Rich,” according to a lyric by Hal Hackady, “is walking ’cause you want to, not because you have to.’’
That line, written for the 1970 Broadway show “Minnie’s Boys,” comes to mind often as I drive around central New Jersey — including my home county of Hunterdon which, I am told, is affluent.
I think of Hackady’s words when I see people walking along highways like Route 22, or along local thoroughfares like Main Street in Whitehouse, often in harsh weather, sometimes carrying groceries or clutching the hands of little children or pushing strollers.
And when they aren’t walking and reminding me of Hackady’s verse, many folks are riding bikes in the heat of summer and the cold of winter, in the rain, in the snow, after dark, before dawn.
And lately, as I watch these folks from my aging, commonplace, but comfortable Jetta, I think not only of that Broadway tune but of the frequent reminders from Pope Francis about the growing economic inequality in the world at large.
Pope Francis has made this a theme of his papacy from the day of his election — not only the desperate condition of millions of people, many of whom don’t have even the opportunity to trudge along the shoulder of Route 22 to get to a menial job, but the stake that the rest of us have in their lives.
This is not a new theme for popes.
Especially since Pope Leo XIII — who, as archbishop of Perugia in the mid-19th century, took many steps to directly help the poor — the popes have stressed the imperative, as rooted in the Gospel, of uplifting those who are in material or spiritual need.
No pope was more emphatic on this point than Pope Pius X, whose memorial we observe on August 21.
Pope Pius knew poverty from the inside out. He was born poor, and he tried to live a simple life, even as pope.
He would not accept favors for himself or his family. In fact, when he was asked why he hadn’t conferred titles on his three sisters, who had a meager existence in Rome, he answered, “I made them the sisters of a pope; what more can I do for them?”
As a pastor he constantly engaged in charitable work, and as pope he opened the apostolic palace to refugees from an earthquake. He carried candy in his pocket to give to the street urchins in Rome, and he taught weekly catechism lessons in a church square in the Vatican.
He anticipated Pope Francis in several ways: he wore a simple metal crucifix at his coronation; he simplified papal ceremonies; and he dispensed with the tradition that the pope should eat alone.
“I was born poor,” he said. “I have lived poor, and I wish to die poor.’’
Pope Francis has imitated Pius X with respect to both his own simplicity of style and his advocacy for the poor.
The secular media, which provide most people with whatever they know about the pope, have reported on these aspects of his papacy, but seem to be more interested in topics that have the potential to be sensational: the status of divorced persons, ordination of women, abortion, and same-sex marriage.
Reporters actually asked the Pope why he hadn’t talked about some of those issues during his visit to Brazil.
But like Pius X, Francis has his eye on the poor, and it’s clear that he wants our eyes and our minds on them, too.