What the Pope Saw On His Drive Through D.C.

Image via Good Sweeney/Flickr

As Pope Francis’ motorcade made its way from the Joint Base Andrews in Maryland to the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C., late Tuesday afternoon, it made a hard left from scenic Rock Creek Parkway onto Massachusetts Avenue, wending its way northwestward at a fast clip along the manicured thoroughfare known as Embassy Row.

Riding in the passenger-side back seat of his tiny, black Fiat 500L, the 78-year-old pontiff leaned his body toward the open window, stuck his arm out, turned his smiling face toward the street, and waived at the modest clutches of pedestrians law enforcement had allowed to stand along the sidewalk to greet him as he whizzed by.

The pope rode past the South African embassy with its statue of Nelson Mandela, right arm raised in a fist of solidarity, out front — and then, almost directly across the street, the hulking statue of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill raising two fingers in a peace sign (or to hail a cab) at the southernmost end of the British Embassy’s sprawling grounds.

The Mandela and Churchill statues almost high-five each other across Massachusetts Avenue while the pope’s humble hatchback, surrounded by massive Secret Service SUVs and swarms of police motorcycles, passed beneath their outstretched arms.

I wonder if Francis noticed the statues, and thought of the men — so different from one another, but each remembered as a hero — and wondered what his own place in history might be.

Selfie-Gate: Obama, a Funeral Celebration, and a Scapegoat


Obama's selfie with prime ministers David Cameron and Helle Thorning Schmidt ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama’s “selfie” with prime ministers Helle Thorning Schmidt of Denmark and David Cameron of Great Britain has been making the rounds on social media. Many of Obama’s detractors have taken the opportunity to criticize the President’s picture taking prowess, bringing on “Selfie-Gate.” Take John Kass of the Chicago Tribune, for example:

First lady Michelle Obama sits off to the side, somber, dignified, as the world remembers Mandela. Yet next to her like some goofy adolescent who hasn't yet been taught how to behave properly at a memorial service — her husband — is snapping a memorial to himself.

Hold on a minute there, Kass, because South Africa is teaching us a thing or two about how they “behave properly at a memorial service.” Sure they mourn.

But they also dance.

From the video and images that I’ve seen, there was festive atmosphere at Mandela’s memorial service. This leads me to wonder what “proper behavior” at this memorial service looks like.

Pope Francis Tops Facebook’s List of Most-Talked-About Topics

Photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service

Pope Francis greets the crowd in St. Peter’s Square. Photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service

ROME — It’s official, but no big surprise: Pope Francis is now the most-talked-about person on Facebook, according to information released Dec. 10 by the social media giant.

Pope Francis took the top spot, followed closely by Royal Baby George.

I Am Not A Good Christian

Photo: Tripp Hudgins

Mandela can become a symbol of God for some. Photo: Tripp Hudgins

What makes one a good person? Additionally, what makes one a good Christian? I have been spending some time wondering about this as news of Mandela’s death has been making it’s way across the planet. Was he a good man? I think so, but how do we measure that? How do we know? And if, as some have claimed, his greatness stemmed from his willing embodiment of his Christian faith, I need to know if he was a good Christian.

Guy Sorman writes of Mandela:

“The Commission for Truth and Reconciliation, founded by President Mandela and led by Bishop Tutu, is perhaps the most concrete example of Mandela’s Christian faith. Instead of the vengeance and reprisals that were expected and feared after years of interracial violence, the commission focused on confession and forgiveness. Most of those who admitted misdeeds and even crimes — whether committed in the name of or in opposition to apartheid — received amnesty. Many returned to civil life, exonerated by their admission of guilt.”

Mandela is exemplary not because he was perfect, always kind to everyone he met, an ideal husband and father, but because of these larger virtues that he also attempted to live out. He lived into these virtues — all of them, large and small, and all of them incompletely.

Shaped by Methodists, Mandela Paid Tribute to Role of Religion

Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg in 2008. Photo courtesy South Africa The Good News, via Wikimedia Commons/RNS

Nelson Mandela, the former South African president who died Thursday, had a deep connection with religious institutions.

Mandela was educated, first at Clarkebury and then at Healdtown, Methodist boarding schools that provided a Christian liberal arts education.

“Both were important influences on his life,” said Presiding Bishop Zipho Siwa of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. “Indeed, after his time at Clarkebury, the young Mandela said his horizons had been broadened.”

In Cape Town, retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu said Mandela was mourned by South Africans, Africans, and the international community as a colossus of unimpeachable moral character and integrity.

“He preached a gospel of forgiveness and reconciliation,” Tutu wrote in a tribute on

Nelson Mandela and the Power of Elders

Republic of South Africa postage stamp. Circa 2008. catwalker/Shutterstock

The world lost a hero yesterday.  Nelson Mandela, 95, died at his home in Johannesburg, South Africa, after a long illness. 

From prisoner of 27 years to President of his country, Mandela exhibited courage and vision for a country that had feared a bloodbath in its transition to a post-apartheid society. Mandela united the country through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

A less-noted aspect of Mandela’s work was his founding of The Elders on his 89th birthday. With a mission of “offer[ing] their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity.” Mandela gathered Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan, Mary Robinson, Desmond Tutu, Muhammed Yunus, and others to harvest the wisdom of their years for the good of the planet. Founding member Peter Gabriel further explained: “In traditional societies, the elders always had a role in conflict resolution, long-term thinking, and applying wisdom wherever it was needed. We are moving to this global village and yet we don’t have our global elders. The Elders can be a group who have the trust of the world, who can speak freely, be fiercely independent, and respond fast and flexibly in conflict situations.”

'The Most Important Political Leader of the 20th Century': Jim Wallis on the Life of Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela died on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013. catwalker/Shutterstock

In response to the passing of Nelson Mandela, Jim Wallis, President of Sojourners, issued the following statement:

"Nelson Mandela was the most important political leader of the 20th century. While Roosevelt and Churchill helped protect the West and the world from Hitler’s Nazism, Mandela heroically exemplified the historic movement against colonialism and racism that oppressed the global south, depicted so dramatically in South Africa’s apartheid. And from a Christian point of view, Nelson Mandela combined justice and reconciliation like no other political leader of his time, shaped by the spiritual formation of 27 years in prison. Mandela’s life has blessed the world with courage and hope. For me, Nelson Mandela has been an ideal of what leaders can be. Being with him after his release from prison, and being present at his presidential inauguration, gave me a sense of a moral authority that I have never experienced with any other political leader."

Graceland, Apartheid and the 'Deep Truth that Artists Speak'

“If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.” ~President John F. Kennedy

Twenty-five years after the release of Paul Simon's Graceland album, the singer-songwriter returned to South Africa to visit the musicians who worked with him on what many believe is his musical masterpiece. A new documentary film, Under African Skies, which premieres tonite (Friday, May 25) on A&E, chronicles Simon's journey and the role that music — and artists — may have played in bringing about the end of apartheid.

This masterful film, which debuted earlier this year to wide acclaim at the Sundance film festival, makes a convincing argument for the important role that artists play in changing the world for the better.