The Pope And The Donald

While aboard the papal plane today, flying back from an appearance in Mexico, Pope Francis was asked about Donald Trump’s notion of building a wall between Mexico and the United States.  The Pope said that “a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”  When Trump heard about the Pope’s comment, he replied that it was “disgraceful” for “a religious leader to question a person’s faith.”

pope-mexicoI suspect that the Pope will soon regret his response, if he doesn’t regret it already.  It’s not that the Pope doesn’t have every right to give his opinion on what qualities or actions are “Christian” and what are not — of course he does, because after all this is the Pope we’re talking about.  As the head of a Christian denomination with millions of members spanning the globe, he obviously can, and regularly does, speak about such topics.

In this instance, though, I think the Pope’s comments were ill-advised, because they come in the middle of an American presidential campaign and obviously were directed at a particular candidate.  It seems to diminish the Pope, somehow, for him to weigh in on something so secular and tawdry as an American political campaign.  We’ve come a long way since the days of the Kennedy-Nixon election of 1960 — when John F. Kennedy’s Catholic faith was a big issue, because opponents whispered that he would be taking direction from Vatican City — but the Pope’s comments on a candidate still seem . . . unwise.  When most people associate the Pope with a focus on the spiritual, even a brief foray by him into an increasingly bitter, mud-slinging political campaign is a bit jarring.

And, of course, Pope Francis’ comments just serve to allow Donald Trump to mount his high horse, clothe himself in righteous indignation, and further burnish his reputation as the anti-establishment candidate.  I’m afraid that Pope Francis will learn that anyone who associates or interacts with Donald Trump ends up being tarnished by the experience.  Why stoop to comment about such a person?

 

Advertisements

The Pope’s Decision

Pope Benedict XVI announced today that he is resigning the papacy, effective February 28.  He’s the first Pope in centuries to resign.

Benedict, who is 85, said he was resigning because he felt his strength had deteriorated.  He believes that leading the Catholic Church requires strength of mind and body and concluded that his failing condition was leaving him unable to adequately perform his duties.

I’m not a Catholic, and I therefore can’t speak knowledgeably about whether Pope Benedict has been a good Pope, a bad Pope, or something in between.  However, I can applaud the Pope’s resignation decision as an all-too-rare example of selflessness and self-awareness by a powerful individual who could easily have served in his office until his death.  How many Popes have been unable to let go of the trappings of office and the adulation that accompanies it?  How many have been unwilling to acknowledge their declining physical and mental abilities?  How many have been content to let their responsibilities drift as their individual capacities have diminished?

I wish more significant public figures — be they Popes, or Senators, or sports stars, or others — were willing to engage in objective self-evaluation and step aside upon concluding that they were no longer up to the job.  Perhaps Benedict’s surprising decision will cause other people in important public jobs to consider whether they, too, should make room for a more active, energetic replacement.

The Saint In St. Valentine’s Day

Today Americans mark “Valentine’s Day” — a day for lovers throughout the land.  At one point, however, February 14 was celebrated at St. Valentine’s Day.

Who was the person who inspired a day that is a favorite of card makers, florists, jewelers, and candy companies?  When you’ve got a question about saints, you logically turn to Catholic websites like Catholic Online — whose website posting on St. Valentine, ironically, features a 1-800flowers.com banner ad that says “Wow her this Valentine’s.”

According to the website, nobody knows for sure who St. Valentine was, or even how many Valentines there were.  The authorities believe there was at least one such person, however, because archaeologists have uncovered an ancient church and catacomb dedicated to him.  The prevailing view seems to be that he was a Roman priest named Valentinus who was martyred during the reign of Claudius the Goth; February the 14th was identified as the official date of his martyrdom by papal decree in 496 A.D.

Valentinus is said to have helped persecuted Christians, married couples in outlawed Christian ceremonies, and refused to renounce his faith when he was caught.  Like most early saints, he met a grisly end — he was beaten and stoned, then beheaded.  Before that happened, however, he is supposed to have cured his jailer’s daughter of blindness and then sent her a note saying “from your Valentine.”

St. Valentine is the patron saint of love, lovers, engaged couples, and happy marriages — and also of epilepsy, plague, bee keepers, fainting, travelers, and young people.  He apparently was a busy guy with broad-ranging interests before he lost his head.