“I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.” Alexander the Great
This is a Pope that leads with his heart.
From the moment Pope Francis ascended to the Chair of Peter, he has been exhorting the Catholic faithful to venture out of their comfort zone and step “out into the street and run the risk of an accident.” His bold challenge centers on his own personal transformation as a crusader against human trafficking. During the nine months since his election, he often speaks about the evils of human trafficking in his speeches. Countless stories are now emerging about the work of Pope Francis when, as Cardinal Bergoglio, he ventured into the dangerous streets of Buenos Aires, risking life and limb to meet the impoverished, the embattled, and the broken hearted. It was in the suffering barrios that Jorge Bergoglio “met the face of Jesus Christ.”
No one is immune from his call to evangelize. During his homily at the closing conclave Mass in the Sistine Chapel, Pope Francis cautioned the very cardinals who elected him, “if we walk without the Cross….then we are not our Lord’s disciples.” While not quite fighting words, the message is unmistakably urgent; it is time for the College of Cardinals to start walking up the Calvary hill in their dioceses. Take up your cross or risk alienation with Christ.
As Archbishop of Buenos Aires‘ 2.5 million Catholics, Cardinal Bergoglio followed his own Way of the Cross meeting the suffering poor, comforting the abused and neglected and serving as their protective father. He has walked the stations of the cross and has earned the right to talk the talk.
As a participant at the recent Pontifical Human Trafficking workshop, I heard and saw that this Pontiff is determined to open the eyes of laity, bishops, clergy, and cajole them into service for humanity. No more excuses. In the words of his patron namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi, who cautioned, “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.” This Pope is preaching about his walk through the streets of Buenos Aires and expects us to start the journey in our cities.
His bold confidence and fearless leadership is born out of his experience; an experience rooted in serving the poor and marginalized. Like Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Francis’ heart is with the impoverished, the suffering, and disenfranchised. They showed him the face of Christ through their heavy cross and ultimately, he found a deeper and richer faith. As Blessed Teresa taught “let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.”
Authentic leaders shepherd their flock by acting first, often alone. Francis is asking Catholics to act as he did in his hometown of Buenos Aires. Quite frankly, his bravery shocks and inspires even the most experienced advocate. Having worked many human trafficking cases, the actions of Cardinal Bergoglio on the violent streets of Buenos Aires rival any elite team of FBI agents investigating human trafficking cases. Armed with guns, ammunition, federal law enforcement badge and the resources of the federal government, the FBI interviews sex trafficking victims at shelters in the middle of the night, hardly a dangerous assignment, yet laudable, nonetheless.
Conversely, armed with only his pectoral cross, the Cardinal would often travel in the dead of night into the dangerous Buenos Aires streets to help women prostitutes at a shelter who were escaping violent traffickers. His brave actions are nothing short of heroic. The impact of his powerful presence supported both the women and shelter workers as they battled the powerful sex trade. He sent a strong message to the trafficking criminals; these victims have a powerful advocate who is fearless.
Cardinal Bergoglio employed another secret weapon in his arsenal against organized crime which runs the sex and labor trafficking rings. He used his fierce and powerful voice to loudly and vociferously condemn the corrupt police force and judicial system that conspired to protect and assist human traffickers. This unarmed cardinal fearlessly proclaimed, “we still have slaves, everything can be fixed in Buenos Aires with a bribe. We are bribing our souls.” Now those are fighting words which could get you killed in Latin America. This fearless leader risks his own safety and livelihood for the common good by using his prestigious position to expose the evildoers and protect the vulnerable.
Pope Francis is now using his papal voice on the global stage. Much has been made of Pope Francis’ frequent reference and discussion of the devil and the personification of evil. This should come as no surprise based on his work in the barrio. This man has seen the face of evil up close and personal in the suffering poor and victims of human trafficking, exploitation, slavery, and drug addiction. Evil thrives and flourishes on the streets of Buenos Aires, as it does in all cities.
In his recent Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, once again, Francis articulates his profound abhorrence for the evil of human trafficking and the desperate need for all to stop this crime against humanity.
“We cannot ignore the fact that in cities human trafficking, the narcotics trade, the abuse and exploitation of minors, the abandonment of the elderly and infirm, and various forms of corruption and criminal activity take place.” “Let us not look the other way. There is greater complicity than we think. The issue involves everyone! …many people have blood on their hands as a result of their comfortable and silent complicity.”
Do not doubt him. He has walked those dangerous streets.
Like a caged and impatient lion, Pope Francis paces and prowls the halls of the Vatican gently roaring to the leaders and laity of the Church about ‘the babysitter Church which only takes care of children to put them to sleep instead of acting as a mother with her children.’
Watch out for the fierce and protective mother lion who guards her young with ferocity and courage. Francis, the Lionhearted is reminiscent of Aslan, the Lion in C.S. Lewis’ metaphorical masterpiece, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” Lewis captures the essence of Pope Francis in the stirring description of the Aslan, the Lion:
“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.”
“I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…
“Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe?
‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”