Would you have imagined that a Pope would be celebrated for his relaxed and pleasant demeanor? Crowds would assemble and yearn to connect with this ex-bouncer who sees it as part of his calling to wash the feet of a Muslim female prisoner? Or hang on the words of a newly-elected Pope who stands, in muslin, to greet his cardinals rather than receive them from a throne while draped in furs? Who would have expected this? Especially in a world where smaller numbers of individuals ar controlling larger portions of global assets and wealth.
Along came Francis, who named himself after the humble St. Francis of Assisi, a lover of nature and all living creatures. What is the draw toward this holy man that eclipses religious faith and political restrictions?
Listen to the news and hear about school massacres and the bombing of hospitals. The public is repeatedly told about a planet in which one side wants to, not just defeat, but obliterate, the other. Why, this man, at this time when churches are unsafe and citizens have become so caught up in rhetoric that solutions to and antidotes for problems seem to elude those who wish for peace? Francis arrives on the scene, a man whose very countenance evokes hope and optimism.
Pope Francis urges the public to “live and let live”. The phrase is nothing new, but not many have thought about the wisdom at the core of this aphorism. Pope Francis has said that he is not the one to judge others. There are many who would grant him that privilege, but he does not look at people from a judgemental point of view. There are many who claim that privilege for themselves. The Pope, however, seems to understand that to be human is to be fragile and that most things are not clearly right or wrong.
This attitude was displayed when, on his recent visit to the United States, he visited with Yayo Grassi. Grassi was a student of the Pope’s when he taught Argentine literature and psychology in Santa Fe, Argentina. Mr. Grassi, who is gay and an atheist, was there with his partner of 19 years, Iwan Bagus. The Pope arranged for the meeting with his former student, as he wanted to see him in person and give him a hug. At the end of their meeting the Pope hugged and kissed each man on the cheek. Live and let live.
Take a look at the Pope’s countenance. He always appears to be relaxed and at peace with himself. He exemplifies non-self-aggrandizing self-confidence. Approachable and humble, this is a man who asks us to pray for him. The power and pull of this man do not rest in his position as head of the Catholic Church. His message of equality and inclusion rings with a powerful tone in times of anxiety.
A young girl asked Pope Francis why God allows good people to suffer. His answer was that he didn’t know why, but he was willing to share her tears. He does not pretend to have all the answers. His call for us to honor our human obligations to one another resonates for individuals who feel disconnected in unsettled times.
Surprisingly, Pope Francis has taken steps to reconcile science and the Catholic Church. He urges his followers to discard the notion that God is a magician with a magic wand. He sees evolution and creation as woking hand in hand. He has encouraged world leaders to look more seriously at the problems that have accompanied climate change.
It is notable that this man of God does not hide behind rhetoric and advises refraining from proselytizing. Rather than surround himself in mystery, he speaks to the common man (woman) in language that is easy to understand.
Observing the Pope being chauffeured around in a tiny Fiat reminds one of the value and importance of simplicity. For this Pontiff it is not the trappings that define him, it is his warmth, his smile, his endless curiosity and willingness to learn about the lifestyle of others.
We are reminded that who we are is are is far more important than what we own. We are encouraged to be engaged in a multicultural world. The genuine and warm smile that the Pope gave to all is the enduring reminder of the universal human longing to be found acceptable; to really belong.
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