Surprising ‘Pope Francis moments’ from the GOP debate

by Allison Walter

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Pope Francis has begged God for “more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people and the lives of the poor!" After watching the GOP debate last night, I’m starting to think that some in the Republican Party are hearing his prayers.

Or perhaps they are aware of new polling that suggests practicing and preaching Pope Francis’ message is both morally compelling and politically effective.

John Kasich evidently got the memo. He tore a page out of Pope Francis’ playbook with his themes of compassion, inclusion and fraternity. Sounding decidedly more like Francis than his GOP rivals, he was asked to defend his expansion of Medicaid in Ohio saying that in heaven, “St. Peter isn't going to ask [politicians] how small they've kept government, but what they have done for the poor.”

Here’s how the candidates lined up next to the pope’s values:

Fighting the economy of exclusion

Pope Francis: To whom should [we] go first?” When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much our friends and wealthy neighbors, but above all the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked, “those who cannot repay you.”

John Kasich: “But once you have economic growth, it is important that we reach out to people who live in the shadows, the people who don't seem to ever think that they get a fair deal. And that includes people in our minority community; that includes people who feel as though they don't have a chance to move up.”

Welcoming the immigrant

Pope Francis: “Above all I ask leaders and legislators and the entire international community above all to confront the reality of those who have been displaced by force, with effective projects and new approaches in order to protect their dignity, to improve the quality of their life and to face the challenges that are emerging from modern forms of persecution, oppression and slavery.”

Jeb Bush: “I believe that the great majority of people coming here illegally have no other option. They want to provide for their family. But we need to control our border.”

Loving our neighbors

Pope Francis: "If a person is gay and seeks God and has goodwill, who am I to judge?"

John Kasich: “We need to give everybody a chance, treat everybody with respect and let them share in this great American dream that we have. … You know what? God gives me unconditional love. I'm going to give it to my family and my friends and the people around me.”

Respecting unborn life 

Pope Francis: "Unfortunately, what is thrown away is not only food and dispensable objects, but often human beings themselves, who are discarded as 'unnecessary.' For example, it is frightful even to think there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day.”

Mike Huckabee: “This notion that we just continue to ignore the personhood of the individual is a violation of that unborn child's Fifth and 14th Amendment rights for due process and equal protection under the law.”

Unifying the nation

Pope Francis: “Indeed, we are a single human family that is journeying on toward unity, making the most of solidarity and dialogue among peoples in the multiplicity of differences.”

John Kasich: “You know, today the country is divided. You asked a question about the police and the difficulty in communities. We've got to unite our country again, because we're stronger when we are united and we are weaker when we are divided.”

As the time draws nearer to Pope Francis’s late September visit to the United States, I expect that politicians on both sides of the aisle will be scrambling to align themselves with the pope’s message of radical love.

[Allison Walter is a senior fellow at Faith in Public Life, a strategy center for the faith community located in Washington, D.C. A graduate of Saint Louis University and a native of Kansas City, Mo., she believes in the power of faith to transform society.] 

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