Pope Francis: A Breath of Fresh Air

Pope_Francis_Korea_Haemi_Castle_19_(cropped)This month, Pope Francis, leader of the world’s Catholics, was breaking new ground when he made the statement, “People who started a new union after the defeat of their sacramental marriage are not at all excommunicated, and they absolutely must not be treated that way. They always belong to the church.” (see Pope calls for compassion). Even more, Pope Francis goes on to say, “How can we recommend to parents to do everything they can to educate their children in Christian life, giving them an example of a convinced and practiced faith if we keep them at arm’s length from the community as if they were excommunicated?”

In essence, Pope Francis is saying remarried Catholics are not automatically removed from church membership, although the church’s rules say such couples are not allowed to receive communion. The Catholic Church permits remarriage only after a church tribunal rules that the couple’s original marriage is annulled. The pontiff understands  that children of these remarried couples are watching how the church treats divorced families.  What this means is Francis accepts divorced couples as members of the church and says they need to be treated as such.

This is not the first time Pope Francis has shown compassion towards those looked upon less favourably in the Catholic Church.  Back in June of 2013 the pontiff made a bold statement during an interview saying, he doesn’t have any problem with the inclination to homosexuality itself.  He is quoted as saying, “Who am I to judge them if they’re seeking the Lord in good faith?”  (See Pope Francis reaches out to gays).  It  would seem that the pope accepts gays and lesbians as well.

It is so wonderful to have this “breath of fresh air” in the Catholic Church.  Finally, the Catholic Church has a leader who is pastoral, who is welcoming, and most importantly, who is more inclusive than his predecessors have been.  It seems to me, that when a church claims to follow the teachings and example of Jesus, then their actions need to reflect that.  I honestly believe that His Holiness, Pope Francis is doing just that.  He especially demonstrated this when in November of 2013, when the pontiff paused  to pray and lay his hands on a man with a disfiguring disease.  (See Francis embrace of a Disabled man) If that action doesn’t say, loving acceptance I don’t know what does.

Why is it so important for the leader of a Christian Institution to be so all-inclusive? Very simply, because Christians purport to  be the embodiment of Jesus on earth, therefore the institution must act and teach as Jesus did.  According to biblical stories Jesus was all-inclusive!  Let us look at some examples.

Take the story of the Woman at the Well as told in John 4:7 – 26, for example. To summarize the biblical story, Jesus  and his disciples were traveling from Jerusalem to Galilee.  They took the quickest route which was through Samaria. Tired and thirsty, Jesus sat by Jacob’s Well, while his disciples went to a village to buy food. During his wait, Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman who came to the well to draw water.  When Jesus met this woman at the well, he did something atypical, scandalous really, in that he spoke to a Samaritan; a group the Jews traditionally loathed. Even more scandalous, Jesus asked  the Samaritan woman to get him a drink of water, which would have made him ceremonially unclean, according to the Jewish faith, because he used the same cup or jar as the Samaritan woman.

To help understand how powerful this story is and just how all-inclusive Jesus was, we must understand that the hatred between Jews and Samaritans was intense and long-standing.  Jews, who considered themselves pure, detested the mixed marriages and worship of the Samaritans. Thus, a faithful Jew would never go near a Samaritan let alone talk to one.

Mark 2:15-17 tells the story of Jesus sitting down to a meal in Levi’s house, the home of a tax collector.  Tax collectors were for the most part Jewish people, and therefore they were hated by their own people. When they collected taxes they would collect the required amount of money for Rome, plus some additional money for themselves. They were considered to be extortioners of large sums of money. Plus, there was the fact that tax collectors worked for Rome, who were Gentiles (non Jewish) in the eyes of the Jews, and so they were treated similar to the worst kinds of sinners and prostitutes.  So for Jesus to sit down and have a meal with one of these tax collectors would have been scandalous to say the least.  Yet, it says that Jesus accepts even those most loathed by his community.

Jesus touching and healing a leper as told in In Mark 1:40-45 is another example . What makes this story so incredible is the fact that lepers were cursed, not only with a terrible disease, but also with exclusion from society. People wanted to keep far away from those with this contagious illness. Lepers lived in the outskirts of civilization and, if they came close to people, had to warn them by yelling, “Unclean! Unclean!”  Yet, Jesus was willing touch and heal such a person.  Was this not an incredible act of acceptance?

Thumbs upSo as you can clearly see, the biblical Jesus accepted and included even those most marginalized by society. So to restate my point.  If the Catholic church claims to enbody Jesus on earth, then it must be all-inclusive just as Jesus was all-inclusive.  That is why Pope Francis is such a “breath of fresh air.”  He accepts all those that have been traditionally marginalized by the church. So “Thumbs up” for Pope Francis!

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Where are all the Good People?

