Pope Francis is not just the leader of over a billion Catholics worldwide, his holiness, humanity and humility have a global appeal.
Pope Francis is not just the leader of over a billion Catholics worldwide, his holiness, humanity and humility have a global appeal. Despite his age - eighty-two years - he is energetic and spontaneous, still able to take his audience by surprise through his everyday language and amazing human gestures. Who can forget his washing of the feet of prisoners and asylum seekers and opening up the Vatican to street people where they can get a warm lunch and a clean bath on a daily basis?
But even by his own standards and unpredictability, the sight of Francis getting down on his hands and knees last Thursday to kiss the feet of warlords Salva Kiir and Riek Machar took everyone by surprise, most of all the two protagonists in South Sudan’s civil war. Such humility and simplicity may have sent a stronger message than any of the reflections that they had heard during the two day spiritual retreat in Casa Santa Marta in the Vatican.
The Pope’s gesture was one of desperation, perhaps hoping to shame them into repentance and reconciliation. South Sudan gained independence in 2011 but these two men plunged the country into a civil war in December 2013. The war left 400,000 dead and another four million displaced in the world’s youngest country.
If most of us were in Francis’s shoes we would perhaps have wanted to kick them back to Juba or even put them under house arrest in the Vatican. Remember they have also looted the nation’s coffers to the tune of $1 billion and bought the most expensive of real estate in Nairobi and Kampala. Kenya hosts the war criminals in the leafy suburbs and hundreds of thousands of their victims in the hot crowded camps of Kakuma and Kalobeyei. Yet these two men demonstrate neither shame nor guilt.
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But Pope Francis probably realised that only this humble, magnanimous gesture of going down on his hands and knees could bring the two of them to their senses. Accompanied in an ecumenical event by Justin Welby, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, the Pontiff told them that with war all is lost. He continued: "There will be fights among you but let these be inside the office. But in front of the people hold hands”.
What happens next? Who knows but who among us would not be touched if at the receiving end of Francis’s humility? Hope springs eternal and Irish Poet Seamus Heaney once wrote,
“History says don’t hope on this side of the grave.
But then once in a lifetime the longed-for tidal wave of justice can rise up, and hope and history rhyme.
So hope for a great sea change on the far side of revenge.
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Believe that further shore is reachable from here.
Believe in miracle and cures and healing wells”. Amen
Whatever happens we certainly know that Pope Francis embodies and lives out the gift and value of humility in his every move. Yet, humility is rarely honoured as a prized value in today’s world of arrogance, fake news, assertiveness, show biz, social media and celebrity culture. Yet there is nothing as authentic or beautiful as humility. Humility reminds us that we all came from the earth and we will return to it one day so don’t live a life of illusions about yourself, your importance or your wealth.
Yet humility and leadership rarely go together except in the case of Pope Francis. To live simply, travel to work by public means, to share your salary with the unemployed and your food with the poor would be considered weak and madness in Kenyan society today. Leaders must display their wealth, flaunt it, travel by helicopter by choice but definitely not in a Probox or on a budget airline.
To live humbly and simply is regarded in this society as a sign of weakness, a cause for derision rather than a strength and truth that is worthy of emulation. Yet millions will haul themselves off to church this weekend to celebrate Easter. How many will recall that the man they claim to follow rode on a donkey into Jerusalem, washed his disciples feet at his last meal and then faced the cross alone where he was stripped of his dignity as well as his clothes.
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Yet Jesus walked with the confidence that the Empire and the corrupt institutions would certainly not have the last word. The humble person has that same hope and joy in his life. Have a joyful and humble Easter.
- Gabriel Dolan [email protected] @GabrielDolan1