A Trip to America Establishes the Pope's Political Centrality

Never before has a leader addressed the two most important governing bodies in the world -- the UN assembly and the US congress -- in 24 hours. This is sufficient evidence for Pope Francis's centrality in contemporary history.
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Never before has a leader addressed the two most important governing bodies in the world -- the UN assembly and the US congress -- in 24 hours. This is sufficient evidence --without even taking a look at the content of his addresses -- for Pope Francis's centrality in contemporary history. Following his canonical consecration in the Sistine Chapel, and his media consecration on the cover of Time, this visit marked the Pope's political consecration.

It is as if legislators, on the threshold of the third millennium, have realized -- but haven't yet confessed -- the powerlessness of their tools, and the need to look to a divine legislator to rediscover their bearings after a poor start to the 21st century, including the destruction of World Trade Center and the collapse of Wall Street.

"I'll make a brand new start of it, in old New York," Frank Sinatra's song goes. And in New York, on the UN's seventieth anniversary, Bergoglio took a shot at changing the tune, setting it to the score of international law, reenergized and reinforced by a note of transcendence, in an attempt to contest, from the bottom up, and from the top down, the beast of "technological power, capable of producing tremendous atrocities."

It's undoubtedly a mystical vision, but one that's contextually realistic. It was not by chance that, on the Capitol, before senators and representatives, the Pope evoked and implicitly referred to himself as Moses. Like the Biblical patriarch who came down from Mount Sinai with the stone tablets of law, today's successor to Peter has descended the airplane stairs, and arrived to carry out a double substitution, at once ethical and political; a new moral and global order, pointing to "the ultimate goal of allowing all countries, without exception, the right to participate and have a real, equal say in decisions."

Moving from Congress to the United Nations, the Pope must have found it easier to face the "pharaoh" of Washington than the "sphinxes" of Moscow, Beijing, Riyadh and Teheran, elusive and indecipherable even to the penetrating gaze of the Vicar of Christ.

"May the cries of the excluded be heard in Latin America and throughout the world." From the south to the north of the continent, Pope Francis kept the promise he made three months ago in Bolivia, when he swore he would bridge the gap between the skyscrapers of power and the public squares of the people, between self-serving institutions and the demands of the poor. The three T's, Tierra, Techo, Trabajo, which he announced back then, during his meeting with the popular movements and extra-parliamentary movements, have echoed in parliaments the world over.

On closer inspection, Bergoglio's spiritual leadership reflects a new form of temporal power. More precisely, it could be defined as a media neo-temporalism; one that conquers and rules over both mass media and the collective imagination. Bergoglio knows how to take advantage of, just as well as Wojtyla did, the potential that virtual territories have to offer for a universal institution like the Catholic Church, as well as the communicative charisma of a global playmaker, capable of leaping across geographical and psychological borders and reach the people directly.

The severity of his attack on the death penalty, for example, struck public opinion with all the force of a missile with multiple warheads, taking over the following day's newspaper headlines, and presenting, once and for all, a slap in the face for the land of the free and the brave.

The world was given a televised "split screen" when the Pontiff's words visibly divided the assembly, the Church and the country, as seen by the reactions of the two leaders, one of the Senate, the other of the House, both Catholics, standing at the bench behind the Pope. The Democrat Biden applauded enthusiastically; the Republican Boehner was stiff. It's a telling image, both disruptive and entertaining: as if back in the Vatican basilica, up on the papal altar, one of Bernini's angels sat clapping his hands while the other refrained.

Pope Francis made an effort to speak to America from within, from the depths, through the voices of four genuine stars-and-stripes prophets: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. But nevertheless, part of the nation perceived the Pope as being judgmental and patronizing.

Nevertheless, during the three separate stops in Philadelphia, Washington and New York, Bergoglio raised and shook the volitional club just as Moses did, urging the three peoples of the Catholic Church, America and the UN to courageously embark on an exodus and cross their respective Red Seas.

The trip therefore opened up three paths: ecclesiastical, diplomatic and political. First, the ecclesiastical path, from the synod on the family, was delivered in a persuasive, conclusive homily that opened the meeting, a week in advance of the official presentation set for next Sunday at the Vatican. Third, the diplomatic path, from the Paris Conference on the environment, was presented through the encyclical Laudato si' as instrumentum laboris, in other words, a preparatory, not to mention provocative, document of the assise, a judicial assembly in Medieval times. Last but not least, the political path of the US presidency, for which elections will be held a year from now.

While on Capitol Hill, from the rostrum of Congress, Francis aimed his speech at Americans' ethical conscience and political science. In Independence Hall, standing at the lectern of Abraham Lincoln and alongside the statue of George Washington, Francis appealed to memory and history.

"Memory saves the soul of a people." In the land in which 13 colonies rebelled against British imperialism, Bergoglio warned against the recurring risk and temptation of turning into an empire, through the ideological colonization and Americanization of the world. He suggests opposing a globalization that compromises the unique faces and individual identities of nations. Instead, he advocates for a polyhedron, where nations are united nations but unique. In a sense, Washington Consensus and Sensus Ecclesiae. Multicultural universalism in a melting pot.

In the city of Rocky Balboa and his famous staircase, Jorge Bergoglio showed that he is not afraid of uphill battles and tough games. He has completed his training and is ready to show he's a heavyweight in global politics. As the Liberty Bell tolls, and, engraved with the words "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all inhabitants thereof," announces the Biblical Jubilee, it reminds the world's geopolitical parties that the Pope is about to play a game in his own backyard, flinging open the Holy Doors for everyone.

This post first appeared on HuffPost Italy and was translated into English.

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