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The Duchess and the Pope:

 Let’s Listen Carefully to Their Messages:  Are You OK?

By Shlomo Maital  

Meghan                   &                  Pope Francis

  On two consecutive days, Nov. 25 and 26, the New York Times ran Op-Ed essays by Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Pope Francis.  By coincidence only, these two powerful messages coincide and complement each other.  Here is a short summary, in case you missed them.  Just for background:  Meghan, married to Prince Harry, younger son of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana, was hounded out of Britain by racist tabloids (she is mixed race).

    Meghan recounts how, touring in South Africa with Harry, a journalist asked her a very unusual question:   Are you OK?  She was tired, hassled, not OK – but journalists pursuing racy stories were rarely interested in her wellbeing, as a person.  The question touched her.  Here is what she writes:

     “So this Thanksgiving, as we plan for a holiday unlike any before — many of us separated from our loved ones, alone, sick, scared, divided and perhaps struggling to find something, anything, to be grateful for — let us commit to asking others, “Are you OK?” As much as we may disagree, as physically distanced as we may be, the truth is that we are more connected than ever because of all we have individually and collectively endured this year.  We are adjusting to a new normal where faces are concealed by masks, but it’s forcing us to look into one another’s eyes — sometimes filled with warmth, other times with tears. For the first time, in a long time, as human beings, we are really seeing one another.

    Are we OK?  We will be.”

     Yes – we are OK, many of us.   Many are not – but they will be, if we ask them how they are, and do small and big things to make them OK. 

     And the Pope?  Here is his message, taken from a forthcoming book: 

       “The coronavirus crisis may seem special because it affects most of humankind. But it is special only in how visible it is. There are a thousand other crises that are just as dire, but are just far enough from some of us that we can act as if they don’t exist. Think, for example, of the wars scattered across different parts of the world; of the production and trade in weapons; of the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing poverty, hunger and lack of opportunity; of climate change. These tragedies may seem distant from us, as part of the daily news that, sadly, fails to move us to change our agendas and priorities. But like the Covid-19 crisis, they affect the whole of humanity.  Look at us now: We put on face masks to protect ourselves and others from a virus we can’t see. But what about all those other unseen viruses we need to protect ourselves from? How will we deal with the hidden pandemics of this world, the pandemics of hunger and violence and climate change?    If we are to come out of this crisis less selfish than when we went in, we have to let ourselves be touched by others’ pain.     This is a moment to dream big, to rethink our priorities — what we value, what we want, what we seek — and to commit to act in our daily life on what we have dreamed of.”

   We have to let ourselves be touched by others’ pain.  And act, however we can, to diminish it. 

    The Pope and the Duchess.  Words to live by.

Laudato Si: Worth Careful Reading

By Shlomo Maital

“Our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.   This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which G-d has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. … This is why the Earth itself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor…she ‘groans in travail’.  

These are the eloquent opening words of Pope Francis’ new encyclical, Laudato Si, “Praise the Lord…”.   Yesterday was the Jewish holy day Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement.   My sister in law Rabbi Suri led a discussion of Laudato Si, as we read excerpts, and discussed the Jewish and Catholic views on ecology and ethics. I plan to read the entire document. Meanwhile, based on excerpts, I urge you to read it all.   Most Papal encyclicals are dense and scholarly. This one is written in Pope Francis style, clear, well-reasoned, with beautiful metaphors and sharp admonishments.

   We have indeed laid waste to our earth. The 15th COP Conference of Parties (the UN’s euphemism for impotent political gatherings) will take place in November in Paris. But there is a groundswell that holds out hope.   Rather than ineffective top-down political leadership to deal with global warming, we now are seeing increasing bottom-up activism, with each individual everywhere asking, what can I do to use less water, waste less, plunder less, in order to be a moral human being, as Pope Francis counsels?   If each of us acted on our beliefs, even in small ways, the aggregate effect would be immense.

   Perhaps Laudato Si will ignite such a groundswell of rebellion and action world-wide.  We will listen carefully to Pope Francis’ address to Congress today, and to the UN tomorrow.Laudato Si


Deflating Europe:  The Simple Truth

By Shlomo Maital

 Pope EU

  Pope Francis has quickly become one of my favorite role models, even though I am Jewish.  He has taken on the moribund Vatican establishment and turned it upside down.  His speeches are thoughtful and tackle the key issues of our day.  And recently, last Nov. 25, he addressed the European Parliament – and told the Europeans some very very hard things they needed to hear, that their own leaders dare not say.  

