The irony at St. Peter’s Square

Instead of making speeches, the church should reclaim its Christian mission of charity.

Adri Mehra

As more than 2 billion Christians around the world celebrated Easter this weekend with their loved ones, nearly 1 billion people of all beliefs didn’t have enough to feed themselves properly.

As millions watched Pope John Paul II struggle to make signs of the cross from St. Peter’s Square, Italian children and the elderly under his very window struggled far more to entreat passersby for spare change to pay for food and medical treatment.

One of the most heartrending experiences of my young life was waiting in line at the Vatican Museums last week and finding one miserable, destitute soul after another, crouched with head down and hand outstretched – a horror scene that repeated itself along the hot brick walls enshrouding the Holy See.

I find an unspeakably awful irony in the Roman Catholic Church’s pearly gates being suffused by the half-dead ill and starving. Furthermore, I find it emblematic of the papacy’s historically insincere and largely cosmetic relationship with the Roman poor.

The Vatican sits on several billion dollars in solid gold in its coffers, according to United Nations World Magazine. Most of this is stored in tons of bullion with the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank; the rest is in bank accounts in London and Zurich, Switzerland.

What does all this remind you of? A corporation, perhaps? The biggest on the planet.

Forget the shiny bricks. With all of its assets added together, the church is the most powerful wealth accumulator and property owner in existence.That’s right, the church possesses more material riches in real estate, property, stocks and shares abroad than any other single institution, corporation, bank, government or state. Period.

And this makes the Pope, the official ruler of this vast reserve, the richest man in modern history – so loaded, in fact, that no one can realistically say how much he is actually worth in billions of dollars. Put simply, this guy has much more to give than his blessing.

The U.N. World Food Summit (held twice, incidentally, in Rome since 1996) estimates $150 billion a year could set us on the track to significant eradication of world hunger in short order.

So where’s the pope on this? Making a couple thousand homeless Romans “guests of honor” every few years for the odd canonization or beatification, I guess. Hey, makes for a great press release, especially when you figure the paparazzi will vastly outnumber those being served. Which makes one rethink just who the real “guests of honor” are.

Instead of making pithy proclamations on such nebulous and invasive “issues” such as the sanctity of marriage and so-called family values, the pope and his church should regain the true Christian mission of charity.

Years ago, a nationally syndicated Catholic evangelist testified to the corporatelike power of his church, boasting, “We have a branch office in every neighborhood.”

Imagine the sweeping effect to cure hunger and sickness around the world of a “branch office” in every neighborhood founded on genuine goodwill, not human hypocrisy. But like the business model of corporate management, you’ve got to move from the top down to fix things.

What better place to start than the Vatican? What better time than just after the Feast of the Resurrection? What better protesters than the 63 million Catholic Americans? Happy Easter, everybody.

Adri Mehra welcomes comments at [email protected]