I am getting a pain in my sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia over the constant barrage of interpretations of Pope Francis’ speeches and impromptu interviews saying that he is “Sending a message that ….”.
Pope Francis is not the only famous person who has this supposed message-sending ability. Most of the message senders are in politics or government service of some kind. I know this, because the media interprets these messages for me all the time.
We Like Messages, Don’t We.
I guess there is a nostalgia for the old days when Western Union actually sent telegrams instead of money. For those who don’t remember that era (I sent a few back then), a telegram was sort of like a Tweet on paper that was dictated to a person who sent it by land line electrically. It was received by a person then delivered by a messenger to a person at a specific address. They were short messages because one paid by the word, that often assumed a certain mutual understanding of the words; people, and places that were mentioned. A husband might telegram his wife and only say, “Leave tomorrow stop arrive 3 pm stop Jerry”. This meant that he will be home tomorrow and to pick him up at 3 pm at the train station. The “Jerry” could have even been left off, but that was a different era and a different custom.
Messages are okay things to give and receive, but, when a person between me and the message sender wants to interpret it for me, as does the popular media, they had better know what I know about Catholicism. That’s where telling me what the Pope’s message is about usually breaks down.
So, Are These People Sending Messages?
Conversions are a daily occurrence in Vietnam. Officially the percentage of Catholics according to the government is in the vicinity of 12%. I fact it’s much more than that. It’s probably more than one in every four Vietnamese. I have been told this figure repeatedly by bishops and clergy who have on numerous occasions requested from the government an opportunity to undertake a census or to have a special feature of the national census that will give the population an opportunity to acknowledge whether they consider themselves Catholic or not. The government won’t permit it because they don’t want officially more than one fourth of the country to be Catholic. It’s part of the strategy for keeping the Catholic Church marginalized as a force for social change.
The Order of Friars Minor Conventual, a First Order of St. Francis of Assisi, has become very active in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam after years of Communist control. There is a socialist style of peace overseen by the Communist Party of Vietnam after the wars with France and the U.S.. This peace and business interests with the West, has created a tiny crack in their ideology that has allowed, if not officially and openly, the desire for Catholicism to once again be practiced – but unobtrusively practiced. An example is the almost total care of lepers at Van Mon by these friars.
Remembering my childhood, I liken this situation in Vietnam to the times I stayed awake late talking with a sleep-over friend and my parents heard us but ignored us if we were not too loud. In this case however, I don’t think love is the motivation. Governmental self interest is the motivation, and always is the motivation of powerful nation states when allowing any kind of activity within their borders. That is not to say that allowing religious groups to be active according to their beliefs is a negative thing. On the contrary, it is one of the loudest speaking evangelistic efforts that the friars with the help of a Communist state could make.
The message sending here has to be understood differently than what I discussed at the beginning. Guessing what the intentions are of the parties involved is not what can be used to determine this message. Although we can understand correctly that the friars wish to evangelize and spread the Gospel and that the Communist regime does not really wish to spread the Gospel, the message is in the situation alone, and to understand it is unavoidable – if one is paying attention.
The Message Is In The Situation.
Both sides in this situation have shown historically their dedication by sacrificing life and safety to further the beliefs of each. The spiritual and physical leader of the Vietnamese during the war years was Ho Chi Minh. And as this eulogy after his death in 1969 declared:
President HO CHI MINH dedicated his life to the revolutionary cause of our people and of the world’s peoples…President HO CHI MINH soon embraced Marxism – Leninism, in which he found the light that would show the path to salvation for the people and the country. He was the first Vietnamese to creatively apply Marxism – Leninism to the conditions of our country and to chart the course for the Vietnamese revolution so that it could advance step by step, from victory to victory. (Last Tribute of the Central Committee of the Vietnam Workers’ Party )
For those of my readers who may have a post-modern education grounded in television, Karl Marx did not appear in A Night at the Opera with his brothers. He was a 19th century social revolutionary and philosopher. Karl Marx’s writing about capitalism, morality, and history has not been interpreted uniformly in it’s details, so it is easy to understand why Ho Chi Hinh “creatively” applied Marxism as stated above. We can be sure that social change, as Fr. Francisco mentioned above, was the intention of both men, and religion’s place in that change was commented on by Marx. The essence of this view of religion was apparently practiced by Ho Chi Minh considering the religious persecution exacted by those that call themselves Communists in Vietnam. Marx was known for these quotes:
– religion is the opiate of the people.
– that human beings had created God in their own image
– that religion is a response to alienation in material life, and therefore cannot be removed until human material life is emancipated, at which point religion will wither away.
– communism abolishes … all religion and all morality, rather than constituting them on a new basis.
The Message From Vietnam: Religion Has a Value in Society.
Yet, to our advantage, the logic of this relationship between church and state insists that we recognize that those who declare themselves as anti-religious and atheist by choice, have also declared religion as being of some value by allowing it to exist. Not only in the “worship only” form that is now being forced on America by the secular culture through it’s government. In fact, we are seeing a reversal of the long standing public face of communist east and capitalist west regarding religion. As America begins to deny it’s Christian heritage and tries to purge it from every public place, a climate of religious intolerance has been created because those who lack the belief in Christianity that used to be common, have decided that no one else should have it and live it except in isolation. This is the root of the attempt, more and more successful, to prevent Christianity from being influential in society.
Have we in America finally reached Marx’s ideal point where material life is emancipated? For all, hardly. So why rush the withering that Marx predicted? Joseph Stalin also tried to rush the withering away of religion in the beginning of the Soviet Union’s creation, in part by destroying 1,000 churches in Moscow alone. Now after many decades of decline due to religious persecution, we are seeing a resurgence. A resurgence not without a political component or controversy, but so strong that a building program has been initiated to build 200 new Russian Orthodox churches in Moscow. Just as we have seen Christianity emerge from and survive the Roman Empires after a long persecution.
Will America Ignore What History Teaches?
This has gone too far now. It has created a poisonous atmosphere so that Catholic adoption agencies must close down rather than compromise their religious principles. Agencies that could still do tremendous good for the majority even though the very, very, few of the sexually confused would only have to go somewhere else to legally adopt. This is almost a situation where we could say that throwing the baby out with the bath water is not a metaphor.
Communist Vietnam now is at the beginning of taking advantage of what capitalism can bring to it’s population that pure socialism could not, as evidenced by the utter failure of the Soviet Union. Even though Vietnam’s controlling Party will I am sure, never acknowledge the existence of God or of Jesus Christ as our savior, they have begun to acknowledge, unwittingly and often violently reluctant, the fruit of the Gospel message.
The deeds you do may be the only sermon some persons will hear today. (St. Francis of Assisi)
To quote a famous lay Catholic Yogi Berra, the great New York Yankee catcher, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” America has passed the fork in the road and made a decision as to which direction, using as much thought and understanding as Yogi’s malapropism indicates. America and Europe have decided to take the road traveled by the has-been societies of the world. Has-been is the only legacy at the end of that road.