In a few hours last weekend, Pope Francis Bergoglio, further expanded his global influence by proving he is a protagonist in both the US presidential election and in the Muslim world.
He first shook hands with US Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, who had flown to Rome to take part in a Vatican conference. The visit and the handshake were extremely delicate.
Although Sanders’ call for greater equality in American society clearly reflects some of the Pope concerns, Bergoglio doesn’t want to get involved in any way in a political election. This is something that goes against the grain of his religious mandate.
However, all the attention drawn by a simple handshake with Sanders proves that unlike previous popes, Francis is able to stir massive emotions in America. He’s also capable of doing this during a delicate moment in the US electoral contest. This confirms that for the first time in American history, the Pope is a force to be reckoned with. He can appeal to people of all faiths, well beyond a Catholic constituency that makes up of 20-25% of the US population.
An even bigger consequence comes from Bergoglio’s trip to the Greek island of Lesvos, where he saw refugees arrive from Syria’s war zone in Syria.
Most of the refugees are Muslim. He appealed for their welfare, took care of them, and served as their advocate though they don’t share the same faith. In fact, the Catholic Pope is taking up the cause of these refugees, who happen to be Muslim, when no Islamic religious figure has gone or attempted to reach Lesvos. Nor has any such figure spoken for them or offered them safe haven.
Francis, conversely, is arguing for them to be welcomed and integrated into Christian Europe. He is the only religious figure calling for suffering Muslims to be cared for. This makes him the de facto paladin and possibly the spiritual leader of moderate, suffering Muslims.
Bergoglio has not only broken 15 centuries of religious divide between Christians and Muslims. He has taken the lead in accepting people rejected by their own world. These are common Islamic people squeezed between the rich and corrupt on one end, and the extremists on the other. They are the ones whom no one looks after and who actually make up the vast majority of the Muslim world.
The Pope speaks for these persecuted and neglected Muslims. He speaks for them and gives them a voice they don’t have. In this sense, the opposition Francis encounters in the West for his gestures also reinforces his statute in the moderate Muslim world.
The consequences of his position are revolutionary. They are bound to have long-term implications for political and social balance in the Middle East and Central Asia — the home of many Muslims.
The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Asia Times.