John F. Abess



People might ask themselves, how has Pope Francis become so popular? How could he have become the first pope to address a joint session of our United States Congress, a session completely filled with people while outside, tens of thousands of people watched his speech on jumbo video screens? How is it that one man can predominate the news for several days? How does one explain why this pope has excited such enthusiasm in so many people? Why do people want to hear, see, and greet the pope? Why do they people manifest such emotion when getting near him—not just Catholics, but people of all faiths, and even atheists? And finally, why is this papal phenomenon occurring now, at this time in our society?



Those questions above are ones I, too, asked. In order to answer them, I asked myself what unsettles me about current society. I considered the possibility that my concerns might be similar to those of many, and possibly the preponderance of us. If so, then the pope could be viewed as representing an antidote—a person attempting to show society how to right the conditions ailing us.


Left to continue in its current direction, I fear society may develop into life as viewed in some futuristic sci-fi movie. In such a futuristic society, despite the existence of tremendous technological devices and advances, the driving force is the accumulation of power by leaders and the accumulation of wealth by the rich and huge corporations. Most people, the ordinary people, would be living in fear and trying to remain under the radar of government. Another possible outcome is that some of the ordinary people would live underground and, in a militant fashion similar to the revolutionist movements we see in other countries, try to fight what they view as an unjust government that has all the technology and all the super weapons, but cares little about its people. In such a society, the only people living well are the rich, the powerful, and the predators. The rest essentially become slaves and the hunted.


So you might be doubting this kind of scenario could ever occur here in the good old USA. Yet, there exist many examples to suggest that our society is already on the path to enslavement and unjust treatment of its citizens. Here are some examples of the forces of greed and power in our society.


Politicians, the legislators of the laws under which we must live, appear to serve their campaign fund donors more than the people they are elected to represent. There exists a huge disconnect between the lives of established politicians and the lives of the people they are presumably representing. In other words, legislation is crafted so as to look out for the best interests of the rich and powerful. Even Obama Care (The Affordable Care Act) would not have come into existence were it not for the involvement of medical device companies, pharmaceutical companies, and hospital and health insurance industry lobbyists. They all needed to ensure their stakes in the health care industry were preserved. The result is that even though insurance is now available to everyone, not everyone can afford to purchase it. The premium and/or deductible for an average family of 2 parents and 2 children is mostly unaffordable.  


HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accounting Act) was initially conceived to protect the health information of patients. It still is presented as legislation that does so. Yet, due to the lobbying of large business entities, at the final hour, the assurances that patients could control their medical information was removed from the legislation. The legislation has therefore lead to an electronic superhighway of private medical information capable of being sent to anyone that engages in business with doctors and hospitals. I am personally proud that my practice of medicine has refused to become “HIPAA compliant.” Thus, genuine “old fashioned” privacy remains for our patients.


The donors of huge amounts of money to politicians are often huge corporations. If the huge donations are not from corporations, they come from very wealthy people. A recent Supreme Court decision protected anonymous donations of corporations.   Thus, the average person cannot link voting records of a politician to specific corporate campaign fund donors. Increasingly, therefore, we have legislation drafted not for the best interests of the people—not for the common good—but rather for the wealthy and for the huge corporations. Corporations do not have a “heart.” They are beholden to their stockholders and their single mission in almost all cases is to generate profit.  


When profit is the utmost objective, then any means to obtain the goal becomes justifiable. The most recent examples of this would be Volkswagon’s effort to become the largest automobile manufacturer in the world. It succeeded! To help it succeed, it broke the law and polluted the atmosphere we breathe. Another example would be General Motors who preferred for almost a decade to allow people to die driving their cars rather than replacing faulty ignition switches.  





I heard a phrase recently which I found aptly described the current state of evolution of Capitalism. Whereas most of use once believed Capitalism to be the best economic system, there is now a new Capitalism. The phrase used to identify it is “Savage Capitalism.” Savage capitalism is about greed and making decisions solely with regard to profit.  Savage Capitalism cares not about people’s lives or their safety or the national well being.  


The shrinking world and international inter-dependence complicates and intensifies the situation. The corruption, ambition, and greed occurring in other countries is increasingly affecting us here at home. We fought a long war in Iraq—expensive in terms of both money and lives. Nouri al-Maliki, former Prime Minister of Iraq, threw away the sacrifice our country made for his Iraq. 


Looking at the big picture, as society evolves, individuals and families are becoming increasingly powerless. Society is being formed and driven by huge, greedy corporations and government politicians clamoring to remain in power. We can either have a fair system or we can have a system that is “rigged” by the powerful and the greedy.   


What solution, if any, exists?


The way out of this situation will occur when (and if) the powerful and rich make decisions that benefit both our planet (our home) and what is good for humanity and society as a whole. Those responsible for structuring our society and upon whom we depend must make decisions that take into account quality of life with opportunity for education, health care, and a fair paying job. Respect for life must exist. Social injustice must be thwarted.  


Pope Francis sees these patterns. He represents the poor, disadvantaged, and powerless. He represents family life and human dignity. He is a symbol of hope that a change in direction will occur. He gives us faith that society will incorporate values of honesty, fairness, and respect for human life. He cautions us that the resources of the world need to be preserved and shared fairly.  





This pope is in touch with the anxiety being felt by all of us “ordinary” people.  He is representing all of us who haven’t been accepted into the clubs of the rich and powerful. He is a spokesperson who, by affirmation of the public and through his position as a spiritual leader, has sufficient influence and the moral authority to confront the big and powerful. He reminds the big and powerful of their duty to do what is right. He reminds the leaders that shape society of the Golden Rule and the need to have a moral conscience when making decisions affecting the lives they influence.  


This is my take on Pope Francis and it is my answer to all the questions posed earlier pertaining to his acceptance and prominence. We are grateful he represents those essential human rights we fear losing. We are grateful he stands up to the leaders in a way that is not possible for most of us to do. He is a reminder to those in control that they have a responsibility to shape the world in a way that is good for mankind and for our planet.