Hearing Francis through the ears of politics




We believe only what we want to believe, George Orwell observed in 1945. “So far as I can see,” he wrote in the Partisan Review:

[A]ll political thinking for years past has been vitiated in the same way. People can foresee the future only when it coincides with their own wishes, and the most grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are unwelcome. … I believe that it is possible to be more objective than most of us are, but that it involves a moral effort. One cannot get away from one’s own subjective feelings, but at least one can know what they are and make allowance for them.

George Orwell, “London Letter”Partisan Review (Winter, 1945)

Orwell’s theory of subjectivity is being tested by reporters covering Francis’ trip to Brazil. While the pope has been spared predictions his trip will be a disaster — a press theme peddled in the run up to Benedict’s trips to Germany, the UK and Mexico subsequently proven wrong each time — the reporting I have seen so far from Brazil has tended to confirm Orwell’s dictum.

Take The Guardian‘s account of the pope’s activities on July 23, for example. The article entitled “Pope in Brazil warns against legalising drugs” summarizes comments made by Francis at a Rio drug rehabilitation clinic and his sermon earlier that day before 200,000 pilgrims at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady Aparecida. The Guardian does not focus on what Francis said, but on the political ramifications of what it heard him say. Hearing only politics The Guardian was deaf to the true story.

The article opens with:

Pope Francis entered political waters on Wednesday with a sharply worded condemnation of moves to legalise drug use. His comments, which were made during a visit to a rehabilitation centre in Brazil, run counter to a growing movement in Latin America to liberalise sales of marijuana and other narcotics following decades of a murderous and largely ineffectual war against drugs in the region.

The article quotes Francis views on the evils of drug abuse and offers background on the politics of narcotics law reform in South America and then transitions to the sermon at the Basilica.

Earlier on Wednesday Francis urged Catholics to resist the “ephemeral idols” of money, power, success and pleasure during his first mass in Brazil. He made no direct mention of the inequality and corruption that have sparked nationwide protests. In a sermon to a congregation of thousands at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady Aparecida, the pontiff appealed to the faithful to focus on non-material values of spiritualism, generosity, solidarity and perseverance.

A quote is offered from the sermon followed by analysis and background.

Vatican officials say the pontiff asked for the mass at the basilica, which is 160 miles (260km) from his base in Rio, to be added to his schedule. Built in 1955 with a capacity of 40,000, the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady Aparecida – the principal patroness of Brazil and a unifying figure for many in the nation’s Catholic Church. It is the site of pilgrimage for millions every year who flock to see an apparently dark-skinned statue of the Virgin Mary which, myth has it, was found in two parts by fishermen in 1717.

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