I wasn’t going to post this Shark Week, as a Papal visit to the United States has never really meant much to me. Pomp and circumstance, hand-waving and speeches. Many people have been moved by papal visits–I have not been one of them. When the Pope visits the US next Fall–to Philadelphia, so they say–I don’t really expect much to change on my front. My struggles with the United States do not lend themselves to easy fixes through nice visits by a foreign monarch–even one at the head of the Church I call my home.
But as I came to consider what Papal visits have been, and the history of the Catholic Church in the US, I thought–well, maybe I do have a suggestion. It’s not so much a matter of where, but what. Whether the Pope goes to Philadelphia, New York, DC, Kentucky, or even my own backyard (which I just mowed tonight, I’ll have you know, Holy Father)…I don’t really care. I really don’t. But I do care what is said.
Now, Pope Francis has already called out capitalism many times. We get it. Keep it coming. Lovin’ it. So he could reprise that for our soil, but that wouldn’t shock anyone. If anything, it might actually look hypocritical if he did it standing in Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Eagles, which they’d have to use just for the sake of the crowds. “Capitalism is horrible, unless you’re using it to build huge amazing stadiums where I can talk!”
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What do I want the Pope to say? I want him to apologize for slavery–and not just for Dum Diversas, 15th century Papal Bull that granted the Americas to Spain and Portugal (It’s really bad). More importantly, I want him to apologize for the complicit US Catholic Church that remained silent over centuries of slavery, lynching, oppression, and general racism. I want him, in broken English (which I’m pretty sure is all he knows), to call out his brother bishops and cardinals who reside in the US for not doing this before. He doesn’t have to visit Ferguson to see the effect of race-based violence in the United States. Philadelphia will do just fine.
Or Chicago. New York. Washington, DC…you know, what, Holy Father, since we’re talking now, just pick a city, find the poorest and most violent zip code, and go there. And there, in the midst of government housing, across the street from known gang holdups, where someone perhaps was killed last night, there you should apologize for slavery, and call out the bishops and the Catholic churches in the area for not doing enough to help.
“Silence today,” you might say, “is as bad as lynching 50 years ago. Silence in the face of racism, assault, murder, poverty–this silence is a sin. It is a sin of the Church, it is a sin against the will of a merciful and loving God. In a country where drones roam freely overseas, killing people without consequence and with a majority of public opinion, this does not surprise me. In a country that supported (and still supports) oppressive regimes throughout Latin America, this does not surprise me. But it is still WRONG. It is WRONG. We have not done enough. The Church should be ashamed. We have not done enough. I am sorry.”
After that, Holy Father, just shirk the meetings with the rich and powerful. Have dinner with a single mother fighting to make enough money on the US minimum wage. Bless her home. Bless her struggle. Allow her to talk to you. See America from her point of view, and use your stage–your unprecedented popularity around the world–to show America not for the greatness it claims to have, but the sins for which it must repent.
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One last thing, if I may. Don’t come here if you’re just going to shake hands and hang out with the super wealthy Catholic donors and give speeches in huge stadiums. Don’t come if you’re going to have rock stars over and drive through cities to give people a Catholic “pick me up.” Just don’t. It’s not what you’re here for. For all that America means around the world, don’t come here if you’re not ready to pick a fight for the love and mercy of God.
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This post is part of Daily Theology’s Theological Shark Week VI: What Should Francis Do? See all the posts here.