– Eric Scott Pickard
In his annual address marking the beginning of the Catholic holy season of Lent, His Holiness Pope Francis, leader of the Roman Catholic Church, came out strongly against greed and incited the powerful to care for the poor.
Pope Francis has made strong statements in the past regarding the responsibility of the political and economic elite to address the problem of global poverty, saying in an address to the United States congress last year, “If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance.”
In the new Lenten address to members of the Catholic faith released 26 January, the pontiff expands on these themes. Chastising the powerful, Pope Francis writes that
the real poor are revealed as those who refuse to see themselves as such. They consider themselves rich, but they are actually the poorest of the poor. This is because they are slaves to sin, which leads them to use wealth and power not for the service of God and others, but to stifle within their hearts the profound sense that they too are only poor beggars. The greater their power and wealth, the more this blindness and deception can grow… This illusion can also be seen in the sinful structures linked to a model of false development based on the idolatry of money, which leads to lack of concern for the fate of the poor on the part of wealthier individuals and societies; they close their doors, refusing even to see the poor.
He uses even stronger language elsewhere, warning that those among the powerful who refuse to help the poor “will end up condemning themselves and plunging into the eternal abyss of solitude which is hell.”
Such strong statements are rarely known in previous Papal Lenten addresses. However, the focus on power spiritual and temporal works and concern for the poor is in line with Catholic dogma, namely that “salvation” cannot be attained through faith alone, but also through good works.
The Roman Catholic Church, an organization serving roughly 1.2 billion Catholics throughout the world, has been widely criticized over its handling of a scandal involving pedophilia and child sexual assault among its priests. The Church has also long been accused of corruption, from it’s massive political influence in European politics for centuries and the selling of “indulgences” that led to the Protestant Revolution, to the allegations that it helped aid fascism and the Third Reich during the Second World War. s The current pontiff, formerly known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, seems to be attempting to steer the Church back in the direction of public service, moral authority, and aid for the poor. This comes at a time when wealth inequality is reaching critical levels throughout the world, and the current Bishop of Rome seems to be making this his banner issue.
The full Lenten address can be read here.
-Eric Scott Pickard is a poet, activist, and artist. He is a journalist with The Fifth Column News and a co-founder of Free Radical Media, and a host of the Free Radical Media podcast.