ROME AND PARIS – The gestures of a slave

– Carlos M Frota

The old man knelt before the old allies, turned into enemies, kissed their shoes and begged to them something very strange and quite unexpected :

Please, make peace between you! Remember your people and don’t allow more suffering!

And the old man, trembling, stood up again, with the some assistance, his voice betraying his deep feelings. Those two men were the leaders, in an endless conflict, a source of  misery, as all wars are.

The old man looked at them intensely, the president and the vice president of the small country of South Sudan, and the message was clear: never forget what you have just witnessed! It’s not I that did this. It’s Him.

Strange behavior of a world religious leader, so admired, so respected by millions, as Pope Francis is! But…what kind of leadership is his?

A leadership inspired not exactly by The Prince of Machiavelli, but by the Gospels narrating the life and message of the Nazarene. The same carpenter at the epicenter of Lent, walking towards his ultimate suffering.

Lent is always quite depressing for us, Christians , because of the apparent nonsense  of that ultimate suffering.

Jesus the King of the Jews, acclaimed by the crowds, dismissed the opportunity of becoming an earthly sovereign because, He said strangely, His kingdom was not of this world. 

With this distinctive gesture of His Divine royalty, Jesus drew the frontier between His kingdom and the human powers that through ambition, pride and competition concur, since History began, in the tragedy of our pilgrimage on earth. And the role of the Church,  today as in the past, is to intervene on behalf of the best ideals of peace and fraternity among all men.


Pope Francis celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday in a prison near Rome, washing the feet of twelve inmates, from four nations: nine Italians, and one each from Brazil, Ivory Coast, and Morocco.

The Holy Father reflected briefly on the gesture of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, which priests around the world repeat on Holy Thursday.

“He, the Lord who contained in himself all power, carries out the gesture of a slave,” he said. The Pope added that Jesus then told his disciples to do the same for each other in service.

“Be brothers in service: not in ambition but in service,” the Pope said.

Each of us, said Pope Francis, needs to be at the service of our neighbor.


The tragedy of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris has led me to a series of reflections about the incongruences of our time that I decided to share with you, dear readers, in completely good faith.

Everybody who saw the prestigious building engulfed in flames  through the videos shared worldwide (and the fierce combat of the firefighters to avoid the worst) were impressed by the calamity, all  united by a common feeling of loss. 

And it was quite comforting to see people all over the world deploring what happened.

But what were they mourning? The building itself? The stones? Its architectural beauty? Its place in the Parisian tourist landscape, poorer now, for a while? Or really the sacred temple where multiple generations of Christian faithfuls  worship   God? 

This question, eventually meaningless for some, has much to do with the way we see the world cultural heritage.

It’s good to feel how people all over the world united in deep sadness about the fire which almost destroyed Notre Dame.   

It’s excellent that the entire humanity feels that there are important things in the world that belong spiritually to everybody.

But Notre Dame Cathedral is, first of all, a revered place of French and European Catholicism. It’s not the symbol of any other religion, it’s not a building related to any other social function, a conference or concert hall, a museum. Notre Dame is a church, a Catholic church, a place of prayer where  a special Person (whom we consider the Son of God) is honored: Jesus Christ.

Why is it so important (for me at least) to emphasize  the obvious? Because in our time a secular  narrative prevails that reinforces history and culture over Religion, almost denying or emptying spirituality of its substance, in order to put all realities inside the same closet of a cold, historical narrative.

And history is politics, society, culture, much more than Faith, values, a certain idea of life that contradicts the dominant traits of liberal social beliefs nowadays.

What am I trying to convey? That the French, for instance, only deserve to be considered the “owners” of Notre Dame if  they are Catholics?  No, of course not!

But like many other sacred buildings  in the world, a church is first of all a place of worship, more than a stop in a touristic program.

Tourism is good, excellent … and tourism, in its massive, disorderly, intrusive expression, is negative. In France and elsewhere. And concerning churches and other places of prayer, sometimes the invasion of tourists represents pure and simple disrespect for citizens’ rights of privacy for worshiping. 


Pope Francis received a phone call from President Donald Trump, who, referring to the devastation of Notre Dame Cathedral, expressed his closeness to the Pope on behalf of the American people. Good! Nice!

It was a call of courtesy, this one. Not the time to advise the president to change his policies on immigrants and other socially sensitive issues so opposed to the spirit of the Gospels…

It was a gesture of solidarity Pope Francis thanked, of course. But in Trump’s country, a 37-year-old man was arrested after walking into St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City with two full gasoline cans, lighter fluid and lighters, police said.

The man entered the Catholic cathedral in Midtown Manhattan just before 8:00 PM  and was confronted by a security guard of the New York City Police Department (NYPD).

As the man turned to leave, gasoline spilled onto the floor and the guard informed police stationed outside.

In Paris, a cathedral on fire, by accident. In New York , another cathedral that almost became the victim of a mentally deranged person.

And in every corner of the world, cathedrals of compassion and fraternity  waiting to be born in the spirit of our communities.

Crazy times, these our times!

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