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Pope Francis’s address to a joint session of Congress is broadcast to people attending a rally of support for the pontiff’s position on climate change.

Voices / Column

A glimmer of hope for humanity

Some new leaders offer new and better visions of a sustainable world

Elayne Clift (elayne-clift.com) writes about health, politics and social issues.

Saxtons River

As I listen to Donald Trump’s continuing trash talk, watching the climate-change-induced infernos burning on the West Coast, hearing Republicans’ medieval take on women’s rights, and suffering reports of continuing gun violence, it’s hard to find anything positive to say about the future of the human race.

Still, there have been glimmers of hope on the horizon.

One of the biggest examples is individuals’ response to the heartrending refugee crisis.

Let’s be clear about that term: “Migrants” leave home for economic reasons; the thousands of people fleeing war, starvation, persecution, and death in countries like Syria and Afghanistan are “refugees.”

While some countries (like Germany) have behaved better than others (like Hungary) in trying to offer a humane response to a human tragedy the proportions of which we have not seen since World War II, it’s really what individual people have done that offers hope for the better side of our nature.

In Germany, for example, hundreds of peopled signed up on the website Refugees Welcome to offer accommodation in their private homes.

Described by numerous news reports as an Airbnb for refugees, the Berlin-based site has helped people from Africa, Syria, and elsewhere. Many other European Union countries have followed Germany’s example. According to The Guardian, the group has been overwhelmed by people in various countries wanting to help.

Another strategy assisting refugees is the wide petitioning of governments to accept more people, as Icelanders, Brits, and others have done.

And many groups have formed or joined the attempt to help, too.

Calais Migrant Solidarity, for instance, organized aid from the United Kingdom and delivered clothes and food to stranded refugees in France. Doctors of the World has been providing care to vulnerable people with health risks. Folkestone United helped get donated goods and volunteers to makeshift refugee camps.

Individuals have also driven to refugee sites from all over Europe to bring supplies and, in many cases, to drive exhausted refugees to borders.

* * *

One notable individual who offers hope for the future of the world in most people’s minds is Pope Francis, who before traveling to Cuba and the United States presided over the marriage of nearly two dozen couples from Rome in St. Peter’s Basilica. What made this ceremony exceptional was that one bride was already a mother, some of the couples had been living together, and others had been married before.

The Pontiff, who has yet to fully address women’s issues and the pedophilia disaster in the church, has begun to discuss how the Catholic Church can be more compassionate with respect to modern views and practices regarding sexuality.

To his credit, the Pope convened an Extraordinary Synod in 2014 only the third such meeting since the Synod of Bishops was created in 1965 — to address these matters. It will be followed by an Ordinary Meeting next month on the same topic.

Pope Francis has also encouraged people to imagine a more hopeful future with his push for greater action on climate change, his utterly humane view of the poor, and his endorsement of the Iran nuclear deal.

Those of us who value negotiation over armed conflict and war can take some hope from the Pope’s position on Iran nuclear disarmament and from the Senate’s defeat of Republican efforts to kill the deal.

We can also take solace in the fact that attempts to defund Planned Parenthood and to end the constitutional right to abortion at 20 weeks were also defeated in the Senate.

And some Republicans are now espousing criminal justice reform, including ending solitary confinement, while Democrats like Hillary Clinton, who once called for “tougher sentences for repeat offenders” and “three strikes and you’re out” policies are calling for police reform and an end to “mass incarceration.”

Talking about politicians, what could auger hope more than the paralleled political lives of presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders in the U.S. and Jeremy Corbyn in the United Kingdom?

The comparison between the two men — one an avowed Social Democrat, the other a card-carrying Socialist who just became Labour Party Leader — is stunning: They are both people whose campaigns were not taken seriously at first, they both vigorously defend putting principles above political expediency, and they both believe that we need, as Corbyn has said, “a force for change in the word, a force for humanity in the world, a force for peace in the world, and a force that recognizes we cannot go on like this.”

Whether either of these left-leaning, newly emerging politicians can make it in their respective forthcoming elections is something we will have to see. For now, we can leave their chances to analysts and pundits.

* * *

What’s important and relevant here is that people like Sanders and Corbyn are making it to the world’s political podiums. They are being heard and applauded and believed as they bring a new and better vision of a sustainable world to us.

Happily, they are like the good people flocking to help thousands of refugees find hope in a frayed world. They embody the spirit and the possibility of a negotiated future.

And perhaps most important of all — unlike Donald Trump — they talk truth, not trash, to their adoring crowds.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #326 (Wednesday, October 7, 2015). This story appeared on page F1.

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