by Ray Jason
She walks alone and unnoticed down one of America’s scenic but barely-traveled highways. Like any true pilgrim, she is penniless and her only possessions are the clothes on her back. But she also carries precious cargo with her – the message of Peace. For 28 years she quietly delivered her little peace talks wherever people were willing to listen. She was The Peace Pilgrim.
He arrives in a motorcade led by a phalanx of motorcycle cops and surrounded by his massive security force. Overhead, helicopters record his every move and gesture. Each stop during his visit is meticulously scripted by his handlers – including the incidents that initially seemed spontaneous. He is accompanied by an entourage of 170 people. He is The Pope.
Now you tell me which one of these people is HOLY! Which one most faithfully represents the spirit of Jesus?
On Jan 1, 1953 a middle aged woman embraced a New Year’s resolution that most people could never even imagine. She resolved to become a wanderer and to remain a wanderer until mankind learned the Way of Peace. Every day she would walk until she was given shelter. And she would fast until she was given food. She never asked for these necessities, but graciously accepted them when offered. Many times she received neither, which meant she would sleep somewhere near the highway. She had no backpack or sleeping bag, so if it was too cold, she would walk through the entire night to keep herself warm.
She wore a blue outfit because it was the color of peace. On the front of her tunic in small letters were the words “Peace Pilgrim” and on the back it said “25,000 miles on foot for Peace.” On that momentous New Year’s Day – or more accurately - New Life Day - she also surrendered her name and her history. She never discussed her past and wouldn’t divulge her birth name. She wisely recognized that her mission was to foster peace in the present. She walked across the USA so many times that she quit keeping count. The estimates run from 7 to 20. Along the way she would give her talks at churches, universities, coffee houses – basically anywhere that people would open their ears and their hearts to her message.
And the wisdom that she acquired as she moved slowly and allowed herself time for contemplation, was not limited to war and peace. Here is a good example of her insightful clarity:
“After a wonderful sojourn in the wilderness, I remember walking along the streets of a city which had been my home for awhile… On both sides of us as we walked were displayed the things we can buy if we are willing to stay in the orderly lines day after day, year after year. Some of the things are more or less useful, many are utter trash. Some have a claim to beauty, many are garishly ugly. Thousands of things are displayed—and yet, my friends, the most valuable are missing. Freedom is not displayed, nor health, nor happiness, nor peace of mind. To obtain these things, my friends, you too may need to escape from the orderly lines and risk being looked upon disdainfully."
The Peace Pilgrim is the perfect symbol for the egalitarian/populist/horizontal approach to planetary improvement. She understood that the gatekeepers of society would pay lip service to significant change - while at the same time making sure that such progress would never occur. That’s because they engorge themselves so obscenely at the trough of the status quo. She knew that only a “bottom up” paradigm change could usher in a new dawn of peace and justice. And she did this person to person and face to face. The only time His Papacy gets near an ordinary person is when it is a carefully choreographed photo op.
On the other hand the Pope is the ultimate symbol of hierarchy and top down control. It took me a while to understand why the politicians heaped such fawning praise upon him. Eventually I realized that it was both professional courtesy and barely-restrained jealousy. How could they not be envious of someone who rules over ONE BILLION people and never has to face re-election. Plus, in a century where the God-Kings have been deposed, he is the last one standing; and he claims to have a direct conduit to The Almighty. Furthermore, most of his followers actually believe that his opinions are the “Word of God.” And he gets to do this in any country in the world - and in most cases tax-free.
Step back a bit and ponder for a moment the degree of power that the Pope has. Politicians can only threaten to raise taxes or close down the government, or in the most grisly cases, invade your country to bequeath you the gift of Democracy. But His Excellency gets to condemn millions to eternal torture in hell. No wonder the senators and delegates wanted to kiss his … ring!
Now I realize that some of you are probably bothered by such criticisms of a pontiff who seems to have been cloned with a teddy bear. But I challenge you to disprove any of those incriminating points that I just made. Much of his mystique is a straightforward public relations campaign - in the same way that the Obama “brand” won the top award as the best advertizing campaign during his first election.
His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, was such a “Dark Lord” - despite his all-white clothing - that The Church was knocked back on its heels and needed to rebound with a kinder, gentler CEO. (The most elementary research will uncover the fact that Benedict 16 when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger was chosen to oversee the cover up of the Catholic priest sexual abuse horrors.)
Therefore, Pope Frank’s recent journeys, and especially his USA trip, are basically designed to “rally the troops.” This brings me to my second major criticism of his week in America. It was all about spectacle and not at all about substance. Telegenics was the important thing – how did it look on TV. Finding actual brass tacks solutions to life and death issues is subordinate to how will his events play on the evening news. I’ll give you some examples that deal with some of his major themes:
PEACE It certainly is easier to pontificate about peace than it is to stir the political and societal waters by acting upon it. Did he vigorously criticize Obama for moving to upgrade the U.S. nuclear arsenal even though he now has enough firepower to destroy the planet several times? Did he call for a meeting between Putin, Xi and Obama (who were all conveniently in New York at the same time) to discuss the insane and unnecessary build-up in international tension between these three nuclear powers? Did he point out the hypocrisy of these leaders also pontificating for world peace as they develop robot soldiers and space-based weapons?
And here is an idea that I happily donate to His Holiness that might never occur to him. This is something that he can literally do with the stroke of his pen. I recommend that he forbid any Catholic from being a part of any military anywhere in the world. This should apply to military subcontractors as well. If consensual adultery can send you to hell, shouldn’t droning an innocent wedding party result in a similar fate?
THE ENVIRONMENT As someone whose house literally resides in the Sea and therefore in Nature, I am encouraged by some of his proclamations in this regard. But unfortunately, much of his message rings both hollow and hypocritical. For example, just imagine the carbon footprint that the 170 members of his entourage left behind after their U.S. visit?
And he sidesteps the horrific environmental impact of population growth. He totally disregards the enormous strains that human overshoot places on the bio-physical systems of Earth. Instead, he claims that it can all be solved by food and income redistribution. But even though those improvements are certainly commendable, they will not stop desertification, or restore topsoil, or replenish aquifers or halt the melting of the Himalayan glaciers that provide the water for a huge portion of Asia.
Furthermore, why does he consistently avoid the issue of reproduction rights? Could it be that he wants to continue to swell the ranks of his followers? And what better way to achieve that than to limit his flock to ineffective birth control methods when there are effective options available.
Here’s a simple test to establish his true strategy. If the goal of his birth control policy is not to increase the membership of the Church, then why not have him decree that every other child born to Catholic parents must be raised as a Muslim. His reluctance to even consider such a policy would lay bare his true motivation.
These are just a few examples of how the Pope managed to avoid any discussion of the substantial changes that the world so desperately needs. Given the adulation that is heaped upon him and the global pulpit that he possesses, it is profoundly tragic that such a golden opportunity was lost.
Amazingly enough, sometimes even when I am far out at Sea, I have visions of the ghost of the Peace Pilgrim striding down some gorgeous but lonesome highway. Walking beside her is a phantom Woody Guthrie, and they are both laughing and marveling at the scenery and belting out songs. But not just songs – they are more like hymns – hymns to human empowerment and majesty and compassion – hymns that seem to be disappearing – hymns that need to be resurrected.