francis of assisi

New Hopes and Old Realities in the Catholic Church

LEONARDO BOFF’S Francis of Rome and Francis of Assisi: A New Springtime for the Church offers intriguing portraits of the current bishop of Rome and the saint that is his namesake. The book provides an introduction to these two extraordinary figures and includes a brief overview of the papacy, tracing how the office of the bishop of Rome eventually became the infallible pope.

 The Roman Catholic Church depicted through Boff’s eyes is a church in crisis, reeling from the Vatican Bank and clergy sex abuse scandals. The institution and leadership have lost credibility in the eyes of many and the Roman curia is in need of reform. Yet this crisis is tempered by the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as pope, which for Boff fuels a tangible optimism for the church’s future.

Both men in these pages are called to the work of reform. Francis of Assisi’s conversion began when he heard a crucifix in a small church say, “Francis, go and restore my house, because it is in ruins.” Boff depicts Pope Francis as receiving a similar call, to reform the church so that it becomes a church that is poor, emphasizing humility and charity. Boff raises both men as models of living with the poor and like the poor, citing the now famous example of Francis going to pay his hotel bill after being elected pope.

Boff heavily contrasts Pope Francis to John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and is especially critical of the latter’s judgment on ecclesial issues. Boff presents Francis as a voice from the periphery. He is. And yet we must remember that Pope Francis was a cardinal of Italian descent from Argentina, a nation that often identifies itself more as European than American.

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Pope Francis and a New Vision of Catholic Reform

Pope Francis, emipress / Shutterstock.com

Pope Francis, emipress / Shutterstock.com

From the very first moment of his unexpected election as Pope Francis, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina has embraced a series of small departures from established tradition.

He took his papal name from a great nonconforming saint of the Middle Ages — and one that no other pope in the history of the Roman Catholic Church has taken. He then refused to stand on an elevated platform that would separate him from his “brother cardinals,” and asked the people of Rome to bless him rather than receive his blessing. He even insisted on returning to his hotel to settle his account (as though his credit were in any doubt).

Everyone who knew Bergoglio saw in him an unconventional and even unpredictable figure. He lived in Buenos Aires in a modest apartment rather than in the archbishop’s palace. He dispensed with a private limousine and took public transportation to work. He even cooked his own meals at home in his own kitchen.

Now, as pope, he has continued this pattern by ignoring long-settled traditions of what a pope should wear, where he should reside, and how he should conduct himself in public functions. Francis has chosen not wear the gold papal cross to which he is entitled, instead wearing the more simple cross he wore in Argentina. He also seems satisfied with normal men’s footwear, avoiding the elegant red loafers Pope Benedict normally wore in public.

The SojoMusic Interview: Denison Witmer, 'Creating Space Where Truth Can Move'

Denison Witmer by Ethan Luck.

Denison Witmer by Ethan Luck.

Singer-songwriter Denison Witmer’s 2005 album Are you a Dreamer? was part of the soundtrack of my adolescence — his calm voice a sonic companion as I navigated the choppy waters of high school insecurities; his complex fingerpicking acoustic guitar style a mentor as I learned to play and write my own music. Witmer’s soulful voice, thoughtful lyrics and inimitable style (some critics have called it “neo-folk” a la Cat Stevens or Nick Drake), has stuck with me for years. Just a snippet of his lyrics or melody can transport me back to precisely where I was when I first heard them, a younger me dreaming of who I might become. 

When Witmer’s latest tour brought him through Washington, D.C. last month, I caught up with him backstage before his gig at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue. We talked in the artist lounge and sound check stage, before venturing out for a couple of veggie wraps while exploring a variety of subjects from music and family to saints and beer. And we even managed to persuade him to play a couple of songs for us, which we’ve captured here on video for you. (You’re welcome.)

#OccupyWallStreet: A Digital Hootenanny

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Indie music darling, Jeff Mangum, who rarely plays in public, surprised #OccupyWallStreet protesters in New York City earlier this week with an impromptu concert. A New Jersey singer-songwriter pens two songs for revolutions. And an order of Catholic nuns offer free mp3 downloads of a protest song inspired by the life of St. Francis of Assisi.

St. Francis, Pray for Us

Today (Oct. 4) Christians around the world celebrate the life of St. Francis of Assisi, one of the bright lights of the church and one of the most venerated religious figures in history.

The life and witness of Francis is as relevant to the world we live in today as it was 900 years ago. He was one of the first critics of capitalism, one of the earliest Christian environmentalists, a sassy reformer of the church, and one of the classic conscientious objectors to war.

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