Editor’s note: “Matters of faith” is a column that provides local religious leaders a place to write about how their respective faiths provide hope, courage and strength in these modern times.
For the major portion of my life, I knew only one Pope. Pope John Paul II was the Pope for the entirety of the 80s, 90s and until 2005. I was blessed with the opportunity to have an audience with him on a Sunday afternoon in June 2005.
I was on vacation in Rome with a priest friend who was ordained in May for the Diocese of Las Vegas. He knew a priest who worked as one of the Vatican lawyers. With Fr. Marc’s connections, I was able to tag along to visit the Pope and celebrate mass over the tomb of St. Peter in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict) who succeeded Pope John Paul II, visited the seminary I attended at Menlo Park, CA to give an address. As the #2 guy at that time in the Church, he was very generous to visit the seminary, give a talk, and attend a dinner and reception offered in his honor. I shook his hand.
Now we have Pope Francis who started his papacy not in a run but in a sprint. I probably won’t meet him, but what an impression he already has made on my priesthood.
We might ask ourselves (especially those of you who are not Catholic) what a pope does. He is the Patriarch of Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. He is in charge of all of the Latin speaking Christians.
For many centuries there were only two types of Christians: Those who spoke Latin or Greek. Unfortunately, around 1054, due to debates on the single or double procession of the Holy Spirit (still a hot topic), and the primacy of Rome vs. Constantinople, both patriarchs excommunicated each other. It was only recently that the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches started to speak to each other thanks to John Paul. We gave each other the cold shoulder for nine centuries.
The Pope’s job is to keep the Church together and to build bridges that have fallen down (hence his title the Supreme Pontiff or bridge builder). The Pope fosters unity among his brother bishops who minister in their respective dioceses throughout the world. He also reaches out to our separated brothers and sisters (the Protestants), and all of the people who are from non-Christian religions (Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, etc.) He works to build relationships with people of no faith, but have good will.
Each Pope has his own gifts. Pope John Paul II was a philosopher. If one would to put him into a school of philosophy, one might call him a phenomenologist. We get to know the ultimate reality (God) as we study the phenomena (think of the blind men describing the elephant).
Pope Benedict is a theologian. He was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (aka the Sacred Congregation of the Inquisition), while his friend Pope John Paul was in charge. Now we have the former Cardinal from Buenos Aires as our supreme pontiff.
Pope Francis’ gift may be his call for social justice. In his apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” he writes that we should be concerned that all human beings live a dignified life. Wealthier nations should share their resources and know-how, so that those who live in poorer nations have access to the basic necessities of life including the opportunity to have a decent education.
He points out correctly that ignorance and poverty breed fundamentalism. He has special concern for those who have been pushed out of society and are forgotten. He teaches that we either build our communities to include all, or we build big walls to separate ourselves from those in need. We then have to think about our response to God when he asks, “Hey, what did you do for the least of my brothers and sisters?”
I thought that John Paul II was unique in his ability to reach diverse peoples, but Francis also has this gift with his message of social justice. Most times what the Pope does really doesn’t affect the local parish or the local diocese; however, Francis has really made waves all over the world.
Our Bishop, Most. Rev. John Wester, made the comment that he has never had the experience of people on the street making comments to him on what the Pope is writing and saying. There is something special about each Pope, but Francis is able to reach many who have written off the Catholic Church (only 30 percent of U.S. Catholics are still involved in their local parishes). Many may still be anti-Catholic, but I think most are pro-Francis.
Rev. Dinsdale is the priest at St. Marguerite Catholic Church in .