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Pope Blessing

St Peter’s Square Pope Francis Blessing

There’s a new spirit in the Vatican.

Pope Francis is the current and the 266th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church.  Full disclosure:  I’m not catholic and this is not a campaign or propaganda tool.  Nor is this for the clickbait hunters and outrage merchants rubbing hands together with glee to pounce in the comment section.

Let’s start from the beginning…

Back in June (I blogged about it previously HERE) as part of the Worldwide Harley-Davidson 110th Anniversary Celebration biker’s came to Rome and the Vatican as Pope Francis blessed thousands of Harley-Davidson motorcycles and their riders.  They were blessed in St Peter’s Square, and he graciously accepted two of the latest Harley-Davidson models, for the Vatican police force that the motor company donated.

HD 110th Celebration - Rome Recap

HD 110th Celebration – Rome Recap

The thundering motors on that nice morning nearly drowned out the Latin recitation of the “Our Father” prayer that accompanied Francis as he greeted the crowd before Sunday Mass.  Nuns and tens of thousands of faithful Catholics also took part in the multi-day event as an unrelated, two-day pro-life rally was scheduled during the same time.

Imagine for a moment the incongruity of the Harley crowd — known for the “Freedom” motto, outlaw image and adventuresome spirit — taking part in a solemn papal Mass to commemorate a 1995 encyclical on the inviolability of human life.

Yeah, it’s difficult to wrap your head around it.

At any rate, jump ahead a few months and basically the Pope sticks his finger in the eye of Harley-Davidson management and slams the the motorcycle lifestyle as an “intoxication of freedom.”

Speaking at a gathering last week, the Pope cautioned that “power and pleasure”, among other things, lead to God being “replaced by fleeting human idols which offer the intoxication of a flash of freedom, but in the end bring new forms of slavery and death.”

Catholic theologians are not the first and won’t be the last to condemn consumerism and wealth inequalities.  In fact, Pope Francis has encouraged clergy and religious to show humility in their choice of transportation.  In July, he told a group of seminarians and religious novices that he felt hurt when he sees a priest or a sister with a brand-new car.  Saying, “And, if you like that beautiful car, think about how many children are dying of hunger,” urging them to choose simpler transportation options.

The conclusion of all this is that the Bishop of Rome has now decided to auction off one of the bikes in order to raise funds for a Caritas homeless project,  the ‘Don Luigi di Lietro’ near the Termini station in Rome which offers food and shelter for up to 1,000 people every day.  I’m sure it will make for a generous gift to a worthy cause.

But, here is the question.  Was the Pope exploited by just another American company/event focused on a PR opportunity?  Or was he being opportunistic?

Photo courtesy of Stefano Rellandini / Reuters 

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In what seems like the year of voting…I’ve been debating with myself over the last couple days whether or not I should write this post and then I saw some news on Harley sales. Obviously, I outvoted myself and wrote it!

This week the Pope is in Washington, DC., and since the Catholic Church is partly based on symbolism, it’s only fitting that one of America’s most iconic rides – the Harley motorcade – be symbolized too. As thousands of people greet Pope Benedict XVI and he’s schmoozed by President George W. Bush – the Police “Motorcycle Team” always stands ready as a precision motorcycle-cade team made up of officers from all the various Enforcement Groups there to Protect and Serve the dignitaries.  Canada has a similar team.

Given all the symbolism, I found it so very ironic that Harley Davidson decides today is the perfect time to announce that it will cut its work force by 8 percent and trim bike shipments by thousands since domestic sales fell nearly 13 percent in Q1.  These announced layoffs are dramatic and the first of this magnitude in 20+ years! 

It’s no surprise that Harley CEO Jim Ziemer might have something to say about the difficult economy…ya, think Jim?  Could that housing market implosion have anything to do with people no longer pulling equity out of their homes to finance Harley’s over priced “Surrender Your Inner Badness” or “March Badness” hype?!!  Two carnies and a pygmy pony could stomp out better marketing slogans than that.

I’m not sure about you, but I think a new $21K motorcycle (plus another $5K to make it run “nice”) is something people think twice or three times about.  I’ve blogged about arrogant dealers in the past who think people fall over themselves to spend that kind of cash, but with that easy equity cash bucket from the house gone, I think people will either hold on to their current bike for a little while longer or just wait out the “R” (recession thrash-n-crash) until the economy warm up a bit.

I read in several reports that Harley-Davidson has approx 5,600 production workers and 3,500 non-production workers.  Eight percent is approx 800 people impacted by this “downsize” decision and I truly feel sorry for each and every one of those cuts.  I work in an industry that routinely whacks-n-hacks a few thousand heads before morning smoke break so, I know the feeling….

It’s a difficult economic time my friends, but hang in there.

 

Photo courtesy of Philliefan99

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