Monday, July 29, 2013

Maybe There's a Bigger Lesson Here

I admit it, I spent a good portion of the morning sucked in by the internet response to the answers Pope Francis gave to journalists during his plane flight to Rome. And if you know me in the slightest, you know I am eager to defend Francis from those who begin to attack him and his statements without having any firsthand knowledge of what he actually said.

Most of the reasonable responses I read today admitted that there had not been a full English translation of the interview released. That sent me hunting for the Spanish version, the direct notes of one of the journalists who did the interview. This is the one I read in full. First of all, I was struck by the fact that she said even what she had published there was a small part of the 80 minute conversation and that it would take hours of work for her to get the entirety of her notes published.

Then, reading the entire published text in Spanish, I was stunned with how little the tone of the interview came through in the snippets I was reading in English. And then at how much of the sentiment behind what he was saying was lost in the translation to English even when it was a quality translation. And there were plenty that were not that great. You can see my comments on the topic here at Elizabeth Scalia's very good post. Then I felt compelled to post this on Facebook:

Friends, just so you know, you are getting terribly done half-translations of much of what Pope Francis says. I would urge you to wait to respond to things until you have the chance to read a few variations of the translation and see the full text. I just read the full Spanish version of the Pope's interview in route to Rome, it doesn't say what people are saying it says. Also, let's try to remember, Francis allowed the journalists to ask him questions, no-holds-barred, and he responded sincerely. He did not choose the topic of conversation.

I had to extricate myself from the online conversations to go about my daily business, and as I did, I began thinking about this whole language issue we have with Francis as Pope. It is one we have not really ever faced as the English-speaking church. John Paul II was really the first pope of the media generation, when we began to have access to his words and thoughts right away. And he was extremely effective at communicating in English. Benedict followed and was equally adept at expressing himself in our language.

We no longer have that luxury with Francis. And that leaves us with a little bit of a difficulty I think we are all beginning to see clearly. We are not going to have first access to his thoughts and words. If we are going to be people of integrity, we will have to wait for quality translations of the full text of his interviews and conversations appear. Or we're going to have to learn to speak Spanish. (Well you are. I already do. Don't be jealous. The Holy Spirit is responsible.) And then, even in that, we will be lacking because it is hard to for a direct translation, no matter how well done, to capture the nuances of another language. So we run into a quandary that we really can't solve. We can read a direct translation and possibly lose a lot in the sentiment department (which seems to be key in understanding Francis) or we can look for faithful native Spanish speakers to paraphrase the meaning behind the words for us, which seems a little risky when it comes to the Pope.

It is easy for your brain to start to wonder why the college of cardinals didn't consider this glitch when they elected Cardinal Bergoglio pope. I mean, given the battle the Church in the U.S. is facing, didn't they think about how important it would be for us to understand this new pope and what he was saying? And did they even think about our blogs? I mean, we are going to end up a full three or four hours behind the Spanish speakers (if we use sense and wait to read what he truly said) in being able to analyze, form opinions and react to what the pope said! And then, we won even be able to trust that we really got what he said.

And then it occurred to me that perhaps there is a lesson even bigger in this whole conundrum Pope Francis creates for the only-English speaking U.S. Church that just integrity in our reactions to him. Maybe the college of cardinals and the rest of the Church are smiling a bit smugly as we begin to realize that the Church does not consider our responses, reactions, thoughts, opinions and blogs a top priority. Maybe they are all hoping we'll begin to realize that we do not have first rights to the daily goings-on in the Church and that our perspective isn't all that important in the grand scheme of things.

That might make you think: "But, wait, doesn't the Vatican know what we're up against? Don't they see the battles the Church in the U.S. is fighting? Don't they know how much we need to be connected and have access to information? We want to stay faithful! And we are under attack." I thought that, really I did. For minute, I could even see it as valid. I mean, we have a pervasive culture of death threatening to beat down our collective front door, round up our kids for brainwashing and throw us subversive Christian types into the dungeon. 

But then I began to think about some other things I know a little bit about too. And I realized something. You know what guys? We are not the only ones facing a battle. And it might be time that we begin to recognize that and respect our brothers and sisters all over the world who are battling too. And I think Pope Francis is trying to help us open our eyes. I mean, I don't think he's sitting at home fervently practicing English on Rosetta Stone, worried about our angst over not being to understand him. Instead, he's smiling and hugging and kissing and embracing and loving and talking. Off the cuff and in his native language. And he's letting us wait. And maybe learn something about how much bigger the Church is than our narrow perspective allows us to see. 

