We visited Assisi, the home town of St. Francis, for whom this Pope is named. Once Francis of Assisi committed his life to the Lord, he became a humble servant. The fact that Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a Jesuit, took the name of Francis (of Assisi), a Franciscan, indicates a servant temperament more so than that of a scholar. Thus far his actions have been in character.
The Catholic world is abuzz with excitement about the image on their new leader.
Francis of Assisi was born the son of a wealthy merchant and an aristocratic mother. He spent much of his young life in lavish circumstances and immorality. He served in the military and was imprisoned for approximately a year. These and other factors conditioned him for a life of humility and piety.
As his spiritual nature began to develop, he withdrew from a leper in revulsion only to turn around, come back, embrace the beggar and give him all the money he had with him.
Upon a visit to Rome about the same time observing the meager way in which people of means were contributing to the poor, Francis emptied his purse on the tomb of Saint Peter, exchanged clothes with a tattered beggar and stood fasting with the other beggars at the door of the basilica.
The current Francis has engaged in kindred deeds. He is already being called “The People’s Pope.” He is so available to the people that we were within six feet of him at the Installation.
When Cardinal Dolan of New York was asked what he should look for in choosing the next Pope, he replied, “I will look for the man who seems the most like Jesus.” Catholics and evangelicals would do well to unite in prayer for this Pope to be such a man.
I respect Catholic tradition, but as an evangelical Christian find the emphasis on persons other than Jesus a conundrum. I found a lot of focus in Rome on Mary, Peter and Paul with Jesus marginalized. There are over 300 Catholic churches in Rome and over half of them have the name Mary in the title. Artwork depicting Jesus is there, but not primary. The lack of primacy of him in art does not of itself indicate Jesus being minimized. However, one reason stated for the extensive use of art in the emerging church was to communicate through art to people who could not read.
Catholics and non-Catholics alike would do well to pray for Pope Francis as he steps on the world stage. The papacy is one voice that has not been muted by the PC patrol. The voice of the Pope can prove to be a blessing to all schools of thought in Christendom.
Several years ago in Georgia we had a governor who was conservative on racial issues and a civil rights leader who was an activist, yet they were close friends. Someone asked the civil rights leader how they could be friends and he said, “Because that is all we disagree on.” They did not maximize their differences, they magnified their areas of agreement.
In Pope Francis there appears to be much on which we can agree.
May there be a renewed emphasis on Jesus Christ in the role expressed regarding him in the Installation: “O Christo, re della gloria,” interpreted; “You, Christ, are the king of glory.”
The Rev. Dr. Nelson Price is pastor emeritus of Roswell Street Baptist Church. For copies of previous columns visit www.nelsonprice.com