The Pope Digs Cooperatives

Pope Francis brought his message and his popularity to Washington, and this family was there to witness it.

I’m not Catholic. I don’t believe in everything the church says or approve of its handling of some terrible scandals. Not all my Catholic friends and colleagues do either, of course.

But there’s no arguing with the moral weight this new pontiff carries with him, nor with the sobriety of his message in these days of mudslinging personal attacks and hate speech pandering to the lowest common denominator all abetted by a willing media, mainstream and otherwise to win attention on the public stage.

That’s why I took my kids out of school Thursday; so they could see Pope Francis as he drove down a Washington, DC, street on the second day of his historic visit to the nation’s capital. My boys are 11 and 12, just old enough to discuss beliefs and to begin to form their own opinions.

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Alix Patterson and her two children took this picture of Pope Francis and the Popemobile on Constitution Avenue as his entourage passed near the Washington Monument.

Now was a good time to begin and Pope Francis was a good person to begin with. This elderly Argentinian has tremendous gravitas and seems to treat everyone with respect and dignity, as evidenced by his choice of lunch dates this day a homeless shelter. The pope’s concern with the poor and, more broadly, income inequality is so strong that he evoked headlines like this in the Washington Post: Pope Francis Poses A Threat To The Current Economic Order.

The pope has indeed riled some pundits and politicians on the political right in our nation, including as Post columnist Harold Meyerson noted in this piece, his own colleague George Will, who said, Americans cannot simultaneously honor him (Pope Francis) and celebrate their nation’s premises.

I beg to differ. How about this premise? Democratic Member Control. Or maybe this: Autonomy and Independence. Or even this: Concern for Community. If those ring a bell, they’re three of the seven cooperative principles for credit unions.

And it turns out the pope is a fan of cooperatives. Meyerson’s column quotes Francis speaking to a gathering of Italian cooperatives, where he extolled an authentic, true cooperative where capital does not have command over men, but men over capital.

There’s more, but let’s just say some powerful people in our fair land aren’t happy to see this influential religious leader walk the talk.

After all, one of Pope Francis’ recent predecessors had something to do with bringing about the collapse of the Soviet Union, working alongside a Polish labor leader and an American president who now is a conservative icon.

Together, they helped make the world a safer, more just place. Capitalism in the right hands can do that. The credit union movement has proved that time and again.

Alix Patterson is chief operating officer at Callahan & Associates.

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Climate change is just one of the topics the pope has a strong opinion on, as does this fellow pope-watcher on parade. Below, the Patterson boys either enjoyed being out of school for the day or taking in the excitement of seeing the pope, or both.

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September 25, 2015

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