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Poland's Church Struggles To Follow Pope Francis' Message Of Humility -- And Poverty

Some members of the hierarchy of the Polish Catholic Church seem to have troubled practicing what the new pontiff preaches.

Basilica in Licheń Stary - the largest church in Poland
Basilica in Licheń Stary - the largest church in Poland
Katarzyna Wiśniewska

WARSAW - What is wrong with this new Pope? When after the conclave, one of the priests was about to put a cape lined in miniver on the pontiff's back, the message from Francis was essentially: No, the Carnival is over.

Pope Francis doesn’t preach the enigmatic and at the same time the ultimately undemanding “idea of destitution.” Instead, he speaks straight from the heart: he wants a poor Church, for poor people.

What does this mean? It may seem obvious, but for Polish bishops this new vision may present some very real risks -- something like a grenade that must be defused.

This is how a vision of a poor Church is understood by Polish auxiliary Bishop Wojciech Polak: The Church has always appealed to solidarity with poor people. What we have to remember is that the Church isn’t a charity organization, but rather a community that essentially preaches for the salvation of poor people. Of course, the Church is also called upon to bring help, but mainly it should be spreading the gospel. It is not focused on satisfying tangible needs, because different organizations can do that.

This is true, we must agree, but is it enough? “Solidarity with the poor” and “preaching salvation” are not enough if the Church doesn’t demonstrate by its activities that is close to the poor. This is what the Pope was thinking when he decided, at least for now, to continue living in Vatican’s modest hotel, Santa Marta.

The Church that talks about the need to tend to the destitute but itself wallows in luxury is simply not worthy of trust. Bishop Polak notes that one real lesson of destitution would be useful for some members of the hieararchy in Poland. (One can't help think of the Archdiocese Of Gdansk, and its current shepherd Archbishop Slawoj Leszek Glodz...)

Too many live in lavish homes and are driven around in fancy cars. Even a parish priest who delivers a sermon on destitution and then gets in his Audi is less trustworthy than the one who drives a beat-up car and resides in a spartan presbytery.

This is not demagoguery. Pope Francis himself, as a cardinal, used public transport instead of just weaving beautiful metaphors about destitution.

Who owns what?

The Pope’s vision has been also interpreted by Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz of Warsaw. He said that it doesn’t mean that “the Pope will banish rich people from the Church.” He also said that it doesn’t mean, as some think, that the Pope Francis will dump all the relics and priceless pieces of art that have been in Vatican for centuries. Instead the real meaning of this destitution is to send a message to those who have become too attached to material things.

Wallowing in luxury Tadeusz Rydzyk (a Roman Catholic priest and Redemptorist, who runs the conservative and controversial Radio Maryja radio station) amused everyone in Poland when he declared that he doesn’t possess anything himself because all of his things belong to the Redemptorists.

There are also some parishes where the priests directly express their dissatisfaction with receiving no contributions from their parishioners. There were recent reports about clergy “buying” good parishes of wealthy laity. (Again, Archbishop GÅ‚ódź of Gdansk can be cited here).

Bishop WiesÅ‚aw Åšmigiel understands Pope Francis’ vision very well. "If the Church gets lost in sumptuousness, and only takes care of itself and of multiplying its goods, then the evangelical mission will be rendered impossible."

In March, after Cardinal Borgoglio had been chosen as the next Pope, this was Archbishop GÅ‚ódź"s reaction: "Borgoglio was called a cardinal for the poor. Pope Francis brings his experience to Rome and will definitely show its value, especially in affluent and inward-looking Europe."

But this wasn’t the new Pope’s point. Archbishop StanisÅ‚aw GÄ…decki of Poznan gets closer to understanding Francis' vision: "The European perspective, which had seemed to be the only one possible, will be extended and force us to practice what we preach: poverty and humility. Everyone demands that the Pope be humble, poor, and open, but it doesn’t change our attitude." Indeed, why do people continue to cling to the Church, but yet also treasure their bank deposits so dearly? Do we risk leaving Pope Francis to be left alone, clinging only to the Church?

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In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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