Rise in populist leaders worries VaticanPope Francis and his closest allies continue to express their deep concern about the rise of populist political leaders around the world – those who appeal to people’s fear of foreigners and their desire to exclusively pursue isolationist self-interests.
Mar 17, 2017
By Robert Mickens
Pope Francis and his closest allies continue to express their deep concern about the rise of populist political leaders around the world – those who appeal to people’s fear of foreigners and their desire to exclusively pursue isolationist self-interests.
The Pope and his confidants are especially alarmed by such developments in the Americas, Asia and Europe.
And the early actions of the new US President Donald Trump have only increased their preoccupation. While Francis and other Vatican officials have voiced a “wait and see” attitude towards the head of the world’s leading superpower, they have, nonetheless, sent unmistakable signals that they are not amused by Mr Trump’s bombastic rhetoric and leadership style.
“From the time we were little we were taught that it’s not a good thing to boast,” the Pope said on Feb 15 at his weekly Wednesday general audience at the Vatican.
“In my country, braggarts are called ‘peacocks’,” he said. “And that’s right because bragging about who we are or what we have – beyond being a certain kind of pride – also demonstrates a lack of respect for others, especially those less fortunate than us,” the Pope continued.
Let’s be clear – Francis was not singling out Mr Trump. He never even mentioned him by name. But there are few world leaders who rival the US president in pomposity, although Russia’s Vladimir Putin and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte are among those who give Trump a good run for his money.
These three men – and a number of far-right, nationalist political candidates currently seeking power on the Old Continent (Europe) – brashly present themselves as single-handed saviors of their respective nations. They are all linked by a closed-in, “my country first” attitude that is worrisome to the pope and his chief aides.
“Certainly, these types of insulation are not a good sign,” Cardinal Pietro Parolin said.
The Vatican Secretary of State pointed out on February 14 in an interview on Italian state television that “many of these phenomena come from fear”. And he added this warning:
“The inability to welcome and integrate can be dangerous. History teaches us this, and we hope that in this sense it will not be repeated.”
Other Catholic bishops from around the world share these same sentiments. But that doesn’t mean all the prelates or all the baptized faithful do.
Pope Francis cannot be pleased that populist leaders on every continent have received support from a good chunk of the Catholic population – including Mr Trump in the United States.
How will the Pope deal with Mr Trump when the two men finally meet face-to-face?
Some believe it would be unwise to extend any openness towards Trump, a propagandist known for peddling “alternative facts” and “repeating ridiculous throw-away lines that are not true at all”.
They fear the president would try to manipulate a meeting with the Pope to shore up his standing at home and in the international community.
But Francis does not seem to be hampered by any such fears.
It is the US president who should be concerned. Neither the Pope nor his aides would allow Mr Trump to get away with the type of shenanigans that helped propel him to the White House.
In fact, Pope Francis and the Holy See may be the last and most reliable check on the politics of fear and division that are being promoted by the US president and other populist leaders around the globe. --La Croix
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