As Congress considers cruel and barbaric attacks against the poor embodied by efforts to impose massive cuts in the food stamp program — cuts that would make the poor more poor, the hungry more hungry, the needy more needy and the ill more ill — it is fitting to consider the new papacy of Pope Francis.
The world has been blessed with a powerful, loving, compassionate, humble, faithful, wise and transcendent voice for the poor and downtrodden in Francis.
At a moment in history when many people and nations are enduring vast social injustice and dehumanizing and punishing poverty, Francis is walking in the compassionate footsteps of his predecessors in what could become a historically profound papacy.
I was too young to appreciate Pope John XXIII during his papacy, but I came to deeply revere his love of the poor and reaching out to diverse faiths through his ecumenical teachings and statesmanlike vision for the Second Vatican Council.
I remember well — and vastly admired and actively supported — the extraordinary role in world history of Pope John Paul II, who offered compelling critiques against the evils of communism and the excesses of capitalism.
Francis chose his name out of reverence for St. Francis of Assisi, who championed the poor. He continues the legacy of John XXIII and John Paul II, both of whom he has chosen to elevate to sainthood, and Pope Benedict XVI, who was a devout voice for financial justice.
Francis brings a powerful passion for the poor to the center of his papacy. He rejects the worldly trappings of office. He brings his message of humbleness for the “haves” and hope for the “have-nots” to the far corners of the world. He seeks ecumenical dialogue and harmony with Protestants, Jews, Muslims and other faiths.
The views of the pope were recently reported in a story on CNBC titled “A blunt Pope Francis targets free market economics.” The story described similar teachings of John XXIII, John Paul II and Benedict XVI , who advocated increased financial regulation and a financial transaction tax after the financial crisis.
Francis in his passion for the poor strongly criticizes “the cult of money,” condemns income disparity, compares low wage labor to a form of slavery and calls for greater compassion and support for the needy.
These teachings are in line with other great faiths. At a time of punishing poverty and painful joblessness, Congress should increase, not cut, programs that value work and protect the poor.
An important recent story from the Catholic News Agency quoted a letter to Congress from Bishop Stephen E. Blaire, who chairs the U.S. Bishop’s Conference Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development and wrote in opposition of food stamp cuts:
“Adequate and nutritious food is a fundamental human right and a basic need that is integral to protecting the life and dignity of the human person. How the House chooses to address our nation’s hunger and nutrition programs will have profound human and moral consequences.”
Many religious leaders of diverse faiths share this support for protecting the poor. How many leaders of faith urge Congress to cut programs for the needy?
I respectfully suggest that House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) consider the views of great faiths and abandon the views of the late atheist Ayn Rand, who opposed government assistance unless she was cashing government checks herself.
There is something wrong with cutting programs to create jobs, cutting benefits for jobless workers, cutting food stamps for the hurting poor, opposing a living wage for all workers and fighting against fair pay for women.
Let’s join with Blaire in opposing cruel cuts to the food stamp program today, tomorrow and forever. Let’s celebrate the compassion of a pope with such a passion for protecting the poor.
Thursday, 19 September 2013