Pope Francis’s chartered Alitalia aircraft touched down on American soil at Joint Base Andrews near Washington DC, the federal capital at 4 p.m. (local time) on Tuesday, September 22, 2015, where he was met by President Barack Obama.
After all the diplomatic formalities, Pope Francis walked past a fleet of bullet-proof SUVs lined up by the State Department and the US Secret Service and joined a small Fiat 500 car for his journey to the embassy of the Vatican to mark the start of his US tour.
For the next six days or so, that small Fiat 500 became the symbol of a Pope whose humility and modesty had never been pretentious nor in doubt and which made a great impression on many not just for its simplicity but for the sharp contrast between this small Fiat 500 and the powerful limousines and SUVs other leaders prefer to use.
The Pope does not just preside over a powerful and dominant religious institution – the Catholic Church – but also a custodian of enormous wealth and commands enough authority to demand customised vehicles and a private aircraft for his travels.
Instead, he chose to fly by a chartered aircraft and ride in a small vehicle in a host country which is the richest and most powerful in the world and which could afford and was ready to put at his disposal anything he wished.
The Pope’s message of love, sacrifice and forgiveness and on the more contentious issues of abortion, gay marriages, immigration and child abuse will remain topical issues for discussion by politicians, media professionals and social commentators for months to come. But for the ordinary people, the Pope will be remembered for his simplicity, modesty and humility and his determination to reach out to the poor and vulnerable.
It is this simple lifestyle that some of us pray political leaders and their bureaucrats and technocrats on the continent will emulate. Africa is a land of great contrasts. This is a continent with abundant resources that beat the imagination of other continents but with the largest measure of poverty, illiteracy, disease and ignorance.
This is a continent whose leaders take delight in begging at the least opportunity because of the overplayed song of ‘No Money’, but whose taste for the best of everything for their personal aggrandisement has no rival in even the countries they go soliciting for funds.
We in Ghana have not escaped this canker. Here is a country where we seem not to have money to develop our infrastructure but have more of our public officials driving expensive and powerful Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) than we find in other advanced countries.
Apparently because our leaders who should spearhead our development efforts drive these powerful vehicles which are bought and maintained at the taxpayer’s expense, they do not bother whether we, the ordinary citizens, drive on good roads or not.
If only our political leaders and decision makers will tone down a bit and adopt modest lifestyles, who knows, we may save more resources to meet our development challenges. It is also likely to reduce the number of people who are fighting tooth and nail to gain or retain political power for the sake of grabbing their fair share of the national cake as a personal booty.
May we not be just listeners of the word, but more importantly those who will live by the practical examples of the Pope.