Pope Francis in Kenya: AP gets some details, but misses the 'big idea,' in his message

Pope Francis has been on the road, again, which means that it's time for more stories about the political implications of his sermons and off-the-cuff remarks to the flocks of people who gather to pray and worship with him.

This is business as usual, of course. Want to play along and see how this works in a typical Associated Press report?

OK, first we'll look at the many excellent details from one of the Kenya talks that made it into the AP report, which ran in The Washington Post with this headline: "Pope calls slum conditions in Nairobi an injustice."

As you read several chunks of the story, ask yourself this big-idea question: What does this pope believe is the ultimate cause of this injustice?

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Visiting one of Nairobi’s many shantytowns on Friday, Pope Francis denounced conditions slum-dwellers are forced to live in, saying access to safe water is a basic human right and that everyone should have dignified, adequate housing. ...
In remarks to the crowd, Francis insisted that everyone should have access to water, a basic sewage system, garbage collection, electricity as well as schools, hospitals and sport facilities.
“To deny a family water, under any bureaucratic pretext whatsoever, is a great injustice, especially when one profits from this need,” he said.

Now, I think it is fair to ask: Is safe water the "big idea" in this talk, or is the pope saying that safe water is a symptom of larger problems? Hold that thought, as we head back to the AP text:

Francis, known as the “slum pope” for his ministry in Buenos Aires’ shantytowns, has frequently insisted on the need for the three “Ls” -- land, labor and lodging -- and on Friday he focused on lodging as a critical issue facing the world amid rapid urbanization that is helping to upset Earth’s delicate ecological balance. ...
Francis denounced the practice of private corporations grabbing land illegally, depriving schools of their playgrounds and forcing the poor into ever more tightly packed slums, where violence and addiction are rampant.

So we have more talk about economic issues and plenty of evidence that there are problems of injustice in the structures of Kenya. But is that all that is going on in these remarks by the pope? Again, what's the big idea here?

Let's head over to the ever-essential Whispers In The Loggia blog and look at the actual papal text. It appears that the larger subject, for Francis, is the struggle of ordinary people in Kenya to strive for dignity in a surrounding culture defined by materialism and commercialism. (I wonder if they have Black Friday in the slums of Kenya. Probably not.)

What is the ultimate source for this problem?

Read back through the AP story, or whatever news coverage is in your local media, and look for traces of this passage. Pope Francis stresses that he has come to praise:

... The wisdom found in poor neighbourhoods. A wisdom which is born of the “stubborn resistance” of that which is authentic," ... from Gospel values which an opulent society, anaesthetized by unbridled consumption, would seem to have forgotten. You are able “to weave bonds of belonging and togetherness which convert overcrowding into an experience of community in which the walls of the ego are torn down and the barriers of selfishness overcome.” ...

I want in first place to uphold these values which you practice, values which are not quoted in the stock exchange, are not subject to speculation, and have no market price. I congratulate you, I accompany you and I want you to know that the Lord never forgets you. The path of Jesus began on the peripheries, it goes from the poor and with the poor, towards others.

Wait a minute: What stock exchange? You mean the problem is larger than the flawed structures in Kenya that are discussed in the Associated Press report?

Let's keep reading what the pope had to say:

These realities which I have just mentioned are not a random combination of unrelated problems. They are a consequence of new forms of colonialism which would make African countries “parts of a machine, cogs on a gigantic wheel.” ... Indeed, countries are frequently pressured to adopt policies typical of the culture of waste, like those aimed at lowering the birth rate, which seek “to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized."

So the conditions addressed by the AP are, the pope says, in what I take as his thesis statement, "not a random combination of unrelated problems." The bigger issue, from his perspective, is that Africa is being jammed into a colonial matrix of what the good life is supposed to look like.

So what cultural and even moral changes are African nations being forced to embrace, by rich people in the West as part of this new "colonialism"?

Read that final quote again. The pope names several. Are there others? Did this larger issue make it into the news accounts that you saw?

Just asking.

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