The refugee morality play of Pope Francis

One reason you can tell Pope Francis is a political and rhetorical genius is that he is able to tell the Christian story (arguably the most-told story in the Western world) as if it were new again — and not just new, but radical. Disruptive, even.

He’s spent a lot of the last year turning heads and forcing double takes, but most of the time he’s been merely offering Christian truths, the same ones preached by countless bishops throughout the ages and memorized by a billion youthful catechists.

Francis has been less a revolutionary theologian than he might seem, but who can remember another Christian leader whose interpretation of the gospels seemed at once so relevant, so moral, so contemporary, so wise?

Not since Billy Graham has a singular pastor seemed to speak to so many.

When speaking on issues beyond theology, Francis has employed a similar strategy — apply familiar Catholic values to vexing contemporary matters and wait for the world’s knees to buckle.

His message last week about the refugee crisis in Europe was a very good example: When he shamed all of Europe for responding with insufficient urgency and generosity to the needs of the millions flooding there, mostly from Syria, his message was galvanizing — even though he said nothing, really, that any compassionate Sunday-school teacher wouldn’t say.

He urged the developed countries of Europe to show their concern for the displaced masses in deeds, not just words, and he commanded Catholics to do the same, asking “every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary of Europe take in one family, starting with my diocese of Rome.”

These words — together with a photo of a toddler, drowned and facedown in the sand — made obvious what should have been obvious all along.

Caring especially (and not additionally or incidentally) for the homeless, the stranger, and the victimized should be every Christian’s priority. Continue reading

  • Lisa Miller is currently a contributing editor for New York Magazine, from which the above article is taken.
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