It can drive you crazy how the media takes a story and focuses on the wrong thing. Take the Pope’s visit to Myanmar, for example. The headline from all the news outlets was all about how he did not use the word ‘Rohingya” to refer to the Muslim people being ethnically cleansed in that largely Buddhist nation. The media needs a storyline and they’ve certainly got an important one in the misery of these poor people, now barely surviving in refugee camps. A solution to the problem is desperately needed, but by focusing on this terminology issue, they diverted us from the most important thing that the Pope said:
“Religious differences need not be a source of division and distrust, but rather a force for unity, forgiveness, tolerance and wise nation-building.”
What an earth-shaking statement! The leader of the Catholic Church wants to find common ground with other religions to build a better, more peaceful, more tolerant, more united world! What a difference from the bad old days when Protestants and Catholics went to war over an argument about the communion bread and the Faithful slaughtered whole cities in the name of the All-Merciful Creator. If only today’s fundamentalists around the world could buy in to Francis’ statement we’d be halfway to heaven on earth.
The Pope is essentially signing on to what the Enlightenment was all about back when Voltaire told us it’s so easy to get distracted by unimportant things like how you should dress to please God, or what foods God told us not to eat. If only we could all latch onto the big things, like we’re all searching for a meaning and purpose in life, and religion is a road that gets us there, each religion a different path to the same ultimate place, a place where we recognize the common humanity in each other while honoring the differences.
The Rohingya crisis is a version of the same problem that the United States is facing on its southern border, where over a period of decades or even centuries, poor families have sought a better life in a neighboring country where they can find work. Are they citizens or not? We haven’t figured out how to deal with that yet and neither have they. How much of what is driving this comes from the difference in religions, and how much from simply being different? Whatever the answer, as the international community works to try to help the situation, let’s hope that Pope Francis’ appeal to our higher selves will not get lost.