Since taking office in 2013, the world has been calmed by the presence of Pope Francis.
The documentary A Man of His Word notes his lifelong effort to respect each person, regardless of their station in life. Since becoming Pope, he has emphasized the importance of giving homes to refugees, challenged traditional Catholic teachings on homosexuality and taken action on the climate crisis.
There is one area of the his teaching that seems largely misunderstood, however. He speaks of how 20 per cent of the world’s population controls 80 per cent of the wealth, and how it’s dangerous to hoard material possessions. Yet he has inherited the leadership for one of the wealthiest institutions in the world.
Francis is definitely in a difficult station, as is any idealistic leader in charge of an institution so steeped in tradition and with an often scandalous past. Yet he is aware that behind this wealth and power-laden church lie the teachings of Jesus, a man who fully understood what was needed to bring true peace and happiness to each person. And Jesus was arguably the most influential individual in human history.
The challenge for Francis is leading according to these ancient ideals in a confused and modern world.
Francis is not a poor man by any stretch of the imagination. It’s not poverty that he professes. There’s no sanctity in poverty, just as there’s nothing inherently evil about wealth. The Pope uses money to serve him in reaching out to the world with a message of peace. He thus travels to far continents, welcomes global leaders and uses the media.
When he can, he leaves pretentious wealth behind, wearing simpler clothes than most popes, living in a smaller residence and driving smaller cars. One can often see him in a motorcade, waving at the crowd from the backseat of an economy car. His motto is: “A simple life is good for us, helping us to better share with those in need.”
While there’s no evil in money, one can do evil things with money. And that’s where Francis is quite blunt.
For example, he told members of the U.S. congress to stop selling weapons. They do nothing but cause untold suffering around the world. We cannot allow profit to be more important than the well-being of the human family.
This is the essence of the Pope’s message, not only about money but about the meaning of life. Every person is sacred, no matter where they’re born, no matter where they go to school, no matter how much money they have.
The Earth itself is sacred, and it’s the role of each of us to help others live to their greatest potential.
Those of us who have been given more can have a significant influence and so we need to take on greater responsibility in bringing about a better world.
The key to happiness, then, is to continually ask: Is this life-giving? This applies to our actions, our words, our thoughts and to everything we create. It applies to our interactions with others, our decisions and even to our political activity.
We will never all agree, but if we can respect each other and truly listen, keeping this ideal as our central focus, we will indeed find the best way forward.
We also need to remember that being life-giving is not a burden. It brings smiles, laughter and peace. It’s the essence of finding meaning in life, no matter who we are or where we live. It’s the joy of our common humanity, a joy to be celebrated.
It’s the essential message not only of Pope Francis, but of every great teacher and great leader who ever walked the Earth.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.
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