I just finished reading a 400-page biography of Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis. It is the moving symphony of a humble man, a holy man of rare ethical stature, and a genuine servant of the forgotten and downtrodden on the periphery and at the bottom. This biography should be mandatory reading for all Guyanese leaders, especially political leaders.
Well-established, self-important church leaders flit to and fro in limousines; Pope Francis started out by taking the lowly subway or bus. Prior pontiffs lived in palaces; this one’s residence began as a two-room apartment in the Eternal City. I wonder what would be his reaction to the ducal mansions with crystal chandeliers on the East Coast built by domestic seigneurial powers through using the money of the powerless. The Vicar of Christ stands in line for his food; there is no waiting and serving this man, he does that for others. Unprecedented is the word that comes to mind; everything about him is that way, and authentically, almost unconsciously so.
Again, I must wonder (although I know already) as to whether he would craftily set himself up with a fabulous pension, and with every last accompanying costly extravagance greedily attached. Instead of the tawdry local example, I see the pope more like that other immortal from scripture: the widow with her two copper coins, who just gave all up, while trusting in heaven, through unselfishness and self-denial. Guyanese political leaders could learn, if they humble themselves and are true to what and where they represent. I suppose that is asking for way too much, too idealistic, thus too inhuman.
Moreover, everything that this Holy Father does points to identifying with, and caring for, the poor. He does so constantly, not in words, but in deeds, in programmes, and in attempts to steer the church back to its original travel and work plans that emphasize the helpless and the hurting. What a lesson for the luxury living, first class traveling, overseas shopping and banking political crowd from here. For the most part, that same loud crowd pontificates mightily (but hypocritically) about its interest in and compassion for those with empty bellies and empty prospects.
It is why I have great difficulty imagining Pope Francis, a real leader, waxing rich about poor sugar workers, while he sweetens his ambitions by exploiting their circumstances. I cannot see this man from Argentina distancing himself from the hungry or dirty or all that is ugly in this threadbare society. This is someone who reaches out to nonbelievers; there is no divide that he will not bridge.
Guyanese in the know like to refer to Lew Kwan Yew, the Singaporean giant from the past. Right now and right before the awed gaze, there is Francis, a man, a leader who is the personification of what is exemplary. Look closely and there is no overindulgence in him; perhaps little of human indulgences either. Once upon a time, I used to appreciate (note past tense) preachers Joel Osteen and Creflo Dollar; their multimillion dollar individual net worth and empires reveal how far those who commit to following a certain way, truth, and life, drift instead from the lost sheep, and the helpless poor. If this infects those professing the carpenter from Nazareth, surely much less (far less) should be expected from those who are disciples of Machiavelli (a prince of a player), and also worship at the altar of Stalin.
As can be anticipated in this vale, the embedded Vatican court and its spiritual nobility are first embarrassed; and then alternately appalled and furious. Where did this character come from? What is he about? What will he think of next? Where does he stop? And who is this man really? The answer to the last question is simple and absolute: he is a man of God. He surrenders to a higher calling, which has infinitely higher standards than those that apply here in Guyana. He obeys, he practices, he lives the talk by example, and in action. The man from Galilee, soon to be heralded in song and season, would be proud. In the interim, Guyanese long for the time when they, too, can be proud of their leaders. It has been a long wait, this eternal local yearning. It has been an unfulfilled dream to a large extent, and more of a nightmare on occasions.
The one insistent lesson I take away from reading this biography of Pope Francis is this: good leaders care; great leaders serve. And the rare out-of-this-world ones combine caring and serving with loving. As they do so, mountains are leveled, and rivers run dry, as both wait to be crossed. Such a crossing might come to Guyana someday. It is made possible by a leader of special calibre, like Francis.