“If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” James 2:14-18
At noon, on Sundays in Rome, “a city of a thousand bells,” and the very bells of Saint Peter’s call attention to the “Angelus,” shortly after the windows of the Apostolic Palace open, and the Pope appears to extend his blessing to the city and the world.
This past Sunday on September 6th, Pope Francis added his concerns for the tens of thousands refugees and migrants at Europe’s door and said:
“The gospel calls, asking of us to be close to the smallest and forsaken, to give them concrete hope, and not just tell them: have courage, be patient.”
Pope Francis reminds me of the passage from Saint James that we read this Sunday. And while I wish to speak about Pope Francis today and his forthcoming apostolic visits to Cuba, and the United States — it’s most important to recall Francis’s words, that is Jesus that he speaks of with words of mercy and tenderness.
Coming onto the world stage a mere two years ago, Pope Francis looks to be a man fully aware that he has a limited time to affect his Church, and a world so much in need.
On Saturday, September 19th, the Pope will arrive in Havana and begin his pastoral journey to the Americas.
The following Tuesday, he will travel to Washington, D.C., as if to sharpen the point that his diplomatic intervention as the “go-between” for Raul Castro and Barack Obama makes him one of the very few successful global leaders today.
He is on his way to be the first pope to speak before a Joint Session of Congress, and he may very well be the first pope to win the “Nobel Prize for Peace.”
Nothing in Jorge Bergoglio’s life as a Jesuit priest would have forecast that he would become Pope or even a bishop. His papacy is not the result of a career in bureaucracy, diplomacy, or a university faculty professorship.
Instead, Pope Francis is the most experienced “parish priest” to have come into papacy in this century — or most centuries, for that matter.
In January, I was in Rome, where I interviewed Archbishop David Moxon, who told me: “Pope Francis has become the parish-priest of the world.”
Moxon, a New Zealander, is the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative to the Holy See. Moxon added that in contrast to most world leaders, Francis’s unconventional style makes him stand out as truly authentic.
It’s Francis’s warmth and normalcy that brings comfort to those “orphans of the storm” in places like the island of Lampedusa, the refugee center off the coast of Sicily.
Also, it’s his persona as a parish priest that permits him to go shopping for eyeglasses near Rome’s Spanish Steps, by merely driving in his Ford Focus, accompanied by his driver and security police.
When the proprietor of the shop said that he would have gladly gone to the Vatican, as is the custom, the Pope replied: “No, I don’t want (Alessandro) Spieza to come here; I’ll go to the Via del Babuino.”
Soon he will arrive at the centers of power in Washington, D.C., and New York. This present task of his — one that may “afflict the comfortable” — will be his greatest challenge.
With immigration, poverty, human trafficking, and climate change so much on his mind, will his words to the U.S. Congress and the United Nations pass “like ships in the night?”
Could the Pope’s moral authority run aground on a sea of good intentions and empty gestures?
According to David Moxon, in the wake of so much human suffering worldwide, and the potential environmental ruin of our “common home” — people around the world want to know:
“What is the pope thinking?”
His visit to these shores may help address these and other questions about him and demonstrate his capacity for empathy and leadership.
His message of mercy, apostolic courage, and reform have defined his papacy. He has already demonstrated his capacity to listen to a plurality of voices and values, the very mark of postmodernity.
Seen in this light, Francis is leading the Church and its worldwide membership to greater intimacy, healing, and what he calls a “revolution of tenderness.” (“Joy of the Gospel, #88)
All these and more — self-giving, membership in community, service, reconciliation with others — summon us to those essential elements in fostering human dignity on the local and global scale.
If the Pope and our Church are to survive in this age of “social media,” the central challenge becomes how to reach out and comfort hurt and wounded people. In such a fashion, that the Church is able to speak to diverse culture(s) today and capable of an effective moral presence to organizations like the United Nations and the U.S. Congress, government agencies.
Therein lies the challenge for Pope Francis and those of us eager to hear his message on this, his American journey.
For me, I want to be a better parish priest because of Pope Francis.
At certain moments, almost mysteriously, a John XXIII, a Martin Luther King, a Mother Teresa of Calcutta, a Nelson Mandela, has caught the world’s spiritual imagination and has possessed the moral authority to challenge the mind and hearts of millions truly.
Pope Francis, the “parish priest of the world,” is a witness for those millions of minds and hearts.
Today, I celebrated Mass and preached at Saint Timothy’s Morro Bay. I want to thank the parish community for their warm welcome; and best regards to Father Ed Holterhoff, pastor and my seminary classmate, for this kind invitation.