By the time you are reading this, His Holiness, Pope Francis, would have concluded his long trip away from the Vatican, which has taken him from Cuba and through the United States. Thanks to television, and trust the Americans, they know how to force us to lap up their news, it felt like the Pope visited Lagos, and we’ve been a part of every move he made, every speech he gave, every message he passed and its implications to the sanctity of human lives, the survival of the earth and peace of the world, for speaking from America is like standing on the pulpit and addressing the world.
Besides the words he spoke, or the gestures that has endeared him to many, such as the way he often broke protocol to touch and bless children and the sick and accept gifts from people in the crowd or even the selfies, Pope Francis passed an even more pertinent message to the world especially to leaders of every stripe, religious and political, without uttering a word or waving a hand…It was somewhat of a papal fiat, and it was delivered from inside a fiat.
Pope Francis is the leader of the Catholic Church and the head of the Vatican which accords him the triple status of a religious leader, head of state and if you like, a mega celebrity. He can have any car he desires on earth. Indeed, he can have one of any specification made for him if he so desires. In his position, such small comfort as a luxurious car that fits his status and soothes his aching back is not something anyone will even raise an eyebrow to. But this man decides instead to ride is a tiny small car, one that looks like a match box.
This was not a show for the American audience. It is in line with the person of the Pope who is known to always forego limousines or specially constructed security vehicles including the bulletproof Papal mobile. He uses a blue Ford Focus to get around the Vatican, during his visit to South Korea he used a Kia. When he visited Brazil, he was driven around Rio de Janeiro in a silver Fiat Idea, a model that is popular with middle-class Brazilians.
This action of the Pope screams louder than any sermon he would ever preach. In it we find the healing balm for our world today where capitalism, greed and vanity have blinded us from the things that are most important and have pushed us to focus on the things that do not matter, driving the earth closer to its precipice, daily. The Pope’s choice of vehicle is a big thumbs-down to today’s consumerist lifestyle, to glamour and the inanities of pop culture, to ‘lootocracy’ among political leaders, to the stigmatization of the poor, to an economy of exclusion and inequality. To the superstar lifestyles of today’s religious leaders!
This message is even more pertinent to us here in Nigeria. It was an unspoken sermon to our many church leaders who today live like corporate executives and Hollywood superstars rolled into one. And to the many gullible followers who are ever happy to rise in defense of their G.Os while emptying their lean pockets to fund such lifestyles in exchange for a promised breakthrough. Hear him:
“It hurts me when I see a priest or nun with the latest-model car. You can’t do this. A car is necessary to do a lot of work, but, please, choose a more humble one. If you like the fancy one, just think about how many children are dying of hunger in the world.”
The question I have for our super rich religious leaders is, do you know there are people among your very congregation that are dying of hunger, do you care? Do you appreciate that only a tiny percentage of your congregation can afford that school you used money from their meager earnings to build? Does it matter? Do you know that the money for your jet or that convoy of SUVs translated into support for charities can win more souls for heaven than all the crusades you fly/drive around in them to attend? Are you thinking?
It is true that Pope Francis took a vow of poverty when he became a Jesuit priest but the moment he became a Bishop, he was no longer bound by those vows. Now as Pope, he ordinarily has enough excuse to have the best things of life. But he has stayed true to his vows, choosing to live in a modest guest house, rather than the Apostolic Palace, driving a $20,000 worth car and guess what? He is touching millions of lives, giving many a personal encounter and changing the conversation on climate change and reminding all of humanity of the basic principles by which we should live.
I look forward to Pope Francis visiting Nigeria, hopefully he would during his Papacy but until then, I hope we’ve all learnt a lesson or two and that this lesson will be manifest in our attitudes to the less privileged, the way we go after wealth and our commercialization of religion.
First published here
Image credit: Montreal gazette.