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.
Like 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.