What Would Pope Francis Say?

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Ten days ago, the world read with fascination and interest the interview conducted with Pope Francis six months into his papacy. For Catholics and non-Catholics alike, Pope Francis has been interesting to listen to and observe as he reveals more and more his approach to leading the Church.

Many, who are often uncomfortable with the grandeur of the hierarchy in contrast to the message of the Gospels, are energized by Pope Francis’ choices to live in community and in a more simple lifestyle. His spontaneous and never-ending pastoral approach and his smile are infectious.

But what is more important is to listen … to really listen to his words. While clearly conservative in his theology, Pope Francis seems determined to reframe the world’s understanding of the message and meaning of the Church rooted in hospitality to all and a spirit of hope.

The headlines ten days ago focused on the Pope’s concern that the focus of the Church in recent years has been too limited to teachings related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraception. While clearly affirming these teachings the day after his interview was released, Pope Francis called for “a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the Church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

As one would expect, the news reports simply highlight only the most surprising comments made by the Pope in this interview. I would strongly urge those seriously interested in Pope Francis and his leadership to read the entire interview, readily available online. It helps us to understand better the depth and spirituality of this man. It also helps to understand Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s life (For Italian opera fans like me, it was wonderful to read the Pope’s reference to Puccini’s great work, Turandot, in his response regarding the importance of hope!).

Over the past two weeks, the reactions to the Pope’s statements have been relatively few from within the Church. Hopefully, his vision of the Church will be embraced in word and deed by dioceses all over the world. But I wonder?

On the same day that the Pope’s interview was released, the House of Representatives in Washington voted to cut $40 billion dollars from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as the Food Stamps program. The rationale for this draconian decision was the improving economy and the waste in the program.

If waste was the primary criterion for reducing government programs, they should all be cut immediately. Administering federal programs of this magnitude have an inherent element of mismanagement and abuse. The fact is that a high number of Americans still cannot afford food and basic sustenance. The percentage of families in Worcester County who qualify for food stamps is 20%. There may be signs of an improving economy, but not among the poorest of our neighbors.

In light of Pope Francis’ speech, I have been waiting to hear the American Catholic Church speak out against this potential cut in a critical program in this country. I scan the web and news reports regularly, but have yet to find any statements from Church leaders. I was hopeful when I found an article entitled, “Food Stamp Cuts a Cruel Proposal.” But this well written critique of this potential congressional decision was authored by political strategist Donna Brazile.

Maybe Church leaders have been silent because they assume this legislation will not pass the Senate. But maybe they are silent because it does not relate to the limited moral issues so prevalent in the rhetoric today. Maybe it would help if they would read the interview with Pope Francis. Because I wonder … if Pope Francis was an American Cardinal … what would he say? Actually, I think I know!

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

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Guest Saturday, 19 April 2014