Black shoes? Selfies? Renaults? This pope acts like a regular guy

Bobs Column - The B SideI love me some Pope Francis.
How do you not like this guy? Even if you’re not a Catholic, it’s nearly impossible not to take notice of the Holy Father and appreciate his approach to the gig.
He’s only been Pope for about one year, but he’s garnered more media attention than any other Pope in my lifetime.
Pope John Paul II was a close second. He was beloved and will be canonized on Sunday along with Pope John XXIII, the pontiff when Vatican II started in the early Francis
I’ll never forget the millions of people who turned out for John Paul II when he visited Chicago in 1979. An estimated 200,000 people gathered in Grant Park for the Papal Mass, and he addressed thousands from the roof of Quigley South Seminary (now St. Rita High School). It was an exciting time and a moment of pride for the city’s Polish population. John Paul II was the second Pope to visit the United States and first to come to Chicago.
But Pope Francis has redefined the role primarily by doing away with all the pomp that accompanies being the head of the Catholic Church.
The other day in St. Peter’s Square, he let two young boys board the Popemobile for a ride through St. Peter’s Square. A few months ago, the Pope was addressing a large group of families when a young boy walked onto the stage and stood at his side. No one ushered the little one away. Instead, the Pope patted the boy on the head and continued his address as the boy hugged him and spent some time sitting in his chair. It was a precious moment.
The Pope rolls in a Renault with 190,000 miles on it and lives in a small apartment in Casa Marta, a sort of guest hostel in the Vatican, rather than in the Papal Apartments of the Apostolic Palace. He’s modest in every way and people relate to that. He mingles with massive crowds in St. Peter’s Square and routinely exits his vehicle to bless the followers and kiss babies.
Those who aren’t so modest have heard the Pope’s message loud and clear. He suspended a German bishop accused of spending millions on lavish renovations to his residence. It’s the absolute wrong time for a member of the church’s hierarchy to go on spending spree. Humility is in. Extravagance is out. Pope Francis has made that clear.
Even the little things the pope has done have signaled his desire to be the everyman’s pontiff.
He kept his black shoes rather than wearing the red ones customary for the Pope. He also is foregoing the red cape popes usually wear. He continues to wear the iron-plated pectoral cross he used as archbishop, and his papal fisherman’s ring isn’t gold but gold-plated silver.
He uses Twitter and has taken “selfies.” He’s not only modest; he’s hip.
He’s also a tad self-deprecating as evidenced when he donned a red clown nose after congratulating newlyweds in St. Peter’s Square who work as volunteers for an organization that assist the sick with clown therapy.
The beauty of Francis is that we have no idea what he’ll do next and all his actions are impromptu. Nothing is staged. He’s the genuine article and he’s arrived at the right time.
A couple years ago, a Catholic lay organization ran a series of TV commercials designed to convince fallen-away Catholics to return to the Church. The commercials were effective and likely convinced some people to return to the church.
But no commercial will hold a candle to the actions of Pope Francis. He’s approach to the papacy appeals to people. Catholics my age probably recall a very different papacy. I remember Pope Paul throughout my elementary school years, and Pope Benedict led the church for eight years before stepping down last year.
Neither of them seemed to connect with the people. They were distant figures who were revered, adored, exalted. They seemed more like symbols of the church than people. Francis has redefined the role. He stands among us rather than apart from us.
Young people are the future of the church and having a pope that connects with youth is vital for the church’s future. Francis understands this.
I doubt they use the public relations/marketing term “rebranding” in Vatican City, but that’s what Francis appears to be doing and it’s working. He always looks happy. It’s as though the guy no one expected to become pope is as comfortable in the job as he is in his black shoes and old Renault.

Math teacher hopes votes add up for Oak Lawn student needing car


Bobs Column - The B SideTeaching is tough profession. And those who babble on about teachers not working a full day and having summers off are misinformed and ought to be quiet.
I’ve worked as a substitute teacher and while that’s not comparable to working in a school on a full-time basis, it helped me appreciate the challenges and obstacles teachers face day in, day out.
No two days are the same, there are always a handful of problematic students and the work is endless. Of course, teaching is amazingly rewarding as well. Just ask Ellen Kruger, a math teacher at Oak Lawn Community High School.
I got to know Ellen a few years ago when I wrote a story about a holiday program she sponsors that helps the needy in the Oak Lawn community.
The program is simple. Ellen identifies the needs of underprivileged families in the area and lists those needs on ornaments that decorate a Christmas tree at the school.
Students and teachers select an ornament and purchase the requested items. The items are wrapped and sent to the homes of the needy families. Simple isn’t it? Kruger takes a little extra time to identify a problem and helps solve it. Not in the job description by a long shot, but going above and beyond is her passion.
Now the veteran educator has moved on to another challenge: getting a specially equipped car for a student with disabilities.

