Pope Francis spends much more time talking about this life than the next one. He is given to statements such as “Another world is possible,” but he isn’t referring to heaven. He is referring to a revolutionized political order. The pope’s trip to World Youth Day in Panama this week marked another attempt to advance his temporal vision. He called on the youth to build a better “future,” but he didn’t specify where. He used his visit to what the press called the “hub” of Central America’s caravan culture to encourage illegal immigration. He deplored the “senseless and irresponsible condemnation” of illegal immigrants and mused again about countries with “bridges,” not walls.
On the plane trip to Panama, Pope Francis had already taken a jab at governments for enforcing borders. He blamed division and instability in countries reeling from illegal immigration not on the consequences of that invasion but on the “fear” of it. “It is the fear that makes us crazy,” he said, after a reporter asked him a question related to President Trump’s proposed wall.
For a pope who says that he doesn’t like to “lay burdens” on people, he has no problem guilt-tripping them if they hold rational concerns about leaving their borders open. The pope’s relentless amnesty advocacy represents a departure from the customary respect the Church gave the state concerning its legitimate duties. Previous popes, citing Jesus Christ’s injunction “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s,” were loath to question something as fundamental to good governance as immigration law-making. But this pope feels no such hesitation to encroach upon Caesar’s space. He permitted one of the prayer ceremonies in Panama to turn into something akin to a pro-amnesty rally, with references to the beaten Jesus as an illegal immigrant.
That a responsible government might need to build both bridges and walls never seems to occur to him. He treats the basic duties of government as an impediment to the common good rather than a source of it, and he refuses to consider the implications of a universal right to amnesty. During his trip to Panama, he made it clear that his distaste for “walls” even extended to “invisible” ones, as he visited with prisoners, whom he cast as victims of society’s lock-them-up mentality. He implied that society’s “attitude” toward their crimes is worse than the crimes themselves. “This attitude spoils everything, because it erects an invisible wall that makes people think that, if we marginalize, separate and isolate others, all our problems will magically be solved,” he said to the prisoners. “When a society or community allows this, and does nothing more than complain and backbite, it enters into a vicious circle of division, blame and condemnation.”
The pope likes to pit the lawless against the lawful and imply that the latter lack morality for simply asking their government to keep them safe. He seeks to rally members of the Church not around her actual teachings but around his own divisive left-wing politics. In his address to the bishops of Central America during the trip, he urged them to embrace an even more political role. He said that he wanted them to “think with the church,” by which apparently he means the political priorities of the current hierarchy of the church. According to the traditional mind of the Church, the duty of a bishop is to save souls, not spout off about complicated political matters beyond his competence. But for Pope Francis, the kingdom of heaven holds less appeal than the politics of the moment. At times during his visit to Panama his politicizing of Christianity made him sound pantheistic: “Your Son’s way of the cross continues in the plea of our mother earth, profoundly wounded by the pollution of her skies, the barrenness of her fields, the contamination of her waters, trampled underfoot by disregard and a fury of consumption beyond all reason.”
According to press reports, turnout for the event was disappointingly wan. They attributed the diminished numbers to the timing of the event, that it conflicted with the school schedules of students from America and Europe. But surely some of the diminished enthusiasm for such events is due to the tired and dilettantish politics of this papacy. Could it be, as Jesus said, that the young want “bread,” not stones?