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Pope calls for unity in a time of discord

Powerful message: Pope Francis addresses the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly yesterday as part of his visit to the United States, where he has pressed the point that in our deeply troubled world, those in power must do more to help those in need (Photograph by Seth Wenig via AP)

In recent days a man, whom one official described as the new Nelson Mandela voice during very challenging times, was able to penetrate an atmosphere of discord, politically and socially, in a manner that left many seasoned observers deeply moved by a message that was aimed at bringing people together, for the common objective of making life on Earth better for all, regardless of race, religion, or ethnic origin.

That man was Pope Francis who, prior to being elected as the pontiff, had long begun his spiritual journey of faith as a priest who had an unshakeable commitment to serving and helping the poor.

In his humble and dedicated application of his role in helping others, he would travel to slums while serving in his native South America, to assist the needy and provide a light of hope.

His election as Pope may have startled some in the Catholic faith, since he made it no secret that he had serious concerns about Vatican bureaucracy, and that changes were needed for further progress.

Despite his openly expressed views when the puff of white smoke rose skyward and signalled his election, he knew the road ahead would hold challenges that would require calmness, determination and his deep faith. His first words were “pray for me”.

Making his very first visit to the United States, at a time when global concerns about security, especially with world figures, is paramount, the Secret Service and Vatican security officials faced a logistical nightmare as Pope Francis made it clear that mingling with the people was what his ministry was all about, no matter the risk.

He was reported to have quipped: “At my age I don’t have much to lose.” His epic journey, which began with a stop in Cuba, where his efforts to improve Cuban relations with America had already melted much of the diplomatic ice that enabled both sides to begin a thaw, is still in progress.

In the US, he would be the first Pope to address Congress. Not to ruffle political feathers, but to press home his message that in a deeply troubled world those in positions of power must do more to reach and help people in desperate need. Softly spoken but with powerful clarity, he cited how leaders must seek ways to create a better balance between great wealth and poverty.

The pontiff was given standing ovations at times by both Democrats and Republicans, and even had members of the Supreme Court clapping when, according to reporters, this elite group seldom reacts no matter who is speaking.

When the Pope referred to America as the land of freedom and home of the brave, the applause shook the rafters. Although he touched on issues such as migration and climate change, which he felt affected the world, he minced no words in stressing that the traditional family was vital, because children needed to be given true values about the joys experienced in family life.

During an address watched around the world, he paid tribute to several historic figures, including Abraham Lincoln, who fought to secure basic rights for all Americans, and Dr Martin Luther King Jr who, many years later, helped to change America when it had fallen short on that promise.

He pointed out that those efforts helped to make America great, but there was still much work to be done in creating conditions that would improve life for all.

The Pope’s message was certainly a breath of fresh air in the midst of a presidential election campaign that has been swamped with a tirade of nasty exchanges between some candidates, which have left many wondering whether being elected is more important than the concerns of the people.

When the Pope returns to the Vatican to launch further initiatives in his work to tackle issues affecting the lives of people, especially in war-torn areas, one can only hope that his message of reaching out to even those who we are in disagreement with, will resonate with leaders worldwide.

Otherwise the current approach to solve problems through military might will prevent the type of dialogue needed to work through complex differences.

Leaders in large and small countries need to keep in mind that close contact with the people is the only way to improve relationships.

In that light, the Pope has given the world much to think about.