Inside the First Amendment - How loud should ‘money talks’ in politics?

  • Written by Gene Policinski


There’s little question that “money talks” as long as you can pay a bit more for a better service at a top restaurant or to get a first-class seat while traveling — but there’s an ongoing First Amendment battle over how loudly it should speak in politics.
On April 2, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to eliminate caps on total contributions. The 5-4 decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission had no effect on a $5,200 maximum in a two-year federal election cycle on contributions to any one candidate.
Then on April 7, the justices declined without comment to review a long-standing ban on direct corporate contributions to candidates.
And all of this takes place against a decision in 2010, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in which the court said the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech keeps the government from limiting independent political expenditures by corporations, labor unions or associations.
To sum up: In elections for Congress and the presidency, you and I face a limit of $2,600 in contributions to any one candidate in that year — but can give to as many candidates as we choose. Corporations, unions and associations can spend as much money as they want on issues or in indirect endorsements of candidates, as long as those actions are not coordinated with specific campaigns or candidates.
From two “spokesmen” for the differing views on McCutcheon and the issue at-large:
“There is no right more basic in our democracy than the right to participate in electing our political leaders,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the McCutcheon opinion. “Money in politics may at times seem repugnant to some, but so too does much of what the First Amendment vigorously protects.”

From pinstriped suits to Fred Flinstone feet — what is happening to our society?

Bobs Column - The B SideMy mom and dad didn’t go out to dinner very often, but when they did they dressed accordingly. I remember my dad wearing a sports jacket, button shirt and casual slacks, while my mom wore something fashionable—she had a knack for looking great without spending a lot.
  Walk into a casual restaurant today and take a look at the clientele. You see T-shirts, jeans, sweat pants and men wearing baseball caps. It only gets worse in the summer when shorts, sleeveless shirts and flip-flops make an appearance. I guess that attire is OK for a picnic or a barbeque, but in a decent restaurant? C’mon. I don’t need to see a guy’s Fred Flintstone feet while I’m eating.
  I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, some people have taken to wearing pajama pants outside their homes. They’ll only be in the car, they rationalize, or they’re just heading to the convenience store or running a few errands. In their pajamas?
  It doesn’t end there. People go to work, church, and other social functions looking like slobs. And as more people adopt the “look,” the easier it becomes for others to go along.
  I had a friend whose dad worked for IBM in the 1970s. He said you could identify the IBMers getting off the train from the “uniform” of pin striped suits, white button-down shirts, rep ties and wing-tipped shoes. The look was not unique to those who worked at Big Blue. Rather, it was the look of corporate America.
  In those days, if you worked downtown, you wore a suit and tie. That’s just the way it was. Somewhere along the way, things changed. Not overnight. It was more incremental. So much so that that it was difficult to notice at first. Eventually, men shed ties and sport coats, turned in dress slacks for Dockers and traded dress shoes for every causal imaginable including gym shoes.
  Casual Fridays became popular and soon gave way to Casual Every Day. Today, almost anything goes in the workplace. But it extends well beyond the office. Take a long look around the next time you’re in court. I always figured that if you’re going before a judge, a shirt with a collar and decent pair of slacks isn’t too much to ask. Ditto for attending a wake or boarding a plane.
  When I see the shirtless guy at a sporting event, I recall the old-time baseball photos featuring men at Ebbits Field or Yankee Stadium wearing suits and fedoras. It seems wildly out of place now, but there was a time when going to the ball yard was an outing, an occasion. Similarly, going downtown for the day was a big deal that required the appropriate attire.
  Don’t get me wrong. I’m not some snob who expects people to go and about as though they’re members of the Union League Club or a private county club. For me, it comes down to this: we’ve lost our sense of shame as a society. We’re more concerned about personal comfort than what’s appropriate in a given situation. We simply don’t care what other people think of us.
  I recently talked with a friend about this problem and he immediately recalled a teenager girl he saw in church wearing a pair of sweatpants that had the word “sexy” across the back. He routinely sees people texting in church. That fascinates me. Years ago, we were admonished for letting our butts touch the pew while kneeling at Mass. “No three-point stances,” our teacher, Miss Clancy, would tell us. We were taught how to behave and never forgot it.
  Of course, this scourge on society isn’t limited to clothing. Pay attention to the rude bumper stickers people place of their cars, the crude slogans on t-shirts or the “truck nuts” some pickup truck owners hang from the rear of their rigs. People conduct loud cell phone conversations wherever they please, and far too many folks are ready for a public confrontation at a moment’s notice. Others move through public places as though they are in a daze—unaware that they’re blocking aisles at a store or slowing the flow in a parking lot.
  I have no idea how this problem can be solved. I guess it’s easier to identify problems than solve them. My concern is, too few people see this as a problem in the first place.

