by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
Leadership comes in many forms and often from unexpected sources. There is the usual understanding of leadership which views it as a person or persons who stand on top of the hill, so to speak, and point the way forward—the prophetic role. This understanding of leadership, however, in no way exhausts its meaning. There is also the person or persons who have their fingers figuratively on the pulse of the community and indicate that the group is ready or not ready to act on the prophets’ challenge. And there is leadership exercised by the practical ones—the ones who know the resources at the disposal of the community and can indicate if there is the wherewithal to meet the challenge. All three, prophetic, communal and practical, are equal expressions of genuine leadership.
Today the human family yearns for leadership and finds it in short supply. The most disturbing absence of it is revealed in our current national experience. Through a deadly combination of ignorance, selfishness and meanness at the very top of our political life, together with the consequent failure of our country’s former status as “leader of the free world” (however flawed that concept has been), the United States is increasingly dismissed as a false and failed international guide. Instead of offering a much-needed analysis of today’s grim global situation and the stern measures needed to emerge from it, we are seen, because of the convoluted rhetoric coming from the White House, as the international bully, interested only in saving ourselves and maintaining our privileged way of life.
A recent New York Times editorial put it this way: The present crisis is one “in which the United States could have emerged as the leader … But on top of the widely chronicled failures at home, the Trump administration has provided little inspiration for the world.” Exactly!
So where do we look for a vision without which “the people perish?”
In that same Times editorial we read the following:
“The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, and Pope Francis have both called for a cessation of all global conflicts to focus on what Mr. Guterres called ‘the true fight of our lives.’ The Pope’s call echoed these words from the Secretary General: ‘May our joint fight against the pandemic … inspire a renewed commitment to overcome rivalries among leaders of nations … Conflicts are not resolved through war….’ Antagonisms and differences ‘must be overcome through dialogue and a constructive search for peace.’ These are examples of genuine leadership.”
Another, surprising, demonstration of leadership came recently when King Abdullah II of Jordan wrote, “Covid–19 is a threat that confronts every leader. If we wish to defeat it we must do something counter-intuitive: put politics and popularity aside, and have a singular focus, the survival and well-being of human lives everywhere.”
The absence of American leadership, nationally and internationally affects Pax Christi USA directly. Each of us individually and all of us collectively find ourselves at some point of the leadership spectrum described above. We have a vision, we are ready to live it in practice, and we know that we are able to do so. At every level of U.S. society, personal, local, regional and national, our vision of “modeling the Peace of Christ” can be brought to bear. And as a movement in the United States, we cannot shrink from what is so often described as—”speaking truth to power”. This has to be our contribution to the leadership so vital to our nation and the world.
One striking example of the need and possibility for our leadership is the scandalous impression of unquestioning partisanship by the Catholic Church with the current U.S. administration and the cynical utilization of the Church by that administration. It took place in the recent phone conversation between President Trump and a large number of Catholic leaders, including members of the hierarchy. Actions like these call for a Christ-like denunciation—and who better to speak it than Pax Christi USA?
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.