Populism and communion
By the roadside
The phenomenon has not escaped the pope’s discerning eyes.
Recently world media carried a warning from Pope Francis regarding populism and the resurgence of dictatorial leadership in our time. It came following a worldwide wave of elections in some parts of Europe, the United States and the Americas in general, Asia (definitely including us) and others that have catapulted to power strong leaders, often with demagogic tendencies. He decried the similarities between the present and 1939, citing the case of Hitler who himself was elected by his people and who, in the process of trying to fulfill their expectations, ended up destroying the very people he was elected to preserve.
Filipinos who pay the Holy Father more than merely a reverent attention can not help but look into their own country. It is not only because we need to learn from history and avoid repeating its mistakes but also that we need, as individuals and as a nation, to create the right history for our people and for the world. Right or wrong is not defined by election promises or longings for efficiency, law and order but by objective norms. We did not create ourselves; God did. He also set down these norms.
Our year-long celebration of the Parish as a Communion of Communities challenges us to reflect on populism and Communion. At first blush, the two seem of kindred natures. Both connote a strong bonding among people. While this is true, people’s bonding together in populism is based on common interests, views, opinions and even prejudices that cement them into putting up common standpoints and structures in the many aspects of social life. They can be both spontaneous and organized. On the other hand, Communion is, as St. Cyprian and Vatican II insist, based on the “unity of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Lumen Gentium, no. 4). As the late St John Paul II teaches, the Trinity, God himself, is the real source of Communion, not merely people’s having common aspirations and views to fight and live for. The God who created us is himself a Communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and that it is as his reflections, as his “images” and “likenesses” that we are also called to Communion.
There is therefore a natural consequence to this difference. While in populism, the people’s common interests, views and aspirations as well as prejudices shape their decisions and actions, in Communion it God’s “thoughts” and God’s “ways” that take precedence over anything else (Isaiah 55:8-11).
That explains why the Holy Father urges current leaders, especially those recently elected by the wave of populist elections, to follow ethical norms and to safeguard human dignity and the welfare of the poor and marginalized sectors of society. That is how God behaves with his people; that is how leaders elected by the people should behave.
Populism that does not recognize the image of God in all people or see a brother or a sister in everyone, no matter how ill or handicapped or ravaged by addictions, is a blind, shallow autism. It is a denial of truth. As such, it is to be rejected as a false vision.
After all, “Vox Populi Vox Dei (the Voice of the People is the Voice of God) can only be true if the “Voice of God” is the “Voice of the People”.