More Ramblings of a Skeptic - Here are a few thoughts from around the horn

  • Written by Don C. White

  It’s been awhile since I’ve given you some of my opinions and it’s hard to believe how fast time has been flying, so here are some more of my Ramblings of a Skeptic:
  • Well, it’s another year of politics as usual in both the State of Illinois as well as with those folks we send to Washington to do the people’s work. Sometimes I wonder why we bother with elections. It seems to me there are two ways to solve this problem. The first would be term limits on all State and Federal elected officials.
  Ha! Ha! We all know that will never happen. The second way is for we the people, at least in the great state of Illinois to vote in all new candidates. What are the chances of that happening?
  • In the world of sports, which I don’t follow much, I do know that the Chicago Blackhawks brought the Stanley Cup back to the city again in 2013 and hopefully will do it again in a couple of months.
  What a great young team they have put together. Otherwise, there was not much to cheer about from the Bears, Cubs, White Sox or Chicago Fire.
  The news I keep hearing North Side about the Cubs and the roof top owners sounds like a total fiasco. I don’t know who the person or persons were who ever allowed the building owners to build their businesses from a product that was not theirs. How could the city of Chicago ever allow this unorthodox business to grow into what it has become? If the stalemate is allowed to slow or stop the Cubs building plans the city fathers should be held accountable.
  • Another fiasco in the baseball world is the Alex Rodriquez mess that has taken the sport to a new low. As an ex fan, I don’t know how long people will continue to support baseball. I know that I will not pay the price to see a major league game.
  • The news that Frank Thomas and Greg Maddux were voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame was a wonderful way to begin the New Year. It was exciting to read about their great honor of being chosen to enter the Hall at Cooperstown. I have been to the Hall of Fame — twice in fact. It was a great experience that was shared with my wife and two sons.
  • Last year, we had a changing of the guard of the editor at The Reporter Newspaper with Jeff Vorva now running the ship of print. He has made the changeover with some new ideas, new staff members and new columns that should be of interest to the readers. But I have to say thanks for letting me continue my Civil War series.
  • I volunteer at Hines V.A. Hospital and have a part time job at Ace Hardware. While working at Ace and volunteering at Hines I have met some WWII veterans. When my wife was working at her last job before retiring, one of the owners of the business was also a WWII veteran. My father served for a short time during WWII (he died in January 2001).
  The fellows I want to honor are Augie, Bill, John and Larry. All of these men are in their 90’s and still active. It has been my privilege to get to know them and hear some of their stories. They all have a special place in my heart.
  This time I want to tell you something about my friend Bill; I don’t think he will mind. Bill and his wife Maxine have done something that I think deserves mentioning. They have attended Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago for more than 40 consecutive years.
  Those men and women that served during WWII were most certainly members of the Greatest Generation ever in the history of the United States.
  • Whenever you get the opportunity, take time to thank a veteran. It wasn’t just the returning veterans from Vietnam that went unappreciated. During the Great Depression the veterans of WWI went to Washington, D.C. to beg for their bonuses that were not due to be paid until 1945. They felt they had stood up when the U.S. needed them; and now when they needed help, their government should step up. President Hoover said the government could not afford to move up the 1945 due date.
  • Has anyone ever heard of the Four Minute Men? This was a group of men (and maybe women) that went around the country speaking to groups to instill patriotism in our nation as the war effort moved ahead. If you know anything about this please let me know.
  • Chicago used to be called the city that works, but for how much longer? For now, more borrowing, more selling off of city assets and more kicking the can down the road. All the while the mayor rakes in more campaign cash, mostly from developers that want help with their multimillion dollar projects. Sounds like business as usual in Chicago to me.
  • The phrase “Money talks” is still the gold standard in Chicago and Illinois politics. As my wife and I ease into the last years of our lives, it would be wonderful to see the state and the nation get back on the right track.
  • I have a few parting words from our commander-in-chief.
  Over the last year or so, he has said things such as: “I didn’t know Benghazi was a terrorist attack.” “I didn’t know the NSA was spying on you.” “I didn’t know what the IRS was doing.” “I didn’t know the WEB site didn’t work.” “I didn’t know you would lose your insurance.” “I don’t know why you don’t trust me.”
  No, I don’t trust you, Mr. President. You could not even read the Gettysburg Address correctly in honor of its 150th anniversary.

Donald C. White is a historian from Palos Hills who also has some pointed opinions on things that happened after the Civil War as well.