Guest column: Pope Francis, from the bottom up

Adri Montes

Pope Francis ended his tour of the United States, stepping into a collective debate to address issues like climate change, poverty and immigration, hoping to re-center the wellbeing of marginalized groups into every conversation.

Francis didn’t just hold mass at Madison Square Garden and talk with President Obama at the White House. The pontiff’s itinerary included visiting Philadelphia’s largest prison, the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility.

It’s unclear what his exact purpose was, but it hints at addressing and publicizing the mass incarceration problem in the U.S. both to itself and the world.

The pope also visited Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem, New York. The Harlem school’s student body is 70 percent Hispanic and 22 percent African-American.

The pope’s visit to the U.S. as well as his papal mission makes more sense when contextualizing his Latin American roots and reformation of the Church.

When Pope Francis first approached the balcony overlooking the Vatican, it was clear that this pontiff would be different. The newly elected pope asked to be blessed by the faithful rather than the reverse, intriguing millions around the world and solidifying his role as the pope for the people, or the pope for the poor.

Perhaps the papacy of Francis can be best understood if one looks at two things: the brief statement or “intervention” he gave to the College of Cardinals before the conclave, and his Latin American background of Buenos Aires, Argentina, a first for the papacy.

His recent encyclical on the environment sheds light on both issues saying, “the warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world, especially Africa, where a rise in temperature, together with drought, has proved devastating for farming.” Francis emphasizes that these unjust economic structures that result in inequalities are violations of human rights.

In Congress, the pope has received criticism and some Republican Congressmen say they are boycotting his address to the joint session on Thursday.

Others however, are hoping Francis will address issues the pope and Republicans are both against such as abortion and same-sex marriage. While both Democrats and Republicans may try to exploit the pope’s visit for their own ideological purposes, Francis hopes to make both parties feel uncomfortable with his outside perspective.

Those who try to pigeonhole Francis into a red or blue box will end up frustrated and confused.

What Republicans and Democrats should take away from the pope’s visit to the U.S. is the idea of re-focusing their efforts toward helping marginalized groups to enhance American society. With this visit, perhaps the pope is trying to signal to those in power to shed aristocratic tendencies, and end their self-referential thinking.

Adri Montes is a guest columnist for The Kent Stater.