A year ago yesterday — March 13, 2013 — Pope Francis officially became pope. Since then he has fascinated the world.
He didn’t don the snazzy red shoes and fancy papal attire. He chose a humble apartment rather than the posh papal palace. He washed the feet of women in prison. He touched folks that others did not want to touch, like a man with a disfigured face, making headline news around the world. He has put the margins in the spotlight. He refused to condemn sexual minorities saying, “Who am I to judge?” He has let kids steal the show, allowing one little boy to wander up on stage and stand by him as he preached.
And, one of my favorites on the pope’s greatest hits of 2014: he stopped the pope-mobile to pick up a hitchhiker — one of his pals from Brazil.
But beyond the sound-bites and headline news, Francis has spoken courageously and eloquently throughout his first year, addressing some of the most urgent ethical issues of our age. In honor of the one-year anniversary I’m reading his encyclical, a 200-page manifesto to the Church. In response to the growing gap between the rich and poor, where 85 people now own the same wealth as half the world (3.5 billion), Pope Francis says: "How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses 2 points?"
I look forward to more surprises from Francis. I have lots of hopes for the next year, like seeing him address the epidemic of violence in our world, pointing us to the “consistent ethic of life” that Catholics are known for (and perhaps helping us end to the death penalty in America during his reign).
But as I reflect on his first year, and have reporters asking for a sound-bite — here’s the thing I find most noteworthy.
The most remarkable thing about the pope is that what he is doing should not be remarkable. He is simply doing what popes and Christians should do — care for the poor, critique inequity, interrupt injustice, surprise the world with grace, include the excluded, and challenge the entitled.
Pope Francis is leaving off the fragrance of Jesus. He is fascinating the world with Christ. Maybe his witness will invite more folks to give Jesus a chance despite the embarrassing things we Christians have done in his name. I hope so. I want the world to see a Christianity that looks like Jesus again, a Christianity that is not just known for who we have excluded but for who we have embraced. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Christians were known for our love again — not for our picket signs, or our bumper stickers, or t-shirts, or dogma — but for our love?
I can’t help but think Francis of Assisi (the pope’s radical namesake), and all the angels and saints in heaven must be smiling as they look down on our brother Jorge Mario Bergoglio, whom we now fondly call “Pope Francis.”
Shane Claiborne is an activist and best-selling author, founder of The Simple Way in Philadelphia and popular speaker. You can find him at www.redletterchristians.org.
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