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February 12, 2017

Family Room by Michelle Martin

Making haste

The newest prayer video released by Pope Francis opens with a scene of people doing the “mannequin challenge,” the viral sensation in which participants remain motionless.

In the video, released Feb. 4, Pope Francis urges Catholics to reject the inertia of behaving like mannequins and instead to hurry to help the poor and refugees.

I can’t see how those who call themselves Christians could argue with that. The Gospels seem clear that those who follow Jesus find him in the poor and vulnerable and show their love through the corporal works of mercy: give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the prisoners, bury the dead and give alms to the poor.

But I wonder about the wisdom of urging haste.

Some of us humans, it seems, are contrary creatures, and don’t like to be told we’re moving too slowly.

Take Teresa, my lovely 7-year-old. She’s a great kid, generally happy and active and well-behaved. Until somebody tells her to “Hurry up or we’ll be late.” (Me. That would be me telling her that.)

Then she shifts into slow motion, her muscles turning into molasses as she oozes toward the door.

Things that she can accomplish quickly on her own — putting on shoes, brushing teeth, buckling her seat belt — suddenly become nearly insurmountable tasks, rife with obstacles. Her socks don’t fit right or are wrinkled and must be changed before her shoes can go on. She doesn’t like so much toothpaste. She can’t find a way to get the tongue of the seat belt into the buckle.

There are probably some people out there — people who have raised their own wonderful children, too — who are saying to themselves that I shouldn’t let her get away with that, that all she needs is some discipline.

Maybe. But I can say from experience that any attempt to scold or yell about how she needs to move faster only creates more delays. It’s better, I’ve found, to simply leave (more than) ample time to get out the door, remind her once that she doesn’t like to be late, and offer whatever help I can to keep her moving. Without saying “Hurry up.”

The thing is, the refugees that Pope Francis is talking about don’t really have ample time to wait for help. Neither do the poor. They are suffering and, yes, dying as we speak, and the more we drag our feet, the more people will suffer and the worse the effects will be.

In his prayer video, available on the Vatican’s YouTube channel, Pope Francis speaks with English subtitles over a view of the mannequin challenge on a busy street.

“The result of this situation is that great sections of the population are excluded and marginalized: without a job, without options, without a way out,” he says.

Then, as he says, “Don’t abandon them,” the makeshift mannequins break their poses and help a homeless man hunched next to a building.

So in this case, don’t let me hurry you. Just help.