Sunday, April 05, 2015

Easter and the Pope of Hope

Pope Francis
It’s Easter. Christianity is in decline in the developed world, Christians are disappearing from the Muslim-dominated Middle East and Africa, and the most important living Christian leader, the Pope, as former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin once noted, has not one single division.

In this context, it’s significant that Forbes magazine last fall named the militarily-deprived Pope Francis the world’s fourth most powerful person, trailing only Vladimir Putin (Russia), Barack Obama (U.S.), and Xi Jinping (China). Forbes said of the pontiff:
The spiritual leader to one-sixth of the world's population -- 1.2 billion souls[ -- ]Pope Francis has made it his mission to transform the longstanding conservative image of the Catholic Church. In October, the pontiff said the theories of evolution and the Big Bang are true, adding that God is not "a magician with a magic wand." He also shocked the world last year when he said "Who am I to judge?" when discussing homosexuality. The first Jesuit and Latin American Bishop of Rome preaches compassion for the poor and a greater role for women while signaling the church to quiet its focus on "only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptives."
Francis is the first pope since Pope John XXIII -- who like Francis gained the Keys of Rome late in life at age 76 -- to move the Holy See unambiguously to the left. John created Vatican II (1962-65), the major event leading Catholicism into the modern world. It’s taken half a century for a very conservative Catholic hierarchy to digest the Vatican II reforms. Now Francis, the first pope from outside Europe since the Syrian Gregory III in 741, is pushing reform sharply forward again. As Francis X. Rocca recently wrote in the conservative Wall Street Journal:
The Pope’s vision of Vatican II has translated into a dramatic shift in priorities, with an emphasis on social justice over controversial moral teachings and [with] a friendlier approach to secular culture. . . the church in Europe and the U.S. [has seen] a steep decline in attendance at Mass and in adherence to traditional morality, [along] with the sexual revolution and the spread of contraception and legalized abortion. As pontiff, Francis [is] demanding a “poor church for the poor” and excoriating free-market ideologies[, adding] that the church should show “mercy” toward divorced and remarried Catholics.
Comment: The faith we celebrate at Easter--whether Catholic, mainline Protestant, Orthodox, or Evangelical--truly is “love thy neighbor as thyself;” a “poor church for the poor,” believing in redemption and hope. The rise of secularism throughout the Western world peels away those attracted to the church primarily for its historical connection to power, and leaves behind a body of Christians from many backgrounds drawn to the church’s original teachings, messages Francis truly seems to understand and live by.

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