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The scope and hope of the Pope

By Tony Deyal

In 1967, Glenroy Joseph, the Trinidadian calypsonian known as “The Mighty Cypher”, came up with a calypso “IF THE PRIEST COULD PLAY WHO IS WE?” He was referring to the annual carnival when, for the first time, a priest joined in the “wining” and “jumping-up”. Now, many years later, I thought that if Cypher was around he would have been able to decipher, not just the priest but the Pope who brought together more than 100 comedians to help him, and the rest of us, to “dream of a better world.” In other words, the Pope feels that a little comic relief is good for the soul, if not ours, at least his own.

It reminds me of the Calypso by the Mighty Sparrow who, in 1960, when the glamorous younger sister of Queen Elizabeth, the much-loved Princes Margaret, married debonair photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones. Sparrow sang, “If I wasn’t there in England. And see with me eye. And Lord Melody din’ tell me, You know how Melo does lie.. If I wasn’t there and see, I still think they fooling me. I can’t understand, how a princess could love a cameraman.” But, as a comedian and calypsonian of sorts myself, I sing along with the Pope that “Comedians are among the most well-loved and applauded entertainers because they have and cultivate the gift of making people laugh.” The Pope added, “With so much gloomy news in the midst of both public and personal crises, comedians are able to spread serenity and a smile, and are among the few who can speak to very different people of different generations and different cultural backgrounds.”

The Pope reached my own heart, and those of many other writers, when he stressed what he considered the “miracle” of comedians and their ability to make people smile even when tackling serious issues. He told them, “You denounce the excesses of power, give voice to forgotten situations, highlight abuses, point out inappropriate behaviour… but without spreading alarm and terror, anxiety or rear.”

That sounded like the Pope could play but no the rest of us. Fortunately, the comedians go for the jugular and it does not matter whose – Trump, Biden or the Pope. As a Caribbean person who lived and worked in all the English-speaking countries of the region, I have to take the Pope and his people with much more than a pinch, or even a pound, of salt. Right now, while 75 percent of US Catholics see Pope Francis favourably, there is a growing rift between the conservative US Catholics and the Vatican which dumped two of the top US leaders for standing up against the Pope. To me, what the Vatican did was take a personal matter and make it global. On that basis, I feel I must give you a taste of both heaven and hell, a two-sided sense of the way the Catholic church is perceived, known, considered and seen by others.

My cousin Roy, who is better known as Monsignor Gregory Ramkissoon, in 1978 founded the Mustard Seed Communities, initially in Jamaica, and subsequently in Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

Last week I sent him my column about Father’s Day and Roy wrote: “Thanks again man!! By the way…did you hear why our first father…Adam…was created before Eve? Well the good Lord did not want any advice so he created Adam before Eve…”. I was so overwhelmed that I replied, “I am glad you sent this to me because there is an article in which the Pope asked the comedians to write jokes in support of the church. I had already planned to do my version next week. Thanks for a start.”

Having gone to a Catholic school with Irish priests, I went first to the “Great Catholic Jokes” which thought it was a good time to dust off the old joke books, tickle the funny bones and present the best Catholic jokes of all time like, “Why can’t muggers catch Catholics during Lent?” They fast. Then there is, “What did the taxidermist say in Confession?” Bless me, Father, for I have skinned! I end with the story of a town which decided to form a clergy group to have Catholics, Jews, Protestants and Muslims gather to talk about various issues facing their places of worship.

The Rabbi went first and said they were having a terrible issue with squirrels. He said they were hanging around outside of church and aggressively begging for food. He said they were scaring their kids. The pastor said they were having the same issue, in fact, a few of the squirrels had actually gone inside of the church and had done some damage to the roof. The Imam agreed saying that in fact one of the squirrels had bitten a few people at the mosque. The Priest then spoke up and said they used to have the same issue but had solved it. He said they took all of their squirrels, baptised them, confirmed them, and now they only come around at Christmas.”

Unfortunately, Christmas comes only once a year and all the rest of the time there are people against the Catholic church and they go for more than the jugular, they go armed with anger and hate like, “A police officer pulls over two Catholic priests and says he’s looking for two child molesters.” The priests looked at each other and then replied, “We’ll do it!” Unfortunately, it’s not only the jokes that are bad but what some priests have been known to do. This is why some catholic priests are called “father”. Because “daddy” would be too suspicious. The worst is, “a priest, a predator and a criminal walk into a bar. He ordered a beer.” These jokes make me realise that to understand the power of the priesthood, we must know its limitations. More to the point, the priests must always be ahead of us and not behind.

The person at the front of the new Catholicism, what we consider reimagining the Church and what it stands for, is Pope Francis.

According to journalist John L. Allen Jr., Pope Francis is an “87-year-old man who’s been in and out of the hospital in recent months, who has chronic difficulty breathing and who can’t really move very far under his own power, yet who somehow found the stamina to pull off a day that would put most people half his age into the ground.”

While, he might not be around for long, whoever takes over should follow what Pope Francis believes is the way forward for the Church. “Agape, the love of each one of us for the other, from the closest to the furthest, is in fact the only way that Jesus has given us to find the way of salvation and of the Beatitudes.” I put it simply. If God didn’t exist we would have to invent him.

Moreover, all religions are like rivers that empty into the same sea and regardless of what the Catholics, Jews, Protestants, Muslims, Hindus and all the other groups call HIM/HER, there is only one God.

*Tony Deyal was last heard saying loudly, “AMEN” because it is the only part of a prayer that he and everyone else knows.



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