I am a strong advocate for straight shooting: say what you mean and mean what you say. No games. No finagling. And definitely don’t try to appear magnanimous when your ulterior motives are entirely selfish.
Pope Francis and his PR team were at it again in April, seeking to continue building the popular brand that he’s so confidently established since taking the reins from Pope Benedict. The ruse this time? A trip to the Greek island of Lesbos, where thousands of Syrian refugees are suffering in contained camps. After comforting those he could, Francis even took three Muslim families back to Italy with him to be clothed, sheltered, and cared for. All of this was “purely humanitarian” and not political.
As anyone should be, I am quite pleased that some relief, however little, was brought. Camp conditions were temporarily improved so the Pope wasn’t walking through a sty, and the three families that were saved now have a decidedly more settled future ahead of them. However, Francis’ claim of his actions being entirely humanitarian and not political is like a rotten apple at the grocery store—I’m not buying it.
For starters, if the trip was truly about providing aid, why only take three families? Yes, the Vatican is an exceedingly small country, but none of the refugees are going to be housed there anyway. The fortunate families will be put up nearby the Vatican while their expenses are covered until they can stand on their own, essentially meaning that the Pope’s gesture is primarily a gift of money. And if money is the key ingredient, is Francis suggesting that a mere 12 people is all the church can afford to put up? Not to get into the also-very-interesting murky waters of the Vatican’s translucent financial reports, but the Vatican City State (museums, fire department, pharmacy, and other municipal offices and services) posted a €63.5 million surplus leaving 2014 while the Holy See (diplomatic entities, the universal mission; and radio, television, and newspapers) faced a €25.62 million deficit. If nothing else, these figures serve to illustrate the fact that, should the Vatican legitimately care about the issue, money could be poured in to save a great deal more refugees. Three [families] is a very arbitrary number. A number that can be little more than a political statement.
The proposal to take in some families was reportedly pitched to Francis a mere week before his visit and he supposedly immediately accepted it. Perhaps Vatican paperwork is different, but fast-tracking something like that is rather impressive, and if papers could be filed that quickly for 12 people, again, why stop there?
We also have to take note of the fact that all three families were Syrian Muslims. No Catholics. No Christians even. The lucky few were selected by random draw and because their papers were in order.
Extreme coincidence is a very rare animal indeed. Out of the thousands of refugees, the winners of the draw all happened to be Muslim. If Francis thinks us all to be children of god, he could not have asked for a more favourable result to showcase his beliefs.
A final note is that as soon as Francis talks to the media, there is a story, and by extension, a statement. If aid is the goal there needn’t be cameras, quotes, or stories. The same effect could have easily been achieved by having a small unnamed delegation retrieve the families devoid of fanfare. That wouldn’t be a political statement. That would be “purely humanitarian.”
To finish with some of Pope Francis’ words (quoting Mother Teresa) on the matter: “It’s a drop of water in the sea. But after this drop, the sea will never be the same.” Thank god he didn’t make a political statement.