"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
April 2, 2013
Have Catholics Found Their King Benjamin in Pope Francis?
by Imo Eshiet

I often wonder how many Christian sects have any real memory of the Lord’s humility while in mortality. I am thinking of his birth in a place so gross as the manger and his walk on the dusty roads of Palestine. How about his call to simple fisher folks to be his apostles?

I cannot forget that he was the son of an artisan. As one of our songs goes, “I stand all amazed” he carried that heavy cross, took a cruel beating from the hands of coarse Roman soldiers who rounded his humiliations by spitting on him. The soldiers’ mouth possibly stank from stale alcohol so much so that a deer could pick up the stench miles away.

Only twice or so in his earthly life was anything connected with royalty associated openly with him. These were when the heavens blazed and announced his birth, significantly to socially inconsequential shepherds and when the wise men from the east presented the baby savior with gifts common to nobility. Another occasion was during his entry to Jerusalem when folks laid palm fronds on the road for him to ride on his borrowed donkey.

If we stretch it a little bit, we may add his transfiguration and other instances when heavenly messengers ministered to him. Apart from these occasions often witnessed by a closed circle of associates, the creator of the world led the life of a commoner. He not only lived simply and humbly but inspired hope among the wretched of the earth.

His very life was a rebuke on the reign of injustice and deceit he saw everywhere around him. When he said, “My peace I give unto you, not as the world giveth”, he was possibly ridiculing those who feign love for others yet stab and rob them at the slightest opportunity. On an occasion he had to flee into the mountains when he “perceived that they (some five thousand starving, neglected and forgotten ordinary Palestinian folks he had just miraculously fed) would come and take him by force, to make him a king”. See John 6:15.

The Lord was exemplifying a principle which many who affect Christianity now find so inimitable but which he would have King Benjamin teach: “And behold, I tell ye these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your follow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2: 17). The Lord did not resort to any obscene display of wealth to prove anything because all powers and riches were already concentrated in him. He was only too well aware of this so that when doubters asked for signs and wonders he felt no urgency to oblige them.

Those who have hijacked the gospel and replaced it with priestcraft in our times should find Pope Francis’ exhortations chastening. This past Palm Sunday, the Pontiff showed uncommon honesty and contrition when he urged, "Let us look around: how many wounds are inflicted upon humanity by evil! Wars, violence, economic conflicts that hit the weakest, greed for money, power, corruption, divisions, crimes against human life and against creation." Not done, he called attention to "our personal sins: our failures in love and respect towards God, towards our neighbor and towards the whole of creation.” Pope Francis stressed that like Jesus 2,000 years ago, Christianity should transmit a message of hope, "especially in the hearts of the simple, the humble, the poor, the forgotten, those who do not matter in the eyes of the world".

The pope should know. As cardinal in Argentina, he saw up close the devastating misery and social exclusion of millions who, though members of a fabulously rich church, yet live on the margins of the global economic arrangement. He saw because he was humble enough to abandon his official limo to ride in crammed buses to work so he could experience, firsthand, the awful distress of the majority of those he shepherded. Such is the compassion he feels for the rejects of the earth that he even visited and washed those living with HIV AIDS!

On becoming pope, he did not see it as demeaning to go pick up his personal effects from the hotel where he lodged and pay his bills. Such is his humility that against tradition, Francis has refused to move into the grandeur of his papal palace. He has been called “the unpredictable Pope” because he mingles with crowds, an act which drives his security details nuts! Since I am from a country where politicians routinely buy jets for clerics to buy their silence, where the clergy pick their flock clean and build universities that charge cut-throat fees to keep the poor out, I find Pope Francis’ example quite extraordinary.

His charming and penetrating style resonates with me. On a personal level, I see in his admirable gestures virtue that is desirable and compelling. I attended a high school owned by the Catholics and had the privilege of being taught by Jesuit priests who belonged to the same order as the pope. One such down to earth priest, Rev. Father McGuiness, an Irishman, so professed material poverty that he was able to live in our hovels. He spoke our local language so fluently that he put to shame many conditioned by colonial education to look down on the language though it was the carrier of our culture.

Rev. Father Isidore Umana, our principal, was in a class of his own. A military chaplain on the Biafran side of our civil war, the depth of his humanity was such that he passed freely on both sides of the conflict to minister to the afflicted, bind the wounded, bless and bury the casualties. At the end of the crises, he herded many boy soldiers back to class where he wrestled to rid them off drugs and wean them from military values to civil ethics.

We his students knew him as “Father” and responding in kind, he called us “my boys.” Against the prevailing culture of plunder introduced by the Nigerian military, Father used his powers for the greater good. Those who worked as chefs and assistants in the school cafeteria would, let alone, cook stones and serve them as rice and beans to students, but Father took a dim view of such evil. While he could not stop the mass thievery, he ensured students were not left to the heartlessness of his subordinates.

Occasionally with us in tow, he would raid facilities where school provisions were stored and ask us students to help ourselves to items that had been horded by the kitchen staff for sale at the end of the day. Focusing on the redemption, he celebrated Mass daily and played soccer with us. We had come out of the war confused by the gory bloodletting and hate. Hurting from privation and despair, the need to rebuild hope and confidence, every vestige of which the war had stripped from us, was a priority which the reverend answered with urgency.

This Easter, may we walk in the footsteps of holy men and women before us.

Forgotten humanity.

A Catholic priest serving naked Biafran children.

A Catholic Nun attending a malnourished Biafran child.

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About Imo Eshiet

Imo Ben Eshiet was born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Raised in his village, Uruk Enung, and at several cities in his country including Nsukka, Enugu, Umuahia, Eket and Calabar, Eshiet is a detribalized Nigerian. Although he was extensively exposed to Western education right from childhood in his country where he obtained a PhD in English and Literary Studies from the University of Calabar, he is well nurtured in African history, politics, culture and traditions.

Imo is currently a teacher in the high priests group in the Summit Ward of the Greensboro North Carolina Stake.

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