Saturday, 26 September 2015

Santa and Austerity

The Vatican is installing showers for the homeless at public toilets just off St Peter's Square.

Pope Francis is raffling off unwanted gifts to raise money for the homeless.  The Argentinean pope - who chose his papal name in honour of Saint Francis of Assisi and his devotion to the poor - has cast off luxuries such as the ermine-trimmed cape and red shoes worn by his predecessor, Benedict XVI, and focused on helping the down-and-out. He has opted out of moving from his modest apartment into the spacious papal palace.

In February, the 77-year-old pope sold off his Harley-Davidson - worth about €15000 euros and inscribed with his name - for €241500 at a Paris auction, giving the proceeds to a hostel and soup kitchen in Rome.


Meanwhile, in Mpumalanga, the provincial legislature this week rejected a motion by the loyal opposition to cut catering expenditure by half.  The catering budget had been increased to an estimated R11.5 million this year from R4.5-million in the 2013-2014 financial year.

This goes against the attempts of the speaker of the legislature, Thandi Shongwe, to curtail escalating expenses, including that of catering.  Legislature members are currently treated to full English breakfasts and lunches. If a legislature meeting goes on after 4pm, politicians are treated to platters of finger foods.

Basil Kransdorff, whose company Econocom Foods makes fortified school meals, said the money spent by the Mpumalanga legislature and Tshwane on catering could have funded 30 million food parcels – for 10 million children, three meals a day for a month, giving them the strength to learn.  He said there was a worrying number of children in South Africa practically starving:
"Rural areas are particularly affected, with the only meal that a large number of children receive being what they get at school."
"Many of our children, especially orphans, starve during school holidays. We have reports of children having to boil grass to fill their stomachs to stave off hunger."

"All that will happen now is that a very small number of people will become very obese."
The Treatment Action Campaign general secretary, Anele Yawa, slammed the spending:
"People in Mpumalanga are suffering but instead of spending money on improving crumbling health facilities, they treat the province's people like used condoms. They use them once, when they need them for votes, and then flush them down a toilet like a used condom."
"We need to ask how many HIV-prevention programmes could have been rolled out and how many lives could have potentially been saved."
"Instead of being concerned about saving lives, our leaders are more interested in their stomachs. It is spent on people who have medical aids, pensions and homes."
Loyal opposition spokesman Anthony Bernadie said:
"The speaker indicated that in the current financial year the catering budget must be cut from R10-million to R5-million.  But she didn't table any kind of mechanism that could be used to cut R5-million."
"We have been fighting these free meals for years. We tabled a formal proposal to the office of the speaker and yesterday, during the sitting we tabled a motion supporting the speaker in her proposal that the catering budget be cut."  
He said his party proposed that meals be subsidised or that members pay 100% for them. 
"That's when the ANC voted against our proposal."
The Gospel of John the Baptist
Advent is the season that precedes Christmas, just like the last of the great Hebrew prophets – John the Baptist - preceded Jesus, the first and foremost, who heralded a new era.

Why did John baptize? (Even Jesus went to the River Jordan to be baptized by him.)

What was John’s message?

Please during Advent can we come to terms with John’s important message?  It was not eclipsed by Jesus, who was a great admirer of this prophet.  Jesus said that John was the greatest man that ever lived, even though he was a recluse, and in the eyes of those in power - a renegade.

The Qur'an speaks of John's gentle pity and love and his humble attitude towards life, for which he was granted the Purity of Life:
“And piety as from Us, and purity: He was devout,
And kind to his parents, and he was not overbearing or rebellious.
So Peace on him the day he was born, the day that he dies,
and the day that he will be raised up to life (again)!” 
—Qur'an, sura 19 (Maryam), ayah 13–15[45]

John was a classical prophet, sort of like “spokespersons” are today, for high profile parties or movements. He spoke out boldly, denouncing both people and issues.  These were not just platitudes, either, he was up close and personal… one of those guys that you either love or you hate.  Luke offers a glimpse of John’s style and message:
“Brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming retribution?  Produce fruit in keeping with repentance, and do not start telling yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ because, I tell you, God can raise children for Abraham from these stones. Yes, even now the axe is being laid to the root of the trees, so that any tree failing to produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown on the fire."
When all the people asked him, “What must we do, then?” He answered, “Anyone who has two tunics must share with the one who has none, and anyone with something to eat must do the same.” 
There were tax collectors, too, who came for baptism, and these said to him, “Master, what must we do?”  He said to them: “Exact no more than the appointed rate.” 
Some soldiers asked him in their turn, “What about us? What must we do?” He said to them, “No intimidation! No extortion! Be content with your pay!”
Corruption and waste are two distinct issues.  Both themes need to be addressed in our time and setting, and not only by austerity but by public exposure.  John the Baptist would have had harsh words for the Mpumalanga legislature, I’m sure.  (Would his head have ended up on one of its platters?)  And it sounds to me like Pope Francis has taken to heart that actions speak louder than words, and that he is taking repentance to scale, as John the Baptist taught.

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