Pope Francis’s Pledge To Poor Can Translate Into Social Action

Writing in a SciDev.Net feature article, journalist Imogen Mathers examines what the election of the new pope will mean for the development sector. “With the sector gearing up for World Health Day this weekend (7 April), debates continue about what changes — if any — Pope Francis I will make to the world’s largest Christian church, and whether as a chemistry graduate and Jesuit scholar he will be more open to scientific dialogues on critical health and social issues,” she writes. “Time will tell. For now, the hope is that Pope Francis’s pledge to the poor can, and will, translate into practicable social action,” she continues, noting, “Much has been made of the former archbishop’s upbringing in the global South, his modest lifestyle and his outspoken stance on diverse social and economic issues — from human rights abuses and the ‘city slavery’ rife in Buenos Aires, to gender-based violence and the darker reaches of neoliberal capitalism.”

“Among those people and groups working to put science at the heart of development, Pope Francis’s choice of environment-savvy namesake, his chemistry background and the Jesuits’ customary championing of scholarly rigor have been touted as heralding a renewed Vatican engagement with science,” Mathers continues, noting, “Globally, and especially within the development sector, there has long been despair at Catholicism’s uncompromising over condom use for HIV/AIDS prevention, as well as other urgent health-oriented and social issues.” She writes, “Alice Welbourn, founding director of the Salamander Trust, which campaigns on HIV, gender and reproductive health issues, believes that allowing condom use would be the single most important thing the new pope could do.” Mathers goes on to discuss the pope’s stance on environmental issues and continues, “The coming years will prove a litmus test for the pope’s capacity to negotiate and balance the many conflicting demands of his rapidly burgeoning and socially diversifying juggernaut of a church” (4/5).