The Pope, the "Poor", and the World

A reader not of the Faith who happened, since the installation of Pope Francis, to glance through almost any issue of L’Osservatore Romano, Vatican City’s official newspaper, might well conclude that the conclave that met in the Sistine Chapel last spring elected a social worker instead of a cardinal as the successor to Benedict XVI.  (Canon law does allow for such a thing, however improbable; one need not be a cardinal, or even a priest, to be papabile.)  The theme of the weekly edition of the paper, which I take, for the past six months has been the plight of the victimized European poor ravaged by economic austerity, the suffering of the Third World poor abandoned by the West and the other wealthy nations, the ordeal of migrants and refugees refused entry to civilized countries or confined there in camps, and the personal duty to express “solidarity” to beggars in the act of giving alms.  The paper naturally reflects the tenor of the new papacy, conveyed by the first pope to take the name of the saintly friar, preacher, and founder of the Franciscan order in the early 13th century, Saint Francis of Assisi, whose name is readily associated, among people who cannot identify Saint Augustine of Hippo or the authors of the four Gospels, with the suffering poor and ministering animals.  Francis was certainly a great saint; it is surprising, indeed, that...

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