He told the Europeans bluntly: “Europe seems to give the impression of being somewhat elderly and haggard, feeling less and less a protagonist in a world which frequently regards it with aloofness, mistrust and even, at times, suspicion….. Men and women risk being reduced to mere cogs in a machine that treats them as items of consumption to be exploited, with the result that – as is so tragically apparent – whenever a human life no longer proves useful for that machine, it is discarded with few qualms, as in the case of the terminally ill, the elderly who are abandoned and uncared for, and children who are killed in the womb.”

   Elderly and haggard.   Right on.

   Pope Francis has deflated Europe. And he does so, while Europe itself has sunk again into deflation, with prices now falling for the first time since 2008.

   What’s wrong with falling prices? Put simply: there are two kinds of deflation (falling prices):   a) the kind caused by higher productivity and lower costs, and b) the kind caused by falling demand. Europe suffers mainly from the latter. And it is an evil. Because it is accompanied by higher unemployment, stagnation and inequality.

   And the problem is, Europe’s deflation is largely man-made, caused by the wrong-headed principle of austerity and budget cuts, partly imposed by Germany on Greece, Spain, Portugal and other “spendthrift” nations. And now Germany’s economy too is paying the price, because when Europe sinks, Germany does too.

   Kudos to Pope Francis for deflating deflated Europe. Black marks to economists for selling Europe on the wrongheaded austerity policies. Why does it take a Pope to try to set Europe in the right direction?  

How to Make Peace:  Pope Francis and Rabbi Abraham Skorka

By Shlomo  Maital

Pope Skorka

Pope Francis with Rabbi Abraham Skorka

I am writing this blog while watching on TV the arrival of Pope Francis in Jerusalem, brought by a Jordanian helicopter, greeted by our Prime Minister and President.  While watching the Pope, dressed in simple white robes, I am reading On Heaven and Earth, the 2010 book recording the dialogue between Pope Francis (then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio) and Rabbi Abraham Skorka, an Argentinean Conservative Rabbi and long-time friend of Bergoglio.  Skorka has come to Jerusalem to join the papal visit. 

   The book contains 29 dialogues on wide-ranging topics, including the Arab-Israeli conflict, money, poverty, same-sex marriage, divorce, euthanasia, divorce, abortion, the holocaust, and the future of religion. 

    Almost the very first passage I read, is one by the Pope about dialogue.  Here is what he writes:   Dialogue is born from a respectful attitude toward the other person, from a conviction that the other person has something good to say.

    How sad that neither Israelis nor Palestinians can say truthfully, that they believe the other side is worthy of  respect and has something good to say.  We cannot make peace unless we respect each other.  Will both sides listen to this good man, as a first step toward making peace?

     (Dialogue) supposes that we can make room in our heart for their point of view, their opinion and their proposals.

     Do Israelis and Palestinians truly understand the other side’s position?  Can Israelis state the Palestinian position clearly, with understanding and empathy? Can the Palestinians?  I doubt it.  Will we listen to the Pope and try to do so?

       Dialogue entails a warm reception and not a preemptive condemnation.  To dialogue, one must know how to lower the defenses, to open the doors of one’s home and to offer warmth.

      Rabbi Skorka and I have been able to dialogue and it has done us good.  With Rabbi Skorka I never had to compromise my Catholic identity, just like he never had to with his Jewish identity, and this was not only out of the respect we have for each other, but also because of how we understand interreligious dialogue.

     I have a radical idea.  American Secretary of State  John Kerry is just one of a long line of well-meaning Americans who have failed to bring Israelis and Palestinians together.    

     Why not let the Pope have a shot at it?   Why not let the Pope teach Israelis and Palestinians how to dialogue? He certainly can’t do any worse than Obama.  He might do a whole lot better.     The Pope is clearly an expert at dialogue.  Dialogue is how you make peace.  We have had no such dialogue for years – only monologues.  Let’s begin by practicing true dialogue. Let’s talk about, say, football and movies.  When we learn to truly dialogue, then, we can tackle the tough issues. 

     We welcome the Pope to our country, and hope all our leaders will all listen to and learn from this humble and visionary good man.  

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital