Hamill’s Beat - The Pope, the Vatican’s riches and Ian Paisley

Pope Francis I greeting the crowds in Rome last week. (2603BM10)
Pope Francis I greeting the crowds in Rome last week. (2603BM10)

Buongiorno, as Pope Francis would say. It’s his relaxed style that has charmed the enormous crowds in St Peter’s Square. (More than 150,000 at a time.) If he were a Derry man he’d probably be walking round the town nodding with a cheery, “Yes, Michael,” here and a “Yes, Paddy” there.

A deeply conservative theologian he may be but the common touch, the humility and the empathy with the poor are disarming qualities. He’s not a precious or stuffy academic.

Contrast his wish to identify with the poor with the riches of the Vatican. Its art treasures are priceless because nobody could afford to buy them. The trappings of the church’s power are beyond human comprehension. Like many, I’ve spent only a day in the Vatican Museum. You can’t take it all in without suffering from cultural overload. You couldn’t see all there is to see in a year, never mind a day.

Maybe it’s the Protestantism coming out in me or maybe I’m just being too literal but while marvelling at the sights, a verse from the Bible came to mind. “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal”. (Matthew 6 verse 19.) Or, more likely, when verses from the Bible come to mind it goes to show the dangers of a Presbyterian childhood.

A strict Sunday routine of Sunday school, church and religious meetings is bound to take its toll!

Yes, of course, I’m being too simplistic, but surely the point is that having fabulous wealth has to make it hard to identify with the poor, despite the best intentions of Pope Francis.

Anyway, as a non-Catholic I’m wary of advancing other than an extremely tentative view of the Church. I have no wish to imply anything other than respect.

Unsurprisingly, no such constraint applies to the Rev Ian Paisley. He founded, led and dominated his Free Presbyterian Church for half a century. According to Ed Moloney its total membership, in 60 congregations, has never exceeded 12,000. On the other hand, the worldwide Catholic Church has a membership of 1.2 billion. (Isn’t that a ratio of 1 to 100,000,000?)

The size difference doesn’t stop Ian from offering advice to Francis. Writing in the News Letter, Ian Paisley agrees with a view expressed by the Archbishop of Vienna that the Catholic Church needs a man of faith as distinct from a general manager. Do you think Pope Francis reads big Ian’s column in the News Letter?

Still it’s good to see Rev. Paisley offering helpful advice to the new pontiff. It’s a big improvement on the 1950s when he spent his time lambasting “evil” Popes and the perils of “Popery” in the most wildly intemperate language. England was being recaptured by Rome, he warned.

The last bastion against the “Roman Antichrist’s” plans for worldwide domination was the “Bible-believing, Bible-defending, Bible-practising” fundamentalists of brave little Ulster. They had resisted every conspiracy by Rome from 1641 to 1916 but sadly in latter days the Catholics were being assisted by “unfaithful and unregenerate clergy” in the mainstream Protestant denominations. That was the gist of the absurd thesis that brought Ian Paisley to his religious and political prominence.

Does Pope Francis realise that his top priority must be to continue the long struggle against the true Protestants of Ulster? Or is that struggle over now? If it is, Ian Paisley hasn’t ever told us that it is.

That’s all for now, folks. Buon pranzo. (Have a nice lunch.)