I recently read a news story called, City cracks  down on bad behaviour in Calgary cabs. about a cab driver in Calgary, Canada who was being verbally abused by his clients.  Just recently in our local paper was a news story issued by the police warning citizens of a tax scam. The scam involves a person who calls saying that they represent a government tax agency and that the person they are trying to scam owes back taxes.  The caller then requests that the payment be made to an individual rather than the agency, and if the person does not pay a warrant will be issued for their arrest.  Apparently this happens in many countries as the article Tax time ‘ATO’ scammers indicates. Then there are the atrocities committed by the terror group known as ISIS or ISIL. The list of people being mistreated goes on and on.  When you hear these stories you begin to ask, “What is the matter with people?”  You begin to lose faith in the goodness of human nature. You begin to wonder is there are any good people in this world. I felt this way until I thought about it.

As I reflected upon human behaviour, I started to realize  that with the exception of a few “bad apples”, the vast majority of humans are good.  It doesn’t matter where I go, there are good, kind, nice people everywhere. I would like to share some of my experiences with such people.

Earlier this summer, my wife and I were helping our eldest daughter who was preparing to move to a different place.  She had purchased a media unit that she found on an on line garage sale site.  We picked it up for her and took it to her apartment to unload it.  My wife asked, “How will we carry this heavy thing up to the apartment, which was located on the third flour.  The only solution I had was me on one end and my wife and daughter on the other end. I pulled the unit part way out of the back of the truck when young couple out walking their dog walked by.  The kind gentleman then turned around and said, “Do you need a hand?”  He then proceeded to help me carry the heavy unit up to the third floor of my daughter’s apartment.  Moments later, while my wife was preparing to carry up the middle section of the unit, two guys on bicycles stopped and asked my wife if she needed help.  It is reassuring to know that there are kind people willing to “lend a hand” when it is needed.

While visiting Toronto a few years ago, our experience with the its people was most positive.  We spent one day going to various places throughout the city using the subway or underground system.  Any of you who ever used these rapid transit systems knows how easy it is to get lost or to not know which platform to be on.  There were numerous occasions where we would be standing somewhere in the Toronto underground looking confused, when some kindhearted, random stranger would come up to us and ask us if we needed help. Thankfully, there are many kind, caring people in Toronto.

When I was backpacking alone in Europe in 1986, I had hitchhiked to Berlin with my American travel mate from Alabama.  The driver dropped us off at the Berlin University where we could catch the Subway to downtown.  When we got dropped off, my travel mate and myself both had to use the facilities, very badly I might add, and so we walked into a university building thinking that a public washroom would be easy to find.  We could not find one, so we asked a lady working at a desk.  She showed us the washroom and when we returned, she randomly asked us if we would like a sandwich and a coffee.  We graciously accepted her offer and had lunch.  I fell in love with Berlin right then and there.  I will always be grateful for meeting this kind Berliner.

Then there were those times when my wife and I were travelling in Europe 26 years ago.  We were making our way to Sarajevo in what was then the country of Yugoslavia.  We arrived early, 6:20 AM, at the train station in Ljubljana, in the former Yugoslavia in the hopes of making a reservation for a compartment only to discover that the train was full. Now when they say full, they mean it.  There were people everywhere. The compartments were full.  The hallway was wall to wall people. Having no choice to take the train anyway, we sat in a small area in front of the W.C (symbol for Toilet).  We sat on what looked like a heater, and had maybe three inches to sit on. It was hard and most uncomfortable on the butt. About two hours later, the train stops in some town and a young couple come onto the train, followed by about seven pieces of large luggage bags.  My first thought was, “There’s not even room for people on this train let alone seven large bags.”  A few minutes later, the lady of the couple said to us in Croatian, what I can only assume was “come” and pointed her finger at my wife and I. We of course followed them. They led us to a compartment that they located with empty seats.  Her husband then came and helped with our backpacks.  When we got settled into the compartment, the kind Croatian gentleman pulled out a beer and hands it to me, and then handed my wife a juice.  These were truly good, kind people.

On that same trip, travelling from the former Yugoslavia to Rome, Italy, my wife and I boarded an overnight fairy to cross the Adriatic sea.. We settled into our tiny room and then went up to the deck where we met a young couple from Switzerland.  Now since we wanted to go there, my wife struck up a conversation, as she is the talkative one.  In the process of the conversation the Swiss people invited us to join them in their home in Switzerland.  They said they would show us around their country.  They even bought us a drink that evening.  We graciously accepted their invitation and met up with them after visiting Rome.  The time we spent with them was fantastic.  They were most gracious and hospitable. We will always be grateful for these kind, sweet Swiss friends.smiley

Now I could go on with more stories, but I think you get the point.  I truly believe, based on my experiences, that there are more good people on this wonderful planet of ours than bad ones. So to all the numerous kind, wonderful people in the world, I salute you!