April 18, 2014
Christmas and the home
The first Christmas with an Argentine pontiff in the Vatican might be an occasion for cheap nationalism but let us look at what Pope Francis has to communicate — whatever he might have to say today and tomorrow, his last pre-Christmas angelus featured the goal of a home for every family. This message from the head of an ancient institution is geared to the world of tomorrow even more than of today. If Christmas is traditionally a family occasion enjoyed at home with abundant food, many people probably assume that the latter is the world’s main scarcity today and in the future, but they would be wrong — if around a billion of the world’s seven billion are now homeless or in slums, their number is expected to grow to fully a third of the world’s nine billion in 2050 living in substandard housing, so in this sense Pope Francis was right on target. If food is a problem, it is precisely because of abundance rather than scarcity — in the last year or two for the first time in human history, the obese have come to outnumber the malnourished (readers should take note for the rest of this week). Feeding humanity is thus a soluble problem even if this does not necessarily bring it nearer to a solution for many (especially where distribution rather than production is concerned). Just to complete the traditional Christmas triangle of a family feast at home, family structures have changed drastically in recent times and will doubtless continue to do so even more rapidly. But we do not intend to pontificate here — that is everybody’s private affair.
Spending Christmas at home is a good time to reflect on the idea that the base for so many lives might well be what future progress will have the most difficulty in providing. In the last century the global economy has grown twentyfold and could easily grow as much in the next half-century but housing will have increasing problems in keeping up with rapid technological progress, especially given the pace of urbanization expected in developing countries. The sight of numerous cable television antennae in slum neighbourhoods has prompted frequent (even presidential) comment but this anomaly might well be considered almost normal in tomorrow’s world. This might seem ambitious given the general neglect of education in most political agendas but the search for housing solutions needs to be given a much higher priority.
A festival centred on a birth in a stable is the time to insist on better homes for future families.