One of the great paradoxes of our time is global travel. For those of us in the wealthy world, hopping on a plane has become as easy as travelling by bus. In the Uk with companies such as Ryan Air, and Easy Jet pioneering low cost travel, our expectations have been raised considerably. I remember the first flight I had when I was about 10 – our whole family dressed up as though it was a special occasion. Now it is run of the mill. As globalisation shrinks the world, many are being left behind. So for those who can’t afford to be ‘hypermobile’ it seems as though the rich world are building bigger barriers to restrict their movement. I was in Istanbul airport a day before the terrorist attacks… an incredible modern hub, with Wifi everywhere, Starbucks, wealthy tourists, business travelers mingling in a bubble of luxury and affluence. But these Staging Posts for the hypermobile are becoming targets for rage and anger of the excluded (not that terrorism can be justified ) .
There was a brilliant film – released in 20013 called Elysium. It is from the incredibly rich vein of dystopian scifi. Imagining a future where Planet Earth has been plundered of resources by the wealthy Elite and left as an overpopulated desert for the poor majority. The elite have created a space station in orbit which they have escaped to – where everything is beautiful green, fertile, the Elysium of the films title. The Spaceships that shuttle between the two are looked at with envy and despair by the majority of humanity reduced to scrabbling around a parched earth like chickens. Interestingly the church is represented by this wonderful nun who we discover in a back-story has been the transformative teacher to our Hero (played by Matt Damon) – who is an orphan. So even though the rich have abandoned the earth – the church has not abandoned the poor. Perhaps Neil Blomkampf, the writer, has had some Catholic influence?
Sadly however our age of hypermobility sharply contrasts with the fear of immigration that Farage and his cronies whipped up in the poisonous discourse before Brexit. The rhetoric of ‘taking control’ of our borders seemed to be very effective, but perhaps implausible in a Globalising Economy. I thank God for my Irish grandparents so I can now apply for dual citizenship – again a luxury for the wealthy. Having crossed a few borders in the last months it was notable in East Africa that there was a tightening of checks on the borders… partly because of the yellow fever outbreak in Angola. We have to acknowledge our fears, but when it leads us to build barriers I think we are losing out. In a choice between Donald Trumps wall building and Pope Francis’ bridge building, I know what future I want.
Now that academic term has finished – and many students have left Manchester, I have a little bit of space and have decided to slowly read through Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) – Pope Francis’s rather lengthy exhortation. It has been reported as the Pope’s dream for the church – and as you would expect there is some dynamite there.
In the Introduction the Pope reminds us how Joy is at the centre of the Gospel message, giving many examples of this. I think Joy is a rare experience for many people, but when they meet someone is authentically joyful it makes a powerful impression. I have always argued that there is a profound difference between joy and happiness – happiness is something that so many strive for, and can achieve when they have a good job, a nice house, financial security and meaning. So happiness is like a transaction – and it is great when people achieve it. However Joy is like an unexpected gift – there is nothing that we can do to earn it – only having a heart that is open to God – our creator. We were created for joy. Francis reminds us that thesharing of what is really important to us brings joy. It also strikes me that when we live joyful lives – people are fascinated, attracted, and – that is when we have to be ready to account for our joy. This is a different type of evangelisation than bible bashing or door stepping, people coming to us and asking us – why are you so joyful? I remember a young man from Spain coming last year and asking for the sacrament of confirmation. When I asked him why now? ( he was in his late twenties ) he replied that he had seen some of the students faces who came to mass and the chaplaincy and ‘their eyes were shining’. (I immediately checked that we had no drug dealers on site…. 🙂 )
National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, Brazil
However Francis is also gently chastising a distorted type of religion and religiosity. We are warned about this with the great line ‘There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent rather than Easter’ (6) . Reminding us that the Gospel offers us the chance to live life on a higher plane he then investigates what might prevent this joy. Francis’s previous job as Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires led to him being a key figure in the last general assembly of the Conference of Latin American Bishops (CELAM). Bergoglio, who was a cardinal at the time was the key figures who helped prepare the final document, the ‘Aparecida’ document. One of the most interesting quotes is lifted directly from that – :
“Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others” EG 10 , Aparecida 360
So the more security, the more comfort and the more isolated we become the more sterile our faith is. We become like spiritual ‘gated communities’ (my words not the Pope’s). There is an ecclesiology here that is challenging for many of us who have a default position of seeing the world as hostile. To a Jesuit ear however you can hear so much of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. Particularly his meditation on The Two Standards (click here if you would like to find out more). So the opening theme of his exhortation is Joy – and people are thirsting to encounter authentic joy. One of the most popular posts in this blogs archives is an article about the joy of the fourth week of the exercises, with currently (Dec 2013) over 7,000 individual hits, called a Joy that Surpasses all Joys. We all need more joy in our lives!
The announcement that Pope Francis has been chosen as Time Magazines ‘person of the year’ marks an incredible turnaround in the public perception of Catholicism. Pope John Paul II was also given this title in 1994 – in recognition of his moral leadership and role in the downfall of Communism and after he had been Pope for 16 years (Pope John XIII was also in 1962). It is quite remarkable that Francis got it before he had even completed a year of his pontificate. Time describes him as a “septuagenarian superstar” who “makes masterly use of 21st century tools to perform his 1st century office”. It is worth noting that his biggest critics seem to be from within the church particularly from the right. I was told by one of our students that he is not going down very well in Poland where the church is still riddled with clericalism. Maybe aware of these internal critics – many of them who seem to be digital pharisees – the Vatican spokesman, Fr Lombardi SJ, said that Francis wasn’t looking for Time’s recognition, but if it gave people hope, then the Pontiff was happy.
What is the hope based on? Perhaps it is simply leadership. It is interesting that the day after the Mandela Memorial – when Barack Obama has sharp words for some of the worlds leaders “There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people….. There are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard” It was notable that the assembled crowds booed their own president Jacob Zuma who has been accused of wide-spread corruption. The Pope Francis vote seems to be against a background of weak-leadership in the world. Times managing editor, Nancy Ellis, confirmed this by writing, “At a time when the limits of leadership are being tested in so many places, along comes a man with no army or weapons, no kingdom beyond a tight fist of land in the middle of Rome but with the immense wealth and weight of history behind him, to throw down a challenge,”
Jesuit Priest from Liverpool, UK. Enthusiastic about too many things, Wilderness Seeker, Amateur Astronomer, LFC supporter, Teacher, currently Catholic Chaplain at the Manchester Universities. Oh .... also a bit lobsided as you can see in my photo .