My wife and I went to Philadelphia to see the pope. She was aiming for a trifecta — last year we were fortunate to see the Dalai Lama and President Obama, and when she heard of the pope's impending visit to Philly, it became a "must-go" event. Though we weren't able to get passes to the Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, we did see the pontiff whiz by three times in his popemobile and we followed his every movement and utterance on the many Jumbotron screens throughout the area.
We knew it was to be a special time when our cabbie, a proud and chatty Muslim, told us during our drive to the train station of how much he loved the pope. His name was Bourak and he believed that Francis spoke for all religions. We also met a Jewish fellow, Gilbert, who had emigrated from Israel. He thought it perfectly appropriate that the pope had come on the heels of two major Jewish holidays and around the time of the Muslim haj to Mecca because he considered Francis God's messenger. This pope has certainly proven himself a transcendent person — one capable of reaching across the wide gulfs of faith and political persuasion to touch on truths basic to the human condition, from the mighty golden rule to the mundane yet crucial role of grandparents in the life of a family.
Granted that the city was filled with church people, but local police reported not a single disturbance despite the hundreds of thousands gathered. Smiles, courtesy and good wishes ruled the weekend, even as folks stood eight-deep for hours on the curb to catch a fleeting glimpse of a white robe.
Security was extremely tight to protect the pope from his enemies within and without. We had to go through checkpoints with metal detectors and Transportation Security Administration baggage checkers to enter a secure area surrounded by concrete barriers and chain-link fencing. Local police, the National Guard and the FBI had personnel everywhere, copters whirled above, sniffing the air for traces of sarin gas, and snipers manned rooftop tents. All of these measures secured the pope's bodily safety and he is now back home in Rome.
The same can't be said for Francis' character, which was repeatedly assassinated by right-wing media before and during his visit. Rush Limbaugh accused him of "pure Marxism;" Stuart Varney said he intended to "redistribute wealth;" Andrew Napolitano charged he was a "false prophet leading his flock to a dangerous place;" Sean Hannity claimed Francis was "against capitalism;" Greg Gutfeld called him "the most dangerous person on the planet," a "Luddite leftist," and one who was "holier than thou;" and Michael Savage raged that "We are not bamboozled by a clean white outfit and a huge cross … ."
One of the most-vitriolic attacks was mounted by George Will in his syndicated column. He said Francis "comes trailing clouds of sanctimony," seeks "medieval stasis" and "stands against modernity, rationality, science, and ultimately, the spontaneous creativity of open societies … ." That's quite a list of offenses for one screed. Importantly, none of them were borne out during Francis' numerous speeches and sermons while in the U.S.
Just what could the humble Vicar of Christ have done to warrant this kind of vicious treatment? If you cared to listen, Francis preached a sermon of compassion for the poor and downtrodden — especially immigrants — and respect for our planet that's undergirded by his belief in man-made climate change. He also exhorted lawmakers to pursue the common good above partisan sniping and to respect religious freedom, and he urged all people to perform small acts of kindness for one another. These are more the sentiments of Christianity's founder than the so-called rantings of a "dangerous person" or bamboozler.
As a product of the developing world, Francis is understandably concerned about climate change and its impact on the biodiversity of creation and on the world's poor. Included within this calculus is also his fretfulness about sustainable development, income inequality and the tendency of capitalism to focus more on profits than job creation. These issues are a natural outgrowth of the core Christian message and run counter to the "me first" philosophy of objectivism so dear to the far-right media. Hence, their response was to crucify the messenger. I believe there was a precedent for this.
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Frank Batavick writes from Westminster. His column appears Fridays. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.