Who would have thought we’d see the day when a Catholic Pope becomes a spokesperson for a new community, one we sometimes describe using the word Interfaith, one where harmony among the religions is attempted?
He chose the name Francis because of his commitment to the poor, to peace. The refreshingly candid Pope Francis offers new hope for the Catholic Church beyond the usual role of a fundamentalist authority. From the symbolic act of stooping to wash a Muslim woman’s feet to his chastisements of a culture of greed and consumerism, the Jesuit Jorge Bergoglio from Argentina has captured the hopes and imagination of a troubled world since his election March 13, 2013. Let’s listen to the man speak for himself.
Early on, he made world headlines with this statement: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” (Pope Francis interview on the papal airplane, July 29, 2013).
In his Huffington Post blog of 9/26/13 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-wallis/pope-francis-we-need-you_b_3996..., Jim Wallis writes, “Even my students at Georgetown were telling me that their young friends, Christians or not, were putting Francis quotes up on their Facebook pages.”
The following quote comes from the Jesuit journal, America Magazine’s interview, http://www.americamagazine.org/pope-interview.
“The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial; they offer a fleeting and empty illusion which results in indifference to others; indeed, it even leads to the globalization of indifference. In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business!”
I was surprised, even shocked, that he was not afraid to make provocative statements about political ideologies, putting the lie to the usual separation between religion and politics. The National Catholic Reporter, http://www.catholicnews.com/data/vatican/vatican.htm quoted the pope saying:
“While the income of a minority is increasing exponentially, that of the majority is crumbling. This imbalance results from ideologies which uphold the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation, and thus deny the right of control to States, which are themselves charged with providing for the common good. A new, invisible and at times virtual tyranny is established, one which unilaterally and irremediably imposes its own laws and rules.” And to the banks, he said, “Money has to serve, not rule!”
Just two weeks after the publication of the America Magazine interview quoted above, Pope Francis gave another interview, this time to the atheist editor of an Italian daily. Francis had recently written an open letter to Eugenio Scalfari of La Repubblica, and then called him up out of the blue to arrange a meeting. Here are a couple of excerpts from the conversation, first on converting others: (From Religion News Service, 10/1/13 report by David Gibson).
“Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense. We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. Sometimes after a meeting I want to arrange another one because new ideas are born and I discover new needs. This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas. The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good.”
“I believe … that our goal is not to proselytize but to listen to needs, desires and disappointments, despair, hope. We must restore hope to young people, help the old, be open to the future, spread love. Be poor among the poor. We need to include the excluded and preach peace. … I have the humility and ambition to want to do something.”
Pope Francis spoke further on the essence of his belief: “I believe in God, not in a Catholic God; there is no Catholic God. There is God and I believe in Jesus Christ, his incarnation. Jesus is my teacher and my pastor, but God, the Father, Abba, is the light and the Creator. This is my Being.”
“Each of us has a vision of good and of evil. We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is Good. … Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place.”
The interfaith community made up of the different world’s religions seems to have found a friend and an ally in the Vatican, Pope Francis of the people. How will he apply his wise words to the task that lies ahead for us, to bring about religious unity, to discover the unity, not uniformity, in each other's spiritual traditions and shared goals?