Pope Hope

Pope Hope

Just one year ago today, white smoke rose from the chimney overlooking Vatican Square, signaling the end of the two day papal conclave – and the election of a new pope.

Pope Francis.

In recent years and leading up to the resignation of the papacy by Francis’ predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican has been plagued with scandal and allegations – of everything from sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests and its cover-up by their bishops to discrepancies and accusations of smuggling and money laundering millions of dollars through the Vatican bank.

Upon his election, many of the faithful were hoping the former Cardinal of Argentina would bring some level of respectability, austerity and honor back to the Holy See. Yet there were vocal skeptics who feared the ‘out with the old and in with the new’ transition in Vatican City would merely bring more of the same.

For example, GLAAD President Herndon Graddick responded to last year’s election of Pope Francis by stating:

For decades the Catholic hierarchy has been in need of desperate reform. In his life, Jesus condemned gays zero times. In Pope Benedict’s short time in the papacy, he made a priority of condemning gay people routinely. This, in spite of the fact that the Catholic hierarchy had been in collusion to cover up the widespread abuse of children within its care. We hope this Pope will trade in his red shoes for a pair of sandals and spend a lot less time condemning and a lot more time foot-washing.

One year later, it appears Francis has done just that.

On the night of his election, the newly appointed Pope Francis rode the bus back to his hotel with the cardinals, rather than being driven in the papal car (he later rejected the notion of a Popemobile, instead opting to drive around the town in his own car which was donated to him by a Catholic priest from northern Italy). From the outset of his papacy, Francis has chosen to use the global spotlight provided by his holy office to focus predominately on the Church’s mandate to serve the poor and reach out to the marginalized. He has quite literally washed the feet of juvenile prisoners and Muslim women during holy week, skipped out on lavish concertos presented in his honor and instead invited the homeless to dine at the Vatican.

While previous popes were reported to sneak out in the evenings to enjoy the beauty of Rome or visit art exhibits unannounced, speculations were confirmed late last year that Pope Franics has been venturing out the Vatican at night, disguised as a priest to meet with and minister to the homeless in Rome.

Francis has added a personal touch to the papal office by reaching out via personal phone calls in response to letters from both the faithful and unfaithful alike, earning him the nickname of the ‘cold call pope.’

This image of him kissing the face of a man with a rare illness which caused bulbous tumors all over his body quickly circulated around the world – and it seems bit by bit the reputation of the Church is being healed by the actions of one man.

Francis has begun financial reform within the Vatican as well. Earlier this year, Francis removed four of the five appointed cardinals from an oversight body just 11 months into their five year terms as financial commissioners – a direct break with the clerical financial establishment Francis inherited from Benedict XVI. As recently as last month, Francis further revolutionized the Vatican’s scandal-plagued finances, inviting outside experts to scrutinize a previously hidden financial maze seen as both murky and secretive. The Church’s primary concern, Francis said, would be a ‘particular concern for the most needy.’

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Not quite more of the same, is it?

Regardless of our religious affiliation – whether Catholic or Protestant – no one can deny the incredible influence and warm welcome this Pope has received, from even some of the most unlikely sources.

One example is The Human Rights Campaign – the largest LGBT advocacy group in the United States. After an interview in which Francis declined an opportunity to cast condemnation on LGBT people but instead responded with questioning the reporter, ‘If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?’, the HRC posted on their website, ‘Thank you, Pope Francis – LGBT people everywhere.’ And while more media attention surrounded the appointing of Francis as TIME Magazine’s ‘Person of the Year,’ perhaps even more impressive was the awarding of the new pope with that same honor by The Advocate – one of the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans* publications available.

Definitely not ‘more of the same.

Francis seems compelled by the example of Jesus found within the Gospels and in the very nature of the Incarnation, encouraging priests to leave their comfort zones and spend time amongst people at the margins of society. In his admonition, he continued, “This is really important to me: the need to become acquainted with reality by experience, to spend time walking on the periphery in order really to become acquainted with the reality and life-experiences of people - if this does not happen then we run the risk of being abstract ideologists or fundamentalists, which is not healthy.”

Also by Michael: Gag Me…A Response to the Gospel Coalition

There can be no denying the incredible impact Pope Francis has made in just a very short time, helping to heal the Church’s damaged reputation within contemporary culture. As his papacy crosses the one year mark and enters into year number two, I wonder how many other leaders within our faith will follow suit… and what type of an impact that will have.

What do you think?

Photo Credit: Martin Podzorny / Shutterstock.com




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About the Author

Michael Kimpan

Michael KimpanMichael Kimpan is the author of the WayWard follower blog, a site designed to inspire thoughtful conversation and movement among followers of Jesus Christ. Michael works with The Marin Foundation in Chicago, a non-profit organization which works to build bridges between the LGBT community and the Church.View all posts by Michael Kimpan →

  • otrotierra

    Thank you Michael Kimpan and RedLetterChristians for keeping the focus on Jesus.

    If Jesus were alive today, his primary adversaries wouldn’t be LGBT groups such as The Human Rights Campaign or The Advocate, that’s for sure. Heresy!

  • Frank

    I like what I see so far. Doesn’t change beliefs just approach.

  • bluecenterlight

    The church needs to repent for what it has allowed itself to become. Sadly, too many seem content to double down. I never would have predicted that the catholic church would lead the way in returning to the church to the simple, powerful message of the gospel, untainted by prejudice, pride, and empire building. I abhor tradition. I believe that is who God created me to be, but I suppose that is also my blind spot. The catholic church is the very definition of “the traditions of men”. But a church that is vocal about it’s mistakes, a church that not only asks God for forgiveness for it’s wrongs but the world we have misrepresented Christ to. I am encouraged. We need leaders who serve, who are clothed in humility, who readily offer up their own frailty rather than point out the flaws in others. Bravo Pope Francis. I hope your example revives the American church.

  • Kesh

    The hypocrites on here.
    The Catholic church brought together the Bible. Without the Catholic church we would have no Bible!
    As I have said before why do Conservative Evangicals accept those churches who differ on beliefs such as Speaking in Tongues as they “all proclaim the Gospel” but the Catholics are excluded despite them believing that Jesus died on the cross their sins? I do not agree with all Catholic beliefs but I do not agree with 90% of preachers yet I accept we are all partners in the Gospel!

    • Vince

      If any evangelical preached a works based gospel as the Catholic Church does I would and have been outspoken against them. many parts of the catechism is in direct opposition to what the bible says and teaches. I am sure there are saved Catholics just as their are saved Methodists, Baptists etc. but the teaching on salvation is heretical.

      The Pope may be a nice guy but he still supports all the teachings of the catholic church that are heretical such as works based salvation and the mass ceremony to name two so he is leading people down the path to hell.

    • Kesh

      Hertical according to whom?

      Jesus preached a a different gospel to Paul it can be argued

      Luke 18:10-24 – Sell all things and you will be saved
      King James Version (KJV)
      10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
      11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
      12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
      13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
      14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
      15 And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them: but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them.
      16 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.
      17 Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.
      18 And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
      19 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God.
      20 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother.
      21 And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up.
      22 Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.
      23 And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich.
      24 And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!

      Or Luke 23 do nothing just ask Jesus to remember you and you will be saved

      39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
      40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
      42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[d]”
      43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

      OR If you do not forgive others you will not be saved – works
      Matthew 18:25-35
      New International Version (NIV)
      25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
      26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
      28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[a] He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
      29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
      30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
      32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
      35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

      Jesus’s words are more important than Pauls. I believe in salvation but how….. I believe all Jesus believing Catholics are saved.

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