The Pope has landed in Washington, DC. What can we expect? An anathema directed at Mr. Trump might be too much to wish for, but one can pray. Visits by dignitaries are as common in DC as rallies and ruckuses. Most accomplish very little. They generate a press story or two, our local constabulary adroitly keeps the crowds corralled and the traffic moving, and we quickly return to the daily grind.
Will Pope Francis break the mold?
Religion in America today looks nothing like the sweeping, hope-filled crusades of Dr. Martin Luther King’s day. The dulcet tones of “We Shall Overcome” are distant echoes. Today, far too much of our religious dialog is in the realm of the ideological right; a bile-laden landscape with sweaty condemnations reminiscent of Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God.” There is a religious left; you find them huddled in a few hundred Unitarian congregations clustered on the coasts, dutifully singing multi-lingual hymns. But the Unitarians have little political power and less social influence, aside from providing political cover for atheist politicians: the Unis will neither confirm nor deny whether or not an individual is on their membership rolls.
But Pope Francis is different. Maybe, just maybe, this visit will be different, too. We have a Pope who knows how to Pope. He is single-handedly shifting the Catholic church’s focus from “abortion, abortion, abortion, I did not sleep with that male child, abortion” to “love the poor”, and “don’t plunder the planet, for Pete’s sake, it’s the only one we’ve got.” Pope Francis is breathing new life into old time religion, where the meek inherit the Earth and the adherents lead with love.
Pope Francis is a breath of fresh air, and may help bring America to a religious place more sane, and more indicative of what our Founder’s intended. Separation of Church and State was not penned as an atheist’s manifesto.
Francis’s remarks over the coming days will likely unsettle both the left (abortion is a sin) and the right (climate change is a moral imperative). That’s a good thing. The moral absolutism in both camps is as obnoxious as it is bankrupt. But we still have a long way to go. The Catholic hierarchy remains stuffed with arch-conservative Bishops. Francis’s visit will not tone down the nativist crap emanating from the Trump camp, nor the anti-Islamic rhetoric spewing from Carson’s pie hole. Pastors who lived by the bile will likely die by it, but maybe their power will be attenuated. Maybe, just maybe, Pope Francis’s injection of love and compassion will take root here and there. One can hope, and, dare I utter it, pray.