Carol Anne Costa: What Politicians Can Learn From the Pope

Thursday, April 11, 2013


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He may be ruffling certain orthodox Vaticanistas, but Francis I is a pope with a lesson in leadership for elected officials.

In less than a month since Jorge Mario Bergoglio emerged as Francis the 1st , this new Pope has through his decisions and actions gained my full attention and respect. What he has shown us is that you rarely go wrong when you return to your mission. Perhaps Francis’ undeniable devotion to the works of Mercy, both corporal and spiritual, can provide a teachable moment for each of us— and our politicians in particular.

From the beginning of his papcy, Pope Francis I has proven grounded in his faith and buoyed by its practice. He has largely exhibited these qualities by his humble, simple, prayerful and poignant acts. Washing the feet of incarcerated juvenile inmates (including 2 women), passing on the red shoes and posh papal digs, ministering directly to the people and his penchant for close personal contact with the flock are a clear sign he has remained essentially a parish priest, as his Jesuit roots showed in every act.

Even though many of these actions have startled and even chagrined the long seated Vaticanistas and the more orthodox base of the Roman Catholic Church, he appears undaunted in his mission and almost deaf to the criticism. His papal style is indeed refreshing to witness. I can’t help think we all should take page from the Francis I playbook and reexamine the mission.

The Francis I playbook

Let’s face it—we all waiver, veer off track, get distracted and swayed by the trappings. After all we are human, and maybe, just maybe, Francis I is showing us a way home. So, perhaps taking time to reflect on what is endeavored in public service is a great prescription for a spring revival. Yes, politicians, political movements and elected officials many times come from a base of ideals and core beliefs and are born from an agenda, event or motivating desire to serve. And, whether those ideals are liberal or conservative, blue or red, right or left, hopefully the one thing shared is the drive to make a difference, to represent the will of the people and to remember why one embarked on the journey in the first place.

In my view, a sturdy public servant no matter the stripe, exhibits dignity, is eager to listen, posses poise, considers decisions and polices with a mind on how they impact everyone not just those of similar ilk, commands the facts but not the debate, has an undying belief in transparency and accountability, is always ready to say “I was wrong,” takes criticism, heaps praise, collaborates, makes no promises for fear or favor, remains passionate and never forgets why they ran for office in the first place.

When a person makes the huge decision to run for office or even serve on a committee in service of the public, I always find that that decision initially is largely made with a passion and a drive to achieve a goal or make an impact on the town, city, state, or nation they will serve; “the mission”. As Francis I seems completely unabashed in his style, and remains unaffected by the handwringing of the Vatican orthodoxy and dogmatic base, it appears his style is garnering many more attractors than detractors. So perhaps that formula can work in public service.

Raimondo--following in the path of Francis I?

For example, consider Gina Raimondo for a moment. Her laser focused campaign for General Treasurer consisting of math, measured tones, keen listening and an unbending desire to fix a crippled public pension system, produced results. Her mission driven march to reform did not push back detractors, it embraced them. Every attempt to throw her off course was met with a thoughtful, honest, transparent response filled with facts, outreach and little rhetoric. A very Francis style if you ask me. When we look back it is only to acknowledge that it works.

As we head into the next campaign cycle, my hope is that mission driven politics tempered with core beliefs in public service will help to create elected officials who never forget why than ran for office in the first place. Habemus Papum, and may he lead a new generation of truly grounded pols.

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A public relations and community outreach specialist, Carol has experience in both the public and private sectors. She is the Chairwoman of the Scituate Democratic Town Committee and has extensive community affairs and public relations experience, as she the public in the Rhode Island Judiciary for nearly 17 years. Carol also had a successful development stint at the Diocese of Providence as Associate Director for Catholic Education and is currently a public housing manager for the Johnston Housing Authority. Her work has been published in several local outlets including: GOLOCALPROV, Valley Breeze, The Rhode Island Catholic, and Currents Magazine.


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