I am not a Catholic; I am not a church-goer. I have doubts about the existence of God and of consciousness after death. Yet I felt a powerful call to pay attention to Pope Francis when he visited America. The origin of this summons was my deep and urgent hope for a global leader to rise from the chaos and darkness of global turmoil, violence, regression and destruction—a visionary and value-driven leader of moral courage who can ascend above the numbing and destruction of the human spirit (evil) so common in today’s world and lead a conscious evolution of the human condition in a direction of greater wisdom and maturity.
I paid rapt attention to the Pope’s visit. Several things touched me. One of them:
The Pope said to Congress:
On this continent too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12).
Jewish theologian Martin Buber wrote of I-It and I-Thou relationships. I-It relationships relate to an entity as an object, whose only value is extrinsic. In an I-It relationship we value a creation only insofar as it serves our purposes. This is the relationship we have towards objects, and, sadly, too often, towards other people. Thinking of people as objects makes it easier for us to demonize and discard them.
The I-Thou relationship is the relationship we should always have with other people. This is a relationship of respect in which the person has intrinsic value, value in and of himself or herself, regardless of whether that person can produce any external value for us. In an I-Thou relationship we see another person as a soul that seeks expression, just as we ourselves do. We understand that what we do to others we do to ourselves. We treat others as we want to be treated. The I-Thou relationship demonstrates dignity and responsibility.
Melanie and I spent last winter in the Sonoran Desert not far from the border with Mexico. My observations prompted me to read to learn more about the crossers–the people the Pope talked about–to better experience them as fellow human beings. In search of a better life, they are often demonized, marginalized and victimized. People on both sides of the border often treat them as objects and abandon them to die anonymous and lonely deaths cared about by no one.
But for the randomness of biology, we too might be one of these forgotten people.
No one has the right to harm the spirit of another.