Pope Fran­cis’ book is a breath of fresh air

The Compass - - OPINION - Bur­ton K. Janes bur­tonj@nfld.net — Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His col­umn ap­pears in The Com­pass ev­ery week. He can be reached at bur­tonj@nfld.net

First thing’s first: I am a Protes­tant. To be spe­cific, I am a Pen­te­costal by both birth and choice. My late par­ents spent their lives as pas­tors with the Pen­te­costal As­sem­blies of New­found­land and Labrador (PAONL). I fol­lowed in their foot­steps, serv­ing as a pas­tor for 15 years and an equal num­ber of years as edi­tor and ar­chiv­ist with the PAONL.

That be­ing said, I have never been hung up on de­nom­i­na­tional la­bels. I would just as soon wor­ship with an Angli­can as with a Pen­te­costal, with a Sal­va­tion­ist as with a mem­ber of the United Church of Canada, with a Sev­enth-day Ad­ven­tist as with a Ro­man Catholic. I have even at­tended a ser­vice at the Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter-day Saints, other­wise known as Mormons. And, I have been present for a ser­vice in a King­dom Hall of the Je­ho­vah’s Wit­nesses.

I read with profit the writ­ings of such re­li­gious lead­ers as the Arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury, the Mod­er­a­tor of the United Church of Canada, and the Gen­eral of the Sal­va­tion Army. Good­ness gra­cious, I even read the writ­ings of the Gen­eral Su­per­in­ten­dent of my own de­nom­i­na­tion! To be per­fectly trans­par­ent, I also read athe­ists and ag­nos­tics.

I re­cently read a book by Pope Fran­cis.

Vin­cent Car­di­nal Ni­chols, in his Fore­word to the Pope’s book, “The Church of Mercy: A Vi­sion for the Church,” writes: “Pope Fran­cis is now well- known and much- loved through­out the world, not just by Catholics, but by very many oth­ers be­sides — in­clud­ing those who pro­fess no re­li­gious al­le­giance.” Say what you will, there is no doubt the for­mer Arch­bishop of Buenos Aires has made a “re­mark­ably pos­i­tive im­pres­sion,” though per­haps not so much on the Mafia!

Pope Fran­cis’ book is a collection of texts lifted from his hom­i­lies, ad­dresses and of­fi­cial teach­ing doc- uments. His writ­ing, Ni­chols sug­gests, “catches our at­ten­tion, en­gages our imag­i­na­tion, and moves us to ac­tion — and even makes us laugh out loud!” Any — and ev­ery­one — bish­ops, priests, dea­cons, pas­toral work­ers, in­deed ev­ery Chris­tian — will ben­e­fit from the “great en­cour­age­ment and con­so­la­tion” the pon­tiff pro­vides.

As I read Pope Fran­cis through Protes­tant eyes, I looked for those mo­ments when he pre­sented the big­ger pic­ture, Chris­tian­ity in its broader scope. I was not dis­ap­pointed by what I read.

Ad­dress­ing a group of newly ap­pointed bish­ops tak­ing part in a con­fer­ence on Sept. 19, 2013, he speaks about “con­cern for other churches and for the uni­ver­sal Church.”

In an ad­dress to the In­ter­na­tional Congress on Catechesis on Sept. 27, 2013, he states, with keen in­sight, what hap­pens when­ever Chris­tians are en­closed in and con­fined to their own groups, move­ments, parishes, in short, their lit­tle worlds: “we re­main closed, and the same thing hap­pens to us that hap­pens to any­thing closed: when a room is closed, it be­gins to get dank. If a per­son is closed up in that room, he or she be­comes ill!”

Speak­ing to a gen­eral au­di­ence on Nov. 25, 2013, he pleads with his lis­ten­ers “to look be­yond our own bound­aries” for, he ex­claims, “we are ... one fam­ily in God!”

“Un­for­tu­nately,” he ob­serves tren­chantly, “we see that in the process of his­tory, and now too, we do not al­ways live in unity … And if we look at the di­vi­sions that still ex­ist among Chris­tians” — he in­cludes Catholics, Ortho­dox and Protes­tants — “we are aware of the ef­fort re­quired to make this unity fully vis­i­ble.” He ad­mits “we of­ten have a lot of trou­ble putting (unity) into prac­tice. It is nec­es­sary to seek to build com­mu­nion, to teach com­mu­nion, to get the bet­ter of mis­un­der­stand­ings and di­vi­sions, start­ing with the fam­ily, with ec­cle­sial (church) re­al­ity, in ec­u­meni­cal di­a­logue too. Our world needs unity; this is an age in which we all need unity.”

In his on­line pres­ence, Keith Fournier refers to Fran­cis as “a Pope of Chris­tian unity” who, on June 19, 2013, de­clared: “we Catholics must pray with each other and other Chris­tians.”

The Pope’s re­flec­tions on unity mir­ror Je­sus’ prayer for his fol­low­ers in the bi­b­li­cal book of John: “that all of them may be one.” I of­ten won­der what ex­actly is meant by this in­vo­ca­tion.

Fran­cis’ re­flec­tions on unity are but one — al­beit an im­por­tant — as­pect of his be­liefs and con­vic­tions. Other chap­ters in his book dis­cuss such prac­ti­cal topics as em­brac­ing God’s mercy, the revo­lu­tion of free­dom, lis­ten­ing to the cry of the poor, a house that wel­comes all, con­vey­ing hope and joy, hos­pi­tal­ity and ser­vice, refugees and those up­rooted from life, and the com­mit­ment to peace.

His voice on a va­ri­ety of sub­jects, unity in­cluded, is a breath of fresh air to both Ro­man Catholics and Protes­tants.

“The Church of Mercy: A Vi­sion for the Church” is pub­lished by Loy­ola Press, Chicago, Illi­nois.

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