The highways are declaring that Pope Francis will soon arrive. Traveling in Philadelphia and on highways between Philadelphia and New York City, the signs are asking us to be prepared for rerouting and traffic jams because the Pope will be in town. Millions of believers will travel to Washington, DC, New York City, and Philadelphia to see the Pope passing in his popemobile, to participate in the many masses that he will hold, or to listen to him as he will address various groups such as the US Congress.
Many of us have lived through what can be called the adventurous papacy. While in the past the papacy was dominated by Italians, Germans, and French, the election of John Paul II gave us the first Polish pope. He guided the Roman Catholic Church from 1978 to 2005. There was a short interim with Pope Benedict and then Pope Francis was chosen as the first Argentinian pope in 2013. John Paul II and Francis both love to be among the people, listening to and blessing them. They are at ease among the flock they have been entrusted to shepherd.
Despite their similar attitude towards their congregants, they have very different personalities. John Paul was instrumental in pushing European communism towards its demise. His work in his own country, Poland, and then in cooperation with Reagan against international communism are well-documented. Pope Francis’ work in the improvement of relations between Cuba and the USA has been accepted by both governments. He brings his understanding of the poor as one who has struggled alongside them in achieving better living conditions.
As I was traveling home from Philadelphia, I also caught sight of an Oprah advertisement among the papal advertisements. It had the inscription: A force for good. Across the political spectrums (and both political parties are trying to get political mileage from the papal visit), we all can gain something from this papal visit that will make us better. One many not agree with his ecological position, but we all are asked by God to be better stewards of this earth that God has entrusted to us. The consistent pro-life position of the pope may rattle some people, but all of us should be pro-life because life is sacred. The pope’s visit is indeed a force for the good of humanity.
In listening to those who are rejoicing, to those who look forward to being in the shadow of the pope, I want to rejoice with them. But I do not have the same feelings. From time to time, I believe that the Vatican has a greater desire to work with other faiths than to work with those who are Christians but not Roman Catholic. There is something historically galling about the idea of primus inter pares (first among the equals) that the Roman bishops have been pushing since the 4th century. There is something unsettling when the Vatican declares that the Reformation is over as those who are in the Reformation tradition plan to celebrate 500 years since its beginning (1517-2017).
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However, this is the week to rejoice with my Catholic brothers and sisters and listen to what Pope Francis has to say. I pray for his trip, I pray for his messages, and I pray that he will bring great joy and use his prominence for good in the open air services and in conversation with political and ecclesiastical figures.