Yes it is very hard and even dangerous to be a pro-life, anti-contraception, pro-marriage faithful Catholic in the U.S. today. Yes, our legal system is becoming increasingly hostile to our beliefs and even our rights. Yes, that means all the rest of our institutional systems are following suit. And, yes, as Catholics, we rely heavily on the fact that we have the support of a magisterium composed of 2000 years of collective wisdom to guide us, so it is important for us to understand its current spokesman.

But do you think we are the only ones? Do you think our battles are in any way more significant than those being fought all over the world by faithful Catholics? Have you read on any U.S. Catholic publication that in the last few weeks, Costa Rica's governing body ACCIDENTALLY passed a law legalizing same sex marriages and now the president refuses to veto it even at their request (don't ask me how that happens, just know it's not that surprising really when you live here)? That the only government in the world that declares that it is based on the Catholic faith is being sued by an international human rights court to reimburse families who were not allowed to use in vitro fertilization to conceive? That there is an abortion rights group scouring up young girls off the streets who get pregnant before twelve and pushing for the government to make it not only legal but mandatory that they get an abortion? Did you know that the Costa Rican educational system is mounting a new sex education campaign in its schools that is completely contradictory to the Catholic beliefs that more than 90% of its residents profess? And that Costa Rican parents do not have the legal right to opt out and educate their children at home?

And Costa Rica is hardly alone in its battle. All over Central and South America similar battles are taking place. Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay all recently passes legislation on these issues contrary to our beliefs. In all these places, Catholics are battling an increasingly invasive culture of death. Not to mention that many of them are battling just to survive the day, to put a roof over their families' heads and food in their bellies. So a lot of times they don't even realize what is happening until it is too late. And that doesn't even take into consideration that they are daily bombarded by the influence of world humanitarian organizations preaching to them that the answer to all their problems is to stop conceiving children, to sterilize themselves, and to turn their kids over to the state to educate them on sexuality and relationships.

My fellow U.S. Catholics, think for just a moment what it might be like to try to protect a culture of life on the continent of Africa, where poverty and starvation and AIDS and orphaned children and infant mortality rates sky high make contraception and abortion seem logical solutions. And where refusing the agenda of international aid organizations means turning away help that literally keeps people alive daily. Try explaining that stance over and over again to hostile agencies and to the people you are charged to shepherd and to love.

What about Asia? A culture sharing the many of the same issues as Africa as well as the openly hostile cultural influence of Islam and living in the shadow of China's population control policies. Think about what it would be like to earnestly desire to live your Church's teachings in that climate.

And all those eyes, not just our American ones, are on Pope Francis. Waiting for his leadership. Waiting for the word of tender mercy that will give them strength to keep battling on in the face of tremendous adversity. Looking for the light of hope and the love of Christ to say, "You are not alone. Your Church walks with you. And we will fight at your side."

And while I can't be certain because I only speak English and Spanish, I can say that I that I have not yet found an explosive reaction to Pope Francis' words (or dancing cardinals for that matter) in any other language. Sure, there are some overly enthusiastic news reports making it look like he's totally changing the Church's position on things. I mean, we're talking about places were there never really were any standards of ethical journalism to violate. We can't be too surprised about that.

So, here's what I'm getting at. I think there is definitely a lesson here about having the integrity to wait until you are sure about what the Pope said before you say he said it and offer an opinion (a lesson I humbly admit I learned this week when I re-posted the whole saints in tennis shoes thing on Facebook without verifying it). But I think there might be a bigger lesson for U.S. Catholics in Francis' pontificate. And that is that he's not talking to you.

I mean, not only you. And he really doesn't care all that much how quickly you get access to a good translation of his words. Nor does he care that much what you then do with them when it comes to forming opinions and analyzing them. It really only matters if in the end you are faithful. And that's not between you and Him. That's Jesus'job. Because Francis' flock, my friends, is so much bigger than just us. And it is so, so needy. So step back a minute, slow down, in the wise words of Ms. Scalia, exhale. And stop talking about the Church as if the U.S. version of it were the be all and end all. Because it's not. 

And I think Pope Francis is going to keep reminding us of that over and over again. In Spanish. Without apology. Let's hope we figure out how to understand what he really means. I think it so ironic that this all came about on the feast of St. Martha, if only to drive home the point that maybe it's time for us U.S. Catholics to stop rushing around busying ourselves with our own opinions and just sit at our shepherd's feet for a while and learn to listen.


  1. Thank you for this post Colleen.
    Will be linking to it myself for others to see
    God Bless you and your family

  2. Valuable post. Mark and I were just discussing some of the things they said-we said-Pope Francis said and debating it. I'm going to pass this on to him.

  3. Beautiful reminder. Thank you.

  4. I love it when someone else says EXACTLY what I've been trying to articulate but have been unable to; thank you!

  5. All I need to say is ...Amen...we often get lost in our own perspective.