Leading article

The people who really need the Pope's help

Pope Francis should take a break from saving the world to do more for the Christians of the Middle East

26 September 2015

8:00 AM

26 September 2015

8:00 AM

On Tuesday, Pope Francis set foot in the United States for the first time in his life. His plane touched down at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, where American presidents depart and arrive on Air Force One. But, according to a Spanish journalist on the papal plane, this was not how Francis had wanted to arrive. He would have preferred to cross over from Tijuana, the grubby Mexican city menaced by drug gangs from which countless migrants slip across the border into California. In other words, if the report is true, the Pope wished to turn his arrival into a political gesture, aligning himself with America’s 11.3 million ‘undocumented’ immigrants and, implicitly but unmistakably, against the 77 per cent of US citizens who regard illegal immigration as a ‘serious problem’.

Such a stunt would have played badly with the American public. But it would have been portrayed sympathetically by the country’s liberal media, and greeted jubilantly abroad. Pope Francis has become the darling of the international left. Unlike his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, who was usually caricatured as a reactionary, Francis can almost do no wrong. A group of left-wing activists planned to lead a rally in Washington’s National Mall during the Pope’s address to Congress on Thursday. The gathering was not, as one might have expected, to protest against the Catholic church’s teachings against same-sex marriage and abortion — teachings upheld by Francis. On the contrary, the rally was in support of the Pope’s ‘moral action on climate justice’.

The praise comes for his alarmist view of climate change taken in his encyclical ‘Laudato Si’, The same encyclical also argues that rich nations suck the wealth out of the ‘global south’ by stealing their natural resources — a crude theory which, not coincidentally, was popular among Latin American economists in the 1950s. It remains hugely popular in the developing world and broadly endorsed by left-wing opinion in Europe and America. Add to this the Pope’s hints that he favours relaxing the church’s rules banning divorced and remarried Catholics from receiving communion, and the assumption — based on little evidence — that he is tolerant of homosexuality, and it is small wonder that he has won so much applause in fashionable circles.

Francis’s appeal transcends politics, however. As Pope — much to the surprise of contemporaries who remember him as an austere figure — he has turned into an engaging chatterbox. He speaks with invigorating passion about Jesus, endlessly reminding Christians that they must turn away from self-indulgent pleasures. At the same time he has declared a ‘Year of Mercy’ in which his priests are encouraged to absolve penitents of the gravest sins. He conveys a personal moral authority independent of his office. This, combined with his reputation as a ‘superstar Pope’, gives him extraordinary influence over world opinion. His great success is emphasising the inherent generosity and tolerance of the Christian message.

Rather than using this influence to curry favour with environmental campaigners, however, the Pope should now use it to draw attention to matters that aren’t usually covered in the mainstream media. Francis warns of ‘doomsday’ if certain environmental policies are not adopted. Yet the Pope has not spent as much time pointing out the imminent reality of doomsday for Christians facing slaughter, abduction and slavery by Islamists in the Middle East. Take, for instance, the 70,000 Christians in Aleppo, Syria, currently surrounded by Isis fighters on three fronts. Their situation truly demands apocalyptic language.

The Pope has spoken of his ‘burning anxiety’ for persecuted Christians, and even suggested that ‘a form of genocide’ is taking place. Still, for him their plight appears to be a lower priority than an environmental crisis whose scale he may be exaggerating. His criticism of capitalism goes into a level of detail that, far from showing expertise, makes him appear naive. In contrast, he speaks in generalities about a tragedy that he could already have helped alleviate if he had forced his global audience to confront its stomach-churning reality.

Now, perhaps more than ever, when the Pope speaks, leaders and the global media will be listening. On Friday he will speak to the United Nations in New York. He should make a dramatic appeal on behalf of the Christians in what used to be called the Holy Land. He must take advantage of his popularity, not to generate more positive headlines about his own compassion, but to compel his unlikely fans to focus on a problem that they do not regard as ‘mainstream’ — meaning fashionable — but which is nonetheless crying out for action. The Pope’s popularity may not last. For Christians in the Middle East, time is running out, too.

