Watch out La­garde - here comes Pope Fran­cis

The Pak Banker - - OPINION - Joseph A. Kechichian

JUST as Chris­tine La­garde and her In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund (IMF) acolytes raided Cypri­ots by in­sist­ing that Ni­cosia ac­cept an im­me­di­ate tax of up to 10 per cent on all sav­ings ac­counts, the Ro­man Catholic Church elected a Pope who stood by the poor. Pope Fran­cis, who em­u­lated St Fran­cis of As­sisi - a man born into wealth, who gave up all earthly goods to serve the down­trod­den - wished a more mod­est en­ter­prise. He pledged to serve "the poor­est, the weak­est, the least im­por­tant" in his in­au­gu­ral homily, stress­ing that au­then­tic power was ser­vice to "the whole of hu­man­ity," es­pe­cially "the hun­gry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison."

To be sure, the Cypriot rob­bery was but a sin­gle episode in the on­go­ing post ColdWar po­lar­i­sa­tion in which pow­er­ful na­tion­states re-eval­u­ated their so­cial con­tracts, os­ten­si­bly to re­tain what­ever in­flu­ences they had left, while the rest of the world did its level best to deny those with ab­so­lute author­ity usurped priv­i­leges. Con­se­quently, it was safe to state that mankind was go­ing through a par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult pe­riod, even if sparks of light shone from time to time.

Now comes a man in white, who prefers hu­mil­ity to ar­ro­gance, who asks be­liev­ers to bless him rather than the other way around, who bows his head in front of masses, who con­tin­ues to wear his black shoes rather than go for red Pradas, who pays his ho­tel bills even af­ter ac­ced­ing to the lead­er­ship po­si­tion of 1.2 bil­lion peo­ple, who takes the bus with car­di­nals who just elected him in­stead of check­ing out his fancy limou­sine, who wears his iron cross in­stead of don­ning a golden one en­crusted with di­a­monds, who puts on a sim­ple cler­i­cal col­lar rather than wear a fur cape, who shakes hands, cracks jokes and in­vites peo­ple to have a good Sun­day as well as a good lunch.

Much will be writ­ten about Car­di­nal Jorge Mario Ber­goglio, now Pope Fran­cis, in­clud­ing the mys­tery sur­round­ing his coun­try's tragic dic­ta­tor­ship un­der Gen­eral Jorge Rafael Videla who de­posed Is­abel Martínez de Peron in 1976, and mis­ruled Ar­gentina un­til 1981. Although crit­ics stressed that Car­di­nal Ber­goglio ne­glected to as­sist two Je­suit priests caught in the dic­ta­tor­ship's vi­cious web, it was un­der his lead­er­ship that the coun­try's bish­ops is­sued an apol­ogy in 2012, for the over­all fail­ures of the church to pro­tect its flock. A few days ago, the pope com­bined the se­ri­ous with a touch of hu­mour to drive home a key point that de­fined his per­son­al­ity, namely that the Catholic Church ought to go back to ba­sics or risk be­com­ing a "piti­ful NGO". He spoke to pil­grims at St Peter's Square last Sun­day, when he told the story of an el­derly Ar­gen­tine woman who had told him that if God did not for­give sins, the world would not ex­ist. "I felt like ask­ing her: 'Did you study at the Gregorian?'", joked the Pope, mak­ing a ref­er­ence to the univer­sity that grad­u­ated doc­tri­naire Je­suits. Were he an un­for­giv­ing per­son, and as a Je­suit, Car­di­nal Ber­goglio could have cho­sen the name Cle­ment XV to avenge Je­suits af­ter Cle­ment XIV dis­solved the or­der in 1773, but he saw the name Fran­cis as more ap­pro­pri­ate to truly il­lus­trate what it meant to care about the poor and to re­store man's dig­nity.

He knew that to err was hu­man, but to for­give di­vine and as the first for­eign pope since the Syr­ian Gre­gory III (731-741), he raised the bar quite high for those who en­joyed a mil­len­nial mo­nop­oly.

To be sure, Pope Fran­cis dis­played a con­ser­va­tive out­look, but en­ter­tained lib­eral ideas too be­cause he re­alised that it was crit­i­cal for na­tions to learn how to co-ex­ist.

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