09 May 2019, The Tablet

The Pope vs the populists

The Pope vs the populists

Fire spreads through the roof of Notre Dame on Monday 15 April


While some urge the Church to ratchet up its culture war against Islam and the secular world in the wake of the Notre Dame fire and Sri Lankan bombings, Pope Francis has instead become something of a lone voice against right-wing political parties, fuelled by the global surge of anti-migrant populist nationalism

Holy Week 2019 played out the drama of the Christian story in a visceral, public way not seen in years. Rarely have the soul-burning events of the Passion, Crucifixion and Resurrection been felt with such intensity, and in so many different contexts, as they were at Easter.

The Notre Dame fire on the evening of the Monday of Holy Week and the bombings in Sri Lanka six days later might seem completely unconnected. Yet both have highlighted the contested position that Christianity occupies in the modern world, in which religion is increasingly being manipulated by groups and individuals wishing to foment hatred for political purposes.

Holy Week this year also threw into focus Pope Francis’ vision of a vibrant, living Catholicism in solidarity with all those suffering, or persecuted or living on the margins – a “poor church for the poor” – that he pointedly contrasts with those for whom belief is, in the words of his homily at the Easter Vigil, a “museum faith”, preoccupied with doctrinal purity and ideological battles.

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