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  • Guest13578642

    He’s hardly silent. From the 18th:

    ‘The Pope began his general audience yesterday by referring to “our martyrs in Iraq and Syria, our martyrs of today”. He said: “A few days ago in [St Peter’s] Square, an Iraqi priest came up to me and gave me a small cross. It was the cross being held by a priest who was beheaded for not renouncing Jesus Christ,” he said.’

    Often the media just doesn’t report these things.

    He is probably concerned that speaking out in America would be seen as a call for military intervention, which he most certainly does not want. He does not prefer Muslim sinners remotely blown up to good Christians beheaded. He loves his enemies.

  • Bonkim

    What the Pope says will not change the situation for Christians in the Middle East.

  • mrs1234

    It is not only ISIS that is persecuting and murdering Christians – they have only ramped up the action. With not a word said against their leaders, no question of withholding aid for example, persecution of Christians is a daily occurrence in over 40, mainly muslim, countries. We still do business with them. Despite church building banned in so many muslim countries and those that have existed for generations being burned down and desecrated, there is no murmur of criticism . Yet we allow mosques, funded by these places, to be built by the dozen in our own country.
    What does Welby and his ilk say…… the occasional bleat but nothing much because, I suppose, they don’t want to appear islamophobic. Anyone who wants to do something for persecuted Christians would do better to support the charity Open Doors. At least they are actively doing something and trying to publicise the plight of these abandoned people. Unfortunately not many people seem to give a damn.

    • Ambientereal

      The world leaders are favoring anomie everywhere. The Pope is acting according to it. Of course I´m against but lately the Pope have been acting more as a head of a state than the head of the Church.

      • ardenjm

        Technically speaking, of course, the Pope is both, but I take your point.

  • cartimandua

    He could ask Christian and particularly Catholic countries to let in Christian refugees as a priority.

  • Kamran

    “He should make a dramatic appeal on behalf of the Christians in what used to be called the Holy Land.”

    There’s no such thing as the holy land. In my view that land is the most cursed land in the world, and was so long before Islam. Islam is of course the more muscular religion, between it and christianity. It appeals more to man’s base nature. What you are seeing is simply a return to form, to the status-quo of mankind.

    • ardenjm

      So if I understand you correctly:
      There needs to be war against the Islamists in order to eradicate them – the more bombs the better.
      And there needs to be reform of Islam so that Islamists can’t incubate within that religion’s particular literalism.
      And how do you suppose Muslims who aren’t Islamists are going to react to the campaign against their Puritanically Crazy co-religionists? More will get radicalised, right?
      So – far from being a 30 year struggle against Islamism – this latest craziness is part of an often recurring craziness within Islam down the centuries in various times and places and it starts with Mohammed himself.
      There is no solution in the next 100 years and possibly there never will be.
      Islamist madness can only be contained when it does break out – it’s a bit like ebola virus in that respect.
      Of course, when Saudi Arabia no longer has the money to fund wahabbi fundamentalism around the world there will be fewer outbreaks so roll on the end of Saudi oil dominance.

      • Kamran

        No, what I’m saying is the Christians should be airlifted from Iraq and Syria, and settled in the EU. Then no further entry from the Islamic world to Europe or North America should be allowed, except by very strict admission.

        It didn’t start with Muhammed himself, you idiot. You think the world was a garden before Muhammed? This is human nature. Islam best suits human’s violent nature. Christian tells man to higher than it. I believe the second is the better religion, but that’s just my opinion. Muhammad didn’t put some magic woojo-joojoo on the world or something.

    • Terry Field

      Muslim peace = universal Islam.
      We know.

  • Claraver

    The persecution of Christians in the Middle East falls within Pope Francis remit as the leader of the Catholic church, not the mythical DAGW ideology.

  • Terry Field

    SO, the compote is unchanged – open the doors to mass migration, breed without limit, protect human life and stuff all other life, and damn American capitalism with a softly stated wish for a version of socialism and god-control to be blended as the world order.
    NO Thank you, nice Mr Pontyf.