Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
By Darryl Lorenzo Wellington
Pope Francis has done us all a favor, whether we're Catholic or not.
In this Christmas season, he has shown the way to a more humane society.
He has certainly earned Time magazine's Person of the Year commendation.
In his first papal exhortation, he put most leaders in the Western world to shame with his heartfelt message lamenting international hunger and inequality.
"While the earnings of the minority are growing exponentially," lamented the pope, "so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few."
He pointed his finger directly at the free market idolatry that is so prevalent in some Western circles.
"The imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation," he said. "The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything that stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market."
It was almost as though he were speaking directly to the Republican Party when he said it is wrong and unChristian to "continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice."
He also decried the callousness that has accompanied such theories.
"A globalization of indifference has developed," he said. "Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us."
Not surprisingly, Rush Limbaugh carped that Pope Francis was advocating "pure Marxism."
Asked about this criticism a few days later, the pope gave a stunning response.
"Marxist ideology is wrong," he said. "But in my life I have known many Marxists who are good people, so I don't feel offended."
In reality, Pope Francis was echoing not the German philosopher but Christ himself.
And by being generous to those the church has often demonized, the pope has demonstrated the depths of Christian generosity.
In a remarkable display of compassion toward homosexuals, he said in July: "Who am I to judge them if they're seeking the Lord in good faith?"
Far from clinging to the rigid and the doctrinaire, Pope Francis has returned to the compassionate Christ.
And in this season of giving, his words instruct us not only to provide for the poor but also to build a just economy.
Thank you, Pope Francis, for reminding us of the true spirit of Christmas.
Darryl Lorenzo Wellington is a poet living in Santa Fe, N.M. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Copyright Darryl Lorenzo Wellington.
Photo: Flickr user thierry ehrmann, creative commons licensed.