Catholic Social Teaching Corner: Lampedusa and the Outskirts

July 18, 2013

CatholicSocialTeaching_BannerI had never heard of the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa until Pope Francis went there on July 8th, his first foreign trip; and perhaps that’s part of the point. In going, the Holy Father was drawing attention to an overlooked situation – the plight of immigrants from Africa, hundreds of whom had died in recent months desperately trying to gain a foothold on this Italian island. He shined a light on a tragedy that is all too easy to ignore. This trip and other initiatives of Pope Francis signify an emphasis on the social teaching and mission of the Church. In his homily for the Chrism Mass at St. Peter’s this year, he evoked the imagery of the “precious oil” running down the beard of Aaron and onto his robe from Psalm 133. That anointing then extends to the very fringes if the robe, metaphorically touching those on the outskirts. It is an evocative image to remind priests – and thus the Church as a whole – that they are to reach out to people on the margins. photoIn his homily on the island, Pope Francis memorably decried a “globalization of indifference.” The culture of comfort can be too much of a bubble that falsely shields one from the tremendous poverty and suffering in the world. Yet God still asks us, as he asked Cain, “Where is your brother?” We are responsible for each other, as individuals and as societies. The poor of Lampedusa remind us of our need to reach out in love and solidarity. One can say that there are two types of “fringe” people whom the Pope seeks to reach. The first is, naturally, the materially poor. But the second are those who are on the fringe religiously and culturally – those alienated from orthodox Christian faith for whatever reason. These people are frequently touched and brought closer to the Gospel by the Church’s visible outreach to the first type. That is why Pope Francis is apparently so beloved, even in unlikely places. The pop star Elton John referred to him as a “miracle of humility in an era of vanity.” (CNN online) More personally a friend of mine, who might be described as a theologically liberal Protestant, shared her admiration for Pope Francis. To put the Pope’s Lampedusa lesson in a Dominican key, one can call to mind the motto contemplare et contemplata aliis tradere (to contemplate and to share with others the fruits of one’s contemplation). Dominican contemplation is lived in the heart of the Church, tied to the common life and the sacred Tradition. But our preaching should be projected to the outskirts, just as St. Dominic preached to the Albigensians and St. Thomas engaged the fashionable intellectuals and budding secularists of his day. We can seek out those on the outskirts today, in imitation of our Lord, who was “anointed … to bring glad tidings to the poor.” (Luke 4:18)      

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