Mariel Fiori, photo by Richard Renaldi
Mariel Fiori, photo by Richard Renaldi
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(Failed)Meeting of Two Worlds

The Pope’s Visit During Hispanic Month and the Extreme Right 

Por Mariel Fiori
September 2015
One says they all have to go, that undocumented immigrants are a burden on society for being delinquents and stealing jobs from citizens, that their children born on American soil should have their citizenship taken away (despite the Constitution), and that the wall dividing the border has to be larger. The other says that the mistreatment of immigrants escaping war and injustices “makes one weep. Makes one weep at seeing today’s spectacle of human beings who are treated like commodities.”

As some can already imagine, the former is the presidential candidate in the Republican primaries, business magnate Donald Trump, who sometimes makes me laugh (why? Who can pay any mind to the baseless folly he proclaims? Is it all for publicity?), and other times I find him frightening (because according to polls, there are many who would vote for him to run the country and others who are even capable of assaulting a Hispanic homeless man in the name of the delirious nonsense he spews). Without any intention of describing and dismantling each of Trump’s “proposals” (many respectable mediums are already taking care of that), my mind goes back to the fact that two of Trump’s ex-wives were born in other countries and became naturalized citizens after their marriage, or that the multimillionaire’s own mother had been born in Scotland. So what’s the deal? It strikes me as taking full advantage of the quiet, insidious racism within many Americans, racism that finds a loud voice in the man with a toupee.

The latter is, well, the supreme pontiff, Pope Francis I, the first Latin-American pope of the Roman Catholic Church, who will arrive at the United States on the 22nd of September, shortly after his visit to Cuba. The pope will then meet with President Obama, canonize the missionary father Junipero Sierra, give a speech to the Congress (the first pope to do so, invited by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, who is also Catholic), and speak before the General Assembly in the UN in New York. In New York, later on Friday the 25th, he will visit a school in Harlem and give Mass in Madison Square Garden. Afterward, on the 26th and the 27th, he will go to Philadelphia to attend the World Meeting of Families.

For the Mass he will officiate in New York, the local Archbishop Timothy Dolan sent for a wood chair to be built by the hands of immigrants from the community center Don Bosco Workers. On its website, the Archdiocese of New York stated that Dolan’s initiative aligns with the Holy Father's emphasis on promoting “respect to all workers, immigrants, and people on the margins of society.” For that reason, the altar and the lectern will be made by the Lincoln Hall Boys Haven, a center for disadvantaged youth. All of it very symbolic.

Of course, as an Argentine raised in the Catholic faith, as a descendent of Italians on my father’s side, and like nearly everyone else, I am also proud of having a Latin-American pope in the Vatican. But it’s not his origins I find encouraging, but what this man, in a position of enormous power, does to give voice to the social and environmental problems present in today’s world. A pope who has his feet firmly planted on the ground and seems to respond to Trump (and other populist politics of a similar ilk) when he says: “Our culture of well-being makes us deaf to the cries of others, makes us live in a sterile bubble, attractive, but empty,” is motive for hope and pride.

One of the standard techniques of the extreme right is to place religion and the Bible above all reasoning, very conveniently. But just recently, on his visit to Paraguay, from a chapel in a poor neighborhood in Asuncion, the Pope said: “For all the Sunday Masses you attend, if you do not have a heart in solidarity, if you do not know what goes on in your home town, your faith is weak or sick or dead. It is a faith without Christ, a faith without solidarity is a faith without Christ, a faith without God, a faith without brothers.”

I wonder what this new encounter (or probably a failed encounter) of these two worlds would look like toward the end of September, precisely when Hispanic Heritage month begins in the United States. This is a month that begins with the celebration of the independence of Mexico and central-American countries and ends with a remembrance of America’s “discovery,” that famous encounter of two worlds, after which nothing was ever the same.

Mariel Fiori
Managing Editor

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