Disappointment…Deep disappointment

Pope Francis Address U.S. Congress = Native News Online photo by Mark Charles

Pope Francis Address U.S. Congress = Native News Online photos by Mark Charles


I had been anticipating Pope Francis’ speech to a joint session of Congress ever since I learned it was planned. From the beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis has established himself as a fearless advocate for the least, and an unapologetic prophet to both the church and the nations. He established himself as a leader who shunned the glitter of the Apostolic Palace for the simplicity of a small guesthouse. The People’s Pope, who rebuked the rich and ate with the poor, who scolded the extravagance of the industrialized world as he drove through it in a humble and fuel efficient Fiat. Someone who visited with prisoners, prayed with families and walked with indigenous children.

What would he say?  What words would he have for the Congress of the most financially wealthy, militarily powerful, commercially industrialized, colonial nation in the history of the world? The possibilities seemed endless.

Mark Charles

Mark Charles

My family and I recently moved from the Rez to DC where one of the benefits is that many historic events take place literally in your back yard. So  today I went down to the Mall and joined thousands of others who congregated there in order to watch the speech on the jumbo-tron displays that were setup.

The atmosphere was electric. The west lawn of the U.S. Capitol was at capacity and the grass on the mall was also quickly filling. Cheers could be heard when the speech started and soon everyone was attentively listening to the words of Pope Francis as he addressed a joint session of the 114th Congress of the United States of America.

My anticipation began changing to nervousness early in the speech, when the work of Congress was compared to the work of the Biblical leader Moses. Immediately I recalled another speech, just a few months ago, by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in front of a joint session of this same Congress. He went to Capitol Hill to speak about his fear of the impending nuclear deal the United States was negotiating with Iran. His fear was so great, that in his speech he offered to share the covenant God established with Israel (in the Old Testament) with the United States. He did this by proclaiming that the “United States and Israel share a common destiny, the destiny of promised lands…”

“Promised lands” are troubling for the indigenous peoples who inhabit them. One does not need to read far into the Biblical book of Joshua to learn that Promised lands for one nation literally means God ordained genocide for another. So by implication, in sharing Israel’s covenant of “Promised Lands” with the United States, Prime Minister Netanyahu was granting a divine pardon to the United States of America for the genocide which this country perpetrated against the indigenous peoples of these lands.

But Pope Francis wouldn’t do that. Would he?

Crowd at on National Mall listen for words of hope. Instead - Disappointment

Crowd at on National Mall listen for words of hope. Instead – Disappointment

“… it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present.”

Pope Francis

His comparison to Moses was primarily regarding the establishment of laws and not in direct reference to “Promised lands.” But still I was nervous.

Next Pope Francis invoked “three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams.”  Again, I got nervous, not as much by the names he invoked, but by his use of the word “dreams.”  You see, America is built on dreams. It is a nation of promise. But why? Why is there an “American dream” and not a French Dream, a UK Dream, or a Belgium Dream?  That is because those countries do not sit on lands that were “discovered.” Every year the United States celebrates that in 1492 Christopher Columbus “discovered” America. But how can you discover lands that were already inhabited? You can’t, unless you first dehumanize those who were here prior.

The discovery of America is a racist colonial concept that requires the dehumanization of indigenous peoples.

And discovery and slavery are why America is the land of “opportunity.” The American dream is predicated upon an empty continent and free labor. And Pope Francis was building on the theme of America’s dreams.

My nervousness grew.

About half way through his speech, Pope Francis mentioned the indigenous peoples of this land. My heart jumped. I was nervous, but eager. This was it. Here was the section. What would he say? What sin would he address? The Catholic Church’s Doctrine of Discovery? The colonialism of Europe? The stolen lands and broken treaties of the United States?

Congress, the nation, even the world was listening.

Speak Pope Francis! Lift up the voices of the oppressed! Use your global pulpit to speak truth to the nations!

I waited in anticipation…

“Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present.”

What??? Did I hear him right???

“…it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present.”

My heart sank. My body went numb. I could not believe my ears. Pope Francis was standing on the world stage dismissing the Catholic Church’s devastating Doctrine of Discovery.

The people’s Pope was standing before a joint session of the 114th Congress of the United States of America excusing them for their genocidal history against the indigenous peoples of Turtle Island.

“…it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present.”

Those words are still ringing in my ears.

“…it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present.”

Disappointment. Deep disappointment.

Mark Charles (Navajo) serves as the Washington DC correspondent for Native News Online and is the author of the popular blog “Reflections from the Hogan.” His writings are regularly published by Native News Online in a column titled “A Native Perspective” which addresses news directly affecting Indian Country as well as offering a Native perspective on national and global news stories. Mark is active on Facebook, Twitter,YouTube andInstagram under the username: wirelesshogan.

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