent encyclical Laudate Si'.
He also states clearly in his encyclical that the root cause of our environmental crisis is our misuse of the goods of the Earth and our role of dominance over nature. He calls for an Ecological Conversion to an Integral Ecology that features a deep openness to awe and wonder. He challenges the "dominate technological paradigm" that bows to the ever expanding and pervasive forces of technology and the media. He says that the technical mind sees nature "as a cold body of facts, as a mere given, as an object of utility, as raw material to be hammered into useful shape." The powerful who have this mentality also "consider themselves as more human than others, as if they had been born with greater rights."
Francis sees a direct connection between our environmental crisis and the plight of the poor. "The gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest and cause the premature death of many of the poor."
What is his answer to the dual problems of environmental crisis and poverty and hunger? He reaches deep into his faith to say that "God's love is the fundamental moving force in all created things." "Injustice is not invincible." "All it takes is one good person to restore hope." But Francis is also a realist, he knows that real change must come from the bottom up, through the thousands of communities that organize themselves to grow food in a way that is friendly to the environment and to people, not only for profit. They refuse to be powerless.
"It is imperative to promote an economy which favors productive diversity and business creativity. There is a great variety of small scale food production systems which feed the great majority of the world's peoples, using a modest amount of land and producing less waste, be it small agricultural parcels, in orchards and gardens, hunting and wild harvesting or local fishing."
Some have already dismissed the encyclical as the unrealistic dreams of a well- meaning but out of touch leader. Others see Francis as a dangerous critic of capitalism. It will be interesting to see how he is welcomed by Americans this month. There is already a Movement of Movements in the U.S. focusing on all the issues he tackles in Laudato Si'. It has several dimensions: hunger, poverty and homelessness, the rights of small farmers, farmworkers and food workers, the environmental connections with poverty, the water crisis, the drive for good nutritious food, the epidemic of obesity and its relation to diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
Pope Francis will be welcomed by all these organizers and activists and all who are trying to live in partnership with the Earth and one another. Those who are dominators will reject and fear his message, including men who dominate women, bosses who dominate their workers, politicians, business leaders and clerics who do not serve but dominate and all who see nature primarily as a source of profit and gain. But for the majority who are tired of economic injustice, racism and grinding poverty, Pope Francis is a hero who brings hope and the message of God's love to all.
I have been an advocate and a servant of the poor for 50 years, for the first 13 years as a Roman Catholic priest and for the last forty years as a co-founder and leader of WhyHunger, a grassroots support organization that works with hundreds of these community based organizations that are changing the lives of the poorest of the poor all over the world and right here in America. I rejoice that Pope Francis is calling the church and all people into the movement to save our beautiful Earth and to support all those who are struggling to have a better life free from domination and poverty.
Bill Ayres is WhyHunger Co-Founder and Ambassador