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Urbi et Tweeti

Can twitter save the world?  Probably not.  But when the tweets are “Urbi et Orbi” it’s pretty likely they will be retweeted.

Over the last six weeks Pope Francis (@Pontifex) has delivered 140 characters of worldly homily nearly every day, but none of them have been as noticed as his message for 2 May – “My thoughts turn to all who are unemployed, often as a result of a self-centred mindset bent on profit at any cost.”  A small firestorm was created on the ‘net … well, the usual internet people behaved in an internet way about it and got their 140 getback.  Whatever.  But what matters is that Pope Francis is emerging as a leader for the rights of the downtrodden at a time when such leaders are needed – and is emphasizing things that reach out to embrace a slightly bigger world of the meek.

FrancisLike everything on the ‘net, it starts innocently.  Pope Francis has been tweeting his daily message with only a few breaks since he landed the gig, starting 17 March.  The message goes out in 9 languages, including Arabic (!!).  The first 29 were hardly controversial, starting with his trademark personal humility – “Dear friends, I thank you from my heart and I ask you to continue to pray for me. Pope Francis.”

If it seems hardly remarkable, it is the little things that count.  As a leader in a South American country, Francis learned the importance of public symbolism as the basis of leadership – equal parts control and humility with a splash of color.  Consider  19 March’s tweet, “True power is service. The Pope must serve all people, especially the poor, the weak, the vulnerable.”  Being the first Pope on twitter is only part of the show.  It’s the perfect antidote for the malaise of faceless bureaucrats that dominates the developed world, especially in Europe.  Francis knows that a position of power has to be earned constantly.

But the controversial tweet goes just a bit further than that, opening up a new direction.

To start with, Francis is not just in solidarity with the poor, he’s with those who never saw themselves as poor before circumstances went against them.  Many in the developed world would never call themselves “poor”, but unemployed is hard to deny.  It also is a call for something very different than we are used to in Catholic charity – the poor need charity, but the unemployed need a job.

Consider the tweet on 26 April, “Dear young people, do not bury your talents, the gifts that God has given you! Do not be afraid to dream of great things!”  There is no call for a handout in Francis’ message.  He supports honest work and dreaming big – and a reasonable reward for doing so.  Which gets us to the second part of the controversial tweet, “…often as a result of a self-centred mindset bent on profit at any cost.”    Dream big, work hard – but don’t be selfish.  Money is not the root of evil, but self-centeredness is.

The message is not all that different from the one refined and delivered by Benedict XVI, but the vehicle is.  The brevity of a tweet makes it something of an instant slogan, which in leadership terms is a far cry from the encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth). That document took about 100 pages to lay out the case that without love there is only emptiness and excess which leads to all material want.  It’s important as church doctrine, but a daily 140 is read by millions of people around the world.

But what remains important here is not that the Catholic church is taking this stand.  What is most important is the leadership for the left and the crystalized message that is being delivered.  The problem is selfishness, and it is crushing those with willing arms who desire only an honest day’s wages.  It is not delivered as a political platform or an economic policy, but as a matter of the heart.

The political left has not had this kind of leader in generations.  The calling is not for charity, but a fellowship among the brothers and sisters of the world.  The calling is not for a handout, but an opportunity.  The calling is not for revolution or force, but for love.

Can twitter save the world?  Under the keyboard of a modern day Saint Francis, maybe it can.

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12 thoughts on “Urbi et Tweeti

  1. Pure gold! I wanted to say that you are making too much of it but with the other tweets by the pope I see you aren’t. He sounds like you almost! Keep writing, the message is catching on.

    • Thank you very much! I was expecting great things from Francis, and so far I am not disappointed. It’s more about showing the world, especially those of us who care about equity and poverty and unemployment, what leadership looks like.

  2. On the flip side there were 2 big pieces of news. The new better jobs report but also the rise in death by suicide in young and middle aged men (not just adolescents and senior citizens). Also the new national geographic had an article on living to 100 (my thought here was oh great 20 more years of slavery) I don’t want to be maudilin here (I hope I am using the phrase correctly) but what would this new world that the pope envisions look like? Going a bit deeper into the suicide report it cited briefly the suicide rate amongst newly retired men who have trouble adjusting to their new leisure or circumstances. I think my dad who is still alive and is 85 had trouble with retirement until he found work in a call center. and I know I will have trouble unless I have plenty of outdoor work available or become a student again (of history or the arts and sciences perhaps) So once again I would like your take on what this new world would look like and the structures that would support it.

    • That is a good point – it’s always one thing to complain, it’s another to envision. That was the lesson of the campaign to oust Pinochet in Chile that I wrote about a little bit ago.
      Suicide rates are worth looking into, thanks. This is what happens when opportunities close down in a society built around things like following your dreams, etc.
      What kind of life are we creating? What chances do the young – and the old – really have? It’s a very competitive and selfish world right now. I would very much like to see that change. But to what?

  3. I am also impressed by much of what Pope Francis has done so far, but he said he would continue the clampdown on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious – the nuns who dared to not speak out on the Vatican line. So its still the same old church to me and I can’t be a part of that. This is encouraging and good but it’s still not a modern church by any means.

    • I do understand, and that part is not going to change overnight. In fact, there really is no change in the message at all between Benedict and Francis – just the delivery vehicle.
      My point is less about the church and more about the need for leadership on this issue. How about this – if Francis’ message hits the mainstream and is repeated I’ll be happy – that’s what I’m interested in.

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