Pope Francis and Latin American winds of change

A man walks past a store of Argentine San Lorenzo de Almagro sports club decorated with a graffiti depicting Pope Francis in Buenos Aires on Jan. 03, 2017. Pope Francis returns to Latin America for the sixth time in his pontificate on January 15, 2018 avoiding again his native Argentina, a significant gesture that brings up many questions. (AFP/Eitan Abramovich)
Updated 14 January 2018
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Pope Francis and Latin American winds of change

Vatican City: A squall of fresh air with a distinct Latin American feel tore through the Vatican on the election of Pope Francis, a passionate Argentine whose defense of the downtrodden has stirred hearts across the world.
On his return to the continent this week with a trip to Catholic majority Chile and Peru, Francis will not only speak his native Spanish but also a vibrant spiritual and cultural language common to all.
“I feel free, nothing scares me,” the pontiff once said, despite shouldering the burden of leading the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics, nearly half of whom live in the Americas.
It was a typically American expression according to fellow Argentine, Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, who has known Francis for decades.
“North and South America are both societies with European origins that have realized they need independence. The idea of freedom is the cornerstone of the Americas,” the philosophy professor told AFP.
The first pope to address the United States congress has “a strong sense of human dignity and freedom,” he says.
But while one of the Americas has prospered, the other has become increasingly impoverished.
“The pope is very sensitive to the issue of social justice — a more Latin than North American theme, hence the interest he has for the ‘peripheries’ in difficulty,” Sorondo said, referring to Francis’s support for those on the margins.


The Archbishop of Buenos Aires was virtually an unknown when he was elected on March 13, 2013, becoming the first pope to choose the name Francis — a homage to St. Francis of Assisi, who dedicated his life to the poor.
The Argentine hails from a family of Italian immigrants and became “a sort of link between the Old World and the New World,” says Giovanni Maria Vian, editor of the Vatican’s L’Osservatore Romano newspaper.
However, “the dramatic history of Argentina at the end of the 20th century is what shapes his personal trajectory,” he says in the preface to a book called “Francis, the American pope.”
In 2007, Jorge Bergoglio was elected by his fellow bishops in Aparecida in Brazil to draw up the final document of the Latin American Episcopal Council, which can be read as a guide to many of the themes dearest to him.
Bergoglio stressed the ills of a “scandalous inequality which wounds personal dignity,” a theme which “clearly guides his actions at the head of the church today,” Vatican specialist Nicolas Seneze writes in “The Words of the Pope.”
The Aparecida conference “prioritized the poor,” Sarondo said.
“The pope is very critical of capitalism which sacrifices human rights — a typical stance of the Latin American episcopate,” he added.


While Polish pope John Paul II had denounced “wild capitalism,” Francis has taken more concrete steps, such as calling for “a poor church for the poor” and turning down a luxurious papal apartment for a humble hotel room, he said.
Bergoglio was an active pastor, taking the bus around Buenos Aires and heading without a second thought into slums in Latin America to comfort the poor.
His experience of the Argentine economic crisis has also shaped his idea of “the misery of big cities,” which fatally attract poor farmers from the countryside in search of a better life, stripping them of their culture.
His vision was strongly influenced by the “theology of the people,” the Argentine, non-violent version of the South American Liberation theology — a strain without the focus on the Marxist class struggle.
And since his arrival in Rome, the pope has created new Latin American cardinals, saying “they bring with them the air of new churches and of a history of faith and of blood.”
In doing so, he is also reshaping in his image the conclave of cardinals that will elect his successor.


Fear and fanfare as Hong Kong launches China rail link

A passenger takes a selfie next to the first train of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Linkas after it arrived in Shenzhen on September 23, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 39 min 28 sec ago
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Fear and fanfare as Hong Kong launches China rail link

  • Critics say the railway is a symbol of continuing Chinese assimilation of Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with guarantees of widespread autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including an independent legal system

HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s controversial bullet train got off to a smooth start on Sunday, as hundreds of passengers whistled north across the border at speeds of up to 200 kph (125 mph), deepening integration of the former British colony with mainland China.
While the $11 billion rail project has raised fears for some over Beijing’s encroachment on the Chinese-ruled city’s cherished freedoms, passengers at the sleek harborfront station were full of praise for a service that reaches mainland China in less than 20 minutes.
“Out of 10 points, I give it nine,” said 10-year-old Ng Kwan-lap, who was traveling with his parents on the first train leaving for Shenzhen at 7 a.m.
“The train is great. It’s very smooth when it hits speeds of 200 kilometers per hour.”
Mainland Chinese immigration officers are stationed in one part of the modernist station that is subject to Chinese law, an unprecedented move that some critics say further erodes the city’s autonomy.
The project is part of a broader effort by Beijing to fuse the city into a vast hinterland of the Pearl River Delta including nine Chinese cities dubbed the Greater Bay Area.
Beijing wants the Greater Bay Area, home to some 68 million people with a combined GDP of $1.5 trillion, to foster economic integration and better meld people, goods and sectors across the region.
Critics say the railway is a symbol of continuing Chinese assimilation of Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with guarantees of widespread autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including an independent legal system.
But at a ceremony on Saturday ahead of the public opening, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam praised the so-called “co-location” arrangement with Beijing which the government has said is necessary to streamline immigration.
Scores of excited passengers straddled a yellow strip across black tiles that highlighted the demarcation line between Hong Kong and mainland China, while others passed through turnstiles surrounded by red, orange and white balloons.
“I’m excited to experience the high-speed train, even more excited than when I take a plane,” said a 71-year-old retiree surnamed Leung.
While there have been questions over whether Hong Kong residents would be able to access foreign social media, largely banned in mainland China, in zones subject to Chinese law, some passengers arriving in Shenzhen, on the mainland side, were able to bypass China’s so-called Great Firewall.
The rail link provides direct access to China’s massive 25,000-km national high-speed rail network and authorities on both sides have hailed it as a breakthrough that will bring economic benefits, including increased tourism.
“No matter what you think about the new line, high-speed rail is extremely convenient,” said Feng Yan, assistant professor at the Communication University of China in Beijing who took the bullet train from Shenzhen to Hong Kong.
“Even if it takes some time for people to realize how convenient it is, sooner or later they will.”