Cause for Hope: Sister Simone Campbell on the Pope Francis-Obama Meeting

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Obama and Pope Francis

President Barack Obama bids farewell to Pope Francis following an audience at the Vatican, March 27, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

For me, working in the world of US politics can sometimes be a rough slog of compromise, messaging debates, struggle and outright failure. But then there are moments like March 27, 2014, when President Obama met with Pope Francis in the Vatican.

From all appearances the two enjoyed their conversation and explored thoughts and opportunities. It was nourishment to my spirit to see their smiles. But some have asked, “What did it accomplish?”

While we won’t know the result of any single action, I see hints of good steps forward. First, it seems that Pope Francis’ commitment to those who are left out of the global economy lifted the conversation from rule-bound fear to sharing a vision of something new. Pope Francis speaks of this change candidly, saying that we need to create an economy of inclusion. This economy would put people (not profits) at the center of decision-making. This candid Gospel-based vision seemed to nourish our president. But it is challenging in a country that is so obsessed with the “bottom line” that the Congress fears raising the minimum wage so that people who work full time do not end up still living in poverty.

I know that our world will be better, countries more stable, families better cared for if all have opportunity — not just the few.
Second, this very commitment to those who are left out of the global economy brought Pope Francis to discuss the global situation where peace is so elusive. President Obama reported that in his view it was the quality of empathy that stitched the conversation together. Pope Francis holds the whole world in his care. He has no borders to defend, only people to care for without distinction. On the international stage, where “national interests” are often divisive (witness the US in Iraq or Russia in Ukraine), Pope Francis is challenging all to consider the other in creating just policy in this fractured world.

Finally, I believe that Pope Francis’s care for all helps him to articulate the reality that hungry people see alternatives. Hungry people see global television. Hungry people see opportunity in global communications, and the rich of the world have a responsibility to respond, not in charity, but in justice. Our faith tells us that our world was created to be responsibly shared by all. The pope’s loving challenge to President Obama was not about the nuts and bolts of our political machinations in the United States. Rather, it was in the broader vision of creating a global economy where all are included in opportunity and where the earth is protected in the process.

Catholics and the Federal Budget
I believe that this bigger vision was encouragement for our president. I do know that I found it to be balm for my sometimes weary spirit. I know that our world will be better, countries more stable, families better cared for if all have opportunity — not just the few. It is the core of our Christian faith to care for all. So this moment of meeting in 2014 lifted the concern for the 100 percent. It is the best of our faith and it is at the core of our Constitution as a nation. “We the People” are called to create systems that benefit all. May this meeting renew our commitment to the vision of our faith and our nation’s founders.

Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, is the executive director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice in Washington, DC, and the leader of Nuns on the Bus. As a lawyer and an advocate, she lobbies on issues of health care, economic policy and immigration reform. Follow her on Twitter: @sr_simone.
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