He told them! Any religious leader who is considering sainthood for the "Servant of God" Dorothy Day--the crusading editor of the Catholic Worker and heroine of my garment-worker parents during the Great Depression--gets my vote.
I know that, sadly, he's not running for president, but the pope's excellent example provides the essential measure of what's important for those candidates who are. It's simple: Follow the Golden Rule.
One need not enthuse over every specific point of style and substance in the pontiff's remarks to recognize that he is possessed of a moral energy that has been largely absent in our political discourse. Whether it concerns the plight of the poor and immigrants, climate change and the fate of the earth, or the chicanery of the super-rich and powerful, so much of what we have heard in the opening of this election season now seems tawdry and small in comparison.
Has there been a single candidate of either major party to cut through the inhuman gibberish that passes for consideration of the plight of undocumented immigrants? "On this continent, too," the pope on Thursday reminded a Congress that has failed for half a century to enact meaningful immigration reform, "thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can ... in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal."
Forget the Republican presidential candidates on this one, given their lockstep devotion to meanness, but expect no more from the Democrats, who through four recent terms in the White House have failed to invest significant political capital in improving the lot of the 12 million undocumented lost in legal limbo in the United States.
Even the normally sane and decent Bernie Sanders has talked more about undocumented workers as a threat to the wages of other workers than as a labor force to be organized to fight for workers' rights, while Hillary Clinton served as secretary of state in an administration that set the record for deportations.
Secretary Clinton also led the charge to drastically disrupt life in the Middle East by supporting the ongoing war in Iraq and extending it to Libya and Syria, producing what the pope termed "a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War." Pope Francis also had other words of caution for hawks like Clinton and most of the Republican candidates, ever so eager to mess up the lives of even more people in a war increasingly defined as one against Muslims, who are presumed to possess a monopoly on fanatical religious fundamentalism.
That's an all too convenient formulation that ignores the Jewish fanatic who assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin or the Protestants and Catholics who inflicted so much mayhem upon each other in the name of a common God. That is precisely why, as the pope warned, "we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of religion, an ideology or economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms." That, a number of Republican candidates need to be reminded, includes the freedom to be a Muslim and aspire to be president of the United States.
What is most startling in the approach of this pope is his refusal to demonize "the other," be they of another religious, political or nationalist outlook. Francis rejects precisely the simplistic war between good and evil that has dominated U.S. foreign policy for much of the past century. That enlightened view has led to an end to the madness of treating Cuba as an implacable enemy.
But can this country live without an enemy? Or are we too deeply entwined with a militarized economy and an imperial hubris that have permanently deformed the nation's attempt at representative democracy? As the pope put that question:
"We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something that you, as a people, reject."