Vatican analyst John L. Allen Jr. has heralded the popular Pope Francis as “the new Nelson Mandela.” He believes the Pope has taken over as the principal originator and leader of moral issues in the world; an unofficial position Mandela is recognized to have acquired during his legendary life.
One of the most pressing moral issues is undeniably income inequality and a completely skewed distribution of worldwide wealth. So when the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting for 2014 opened in Davos, Switzerland today, it was fitting that delegates were urged by the Pope to promote prosperity inclusively rather than be ruled by wealth.
Since his appointment as pontiff in March 2013, Pope Francis has advocated that the Catholic Church should take its role as a “poor church for the poor” seriously, and has constantly spoken out against wealth inequality and other similar issues. Nelson Mandela, legendary first democratic leader of post-apartheid South Africa and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, took a similar stance in terms of political and social inequalities.
While Mandela became a critical compass for moral direction because of what he did and stood for, Pope Francis has walked into a position of authority with billions of followers just waiting for him to direct them. That’s the primary difference between the two men, says Allen.
In an article published online by CNN today, Allen compares the two global icons, saying that what makes the Pope different is his charisma and the fact that he is an “institutional authority” who leads the largest Christian church in the world. Without even trying, this amazingly humble and much-loved religious leader has more than 1.2 billion people following him from every corner of the world.
For the first time ever, says Allen, the Pope is adding credibility to issues relating to economic justice that other world leaders do not have the capacity to do. He comes from Argentina, which is a part of the developing world, and he prefers humility and simplicity to wealth and ostentation. While he has publicly acknowledged the fact that first world business has helped to alleviate poverty, Pope Francis is critical of capitalism.
Pope Francis’s message, which was read to world political and business leaders by Vatican Cardinal Peter Turkson from Ghana in Davos today, is largely what prompted Allen’s comments regarding Pope Francis taking over from the great Nelson Mandela as the world’s moral leader. It was a message that will, without doubt, go down in history as a brave attempt to force the richest of the rich and political powers that be to stem the growth of inequality and end economic global disparity.
In his message, the pontiff urged global leaders to make sure that humanity is “served by wealth and not ruled by it.” He also said it is vital that the world’s leaders adopt what he terms a new “political and business mentality,” and said they should start using their skills so that people living in dire poverty will benefit. It is not acceptable for thousands of people to die from hunger every day, he said. Among other things, what is needed is to ensure a better distribution of wealth and to create jobs for more people.
Cardinal Turkson explained why the Pope’s message was so important. Above all, he said, “The church’s social doctrine which we promote is based on essentially four pillars: the dignity of the human person, solidarity, security, and the universal destination of the goods of the earth.” He agreed that inequality is getting worse, and said it is vital to do everything possible to get people out of poverty.
The global organization Oxfam, which is dedicated to fighting poverty, also sent a strong message to the meeting, pointing out that all the world’s wealth is owned by a mere one percent of the world’s population. Oxfam warned that if steps are not taken to rectify this situation, this will be the demise of equal opportunity for all.
While Pope Francis is not a political leader like Nelson Mandela, there is no doubt that both are worthy of being the world’s moral leader. Perhaps those who exploit global opportunities of wealth will recognize the wisdom that both men have offered and make a concerted effort to lessen inequality and increase every form of equality.
By Penny Swift