Pope Francis’ ‘toughness’ will see the Catholic Church through reforms

“The biggest challenge in political leadership is not to play to people’s fear but to genuinely appeal to what is best in them and to lead from what is best, not from what is worst,” the cardinal told America.

Mar 16, 2017

By Michael O’Loughlin
“The biggest challenge in political leadership is not to play to people’s fear but to genuinely appeal to what is best in them and to lead from what is best, not from what is worst,” the cardinal told America.

“I think that’s what Pope Francis does, and that’s why people are so interested in what he wants to say — because he appeals to their best. They feel better when they listen to him because he seems to recognise what is best.”

“He’s not a politician,” the cardinal continued. “But if that stance, that vision, could be translated into political programmes, I think that would be the best answer to the rise of what people are calling populism.”

Cardinal Nichols, the archbishop of Westminster, reflected on a number of global issues and Church questions during the hour long interview with America, conducted at his London residence on March 7.

He said that Europe is at a crossroads about its future, that the British government must do more to help resettle child migrants and that Pope Francis is “absolutely right” to ignore a public challenge from a group of four cardinals over the Pope’s teaching on family life.

One of the cardinal’s more high-profile projects in recent years has been his involvement with the Santa Marta Group, a London-based organisation that, with the support of the Pope, contributes to the fight against human trafficking by encouraging relationships between Catholic entities and local police forces.

The group has helped foster partnerships in about two dozen countries, which has helped provide assistance to victims in Nigeria, Ireland, Argentina, Spain and locally in London, where more than 30 victims have been given refuge at a Church-affiliated residence.

One of the goals of the project is establishing trust between the police and victim advocates, who are, in many cases, Catholic sisters.

“In this cooperation, police forces have to be very clear that cooperation is in order to get after the perpetrators and not the victims,” he said. “Bit by bit, that worked here.”

The programme works, he said, by tapping into global Catholic networks.

“People here can pick up the phone to their fellow religious sisters or bishops in Nigeria to say, ‘We’ve got lots of Nigerian youngsters here. Can we help them to get back? Will you receive them? Will you help them when they get back?’ Those kinds of networks are right there. They’re real.”

The cardinal’s work on human trafficking led to a relationship with Theresa May who, last July, became prime minister.

She, too, has been a vocal advocate in fighting human trafficking, leading to a natural alliance between the pair. But, in recent months, the prime minister and the cardinal have clashed over Britain’s response to the refugee crisis facing Europe, especially the plight of unaccompanied minors seeking entry into the United Kingdom.

“It is, particularly in this instance, very difficult to champion the work against human trafficking and to leave unaccompanied children vulnerable,” the cardinal said in the interview.

The United Kingdom had previously committed to receiving 3,000 unaccompanied minors who had made their way into Europe, many settling in camps in France, but that programme was scrapped after just a few hundred were admitted.

On the whole, he said, Britain should be doing more to welcome migrants, thousands of whom continue seeking entry into Europe each month.

“As every country knows, this is a complex challenge. And every country has a right to be very vigilant as to potential dangers,” he said. “But the whole way that migration to Europe is tackled is very unsatisfactory. It is the most dramatic challenge that we face. What’s proving very difficult is to get a coordinated approach to it.”

He said any immigration proposals must begin with “the practical acknowledgments of the human dignity of each person,” and he lamented that the bulk of the challenge in processing migrants has been left to border countries such as Italy and Greece, where

Pope Francis has visited to meet with refugees on multiple occasions.

He praised a UK programme that allows faith communities to sponsor refugee families but said that “the response to that hasn’t been as great as I would hope.”

As political leaders in Britain gear up to begin the process of leaving the European Union, the cardinal said the rise in Europe and the United States of populism, often tinged with xenophobia, is attributable in part to “the distancing of the democratic system from people’s regular views.”

“When people feel that they are not being listened to, their views harden,” he said.

The European Union (EU), he said, “is at a bit of a crossroads,” a situation caused by several factors, including the migration crisis and what he said is a loss of “rootedness in values that clearly had an affinity with the Catholic vision of its founders.” Part of the problem, the cardinal said, is Europe’s inability to deal with diversity among its more than 740 million residents.

Sentiments in Brussels, he said of the EU capital, can be “pretty distant from the fears and anxieties of people in Spain and Greece, for example.”--America

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