Pope Francis, My Hero

pope francis

(source: newsfirst.lk)

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.
            Mrs. Cecil Frances Humphrey Alexander

Pope Francis never ceases to amaze me, and in a good way. He is the most all-embracing, open-hearted pope in my recollection. He has been a steadfast advocate for open-mindedness towards people and causes often scorned in our society—the LGBT community, the poor, migrants, abortion rights. He has called the Catholic Church “obsessed” with abortion, gay marriage and contraception.

Today he has called for a “global mobilization” to end human trafficking.

Last week he joined leaders of the Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Christian faiths, promising to use their religions towards eradicating “modern slavery” and human trafficking by 2020.

When Pope Francis was archbishop of Buenos Aires, he was known to sneak out at night and break bread with the poor; he would sit on the street and eat with them, let them know they were cared for. The Pope’s trusted archbishop Konrad Krajewski is the Vatican Almoner, who has the a centuries-old job of handing out alms.  Krajewksi said,

“The Holy Father told me at the beginning: ‘You can sell your desk. You don’t need it. You need to get out of the Vatican. Don’t wait for people to come ringing. You need to go out and look for the poor.’ ”

It’s been said that Francis sometimes disguises himself as a priest and sneaks out to serve the homeless with Krajewski.

Every morning a Vatican official goes from the Vatican hotel where Francis lives to Krajewski’s office with a pile of letters the Pope has received from parishioners asking for assistance. On the top of each letter, Francis may write “You know what to do” or “Go find them” or “Go talk to them.”

In his weekly address last month, the Pope declared, “All animals go to heaven.”

Whether you believe in a heaven or not, it’s a wonderful sentiment. Why shouldn’t one’s furry loved ones follow them into the afterlife?

He said, “Heaven is open to all creatures, and there [they] will be vested with the joy and love of God, without limits.”

Francis goes further to say that humankind’s role is not limited to serving the divine:

“The vocation of being a ‘protector,’ however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as St. Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live.”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Pope Francis ran for Congress? Maybe he could get some real work done. Sorry, had to add my two cents.

He is a reminder of what we all can be, religious or not, and of the good that can be found in all of us.

Sexism, Saints & Statues

St. Therese74334586_16bf493924_z

(Left: Dawn Nakaya, flickr.com, right: Garry Wilmore, flickr.com)

My favorite church in New York City is St. Agnes on 43rd Street between Lexington and 3rd Avenue. I have a weekly lunch hour routine: light a candle at St. Therese’s station, the Little Flower of Jesus, kneel in front of her and pray. The 1:10 p.m. mass is in progress when I visit her; she’s posted on the right side of the church directly behind the confessional box. But this time she wasn’t there! She had been replaced by a statue of the newly canonized Pope John Paul II. Now I have nothing against John Paul, but he isn’t Therese. I took Therese as my confirmation name; she was my inspiration as a child in Catholic school, the mistress of little, good deeds that go unnoticed, but not by God. My mother gave me a St. Therese statuette as a gift. How could they take her away?

After my initial upset and shock, I noticed a sign under the St. John Paul II statue, “St. Therese has been re-located to the opposite side of the church, right next to St. Francis of Assisi.” I hightailed it over to St. Therese’s new station, hoping the other churchgoers did not sense my dismay. There she was—cramped—with another favorite of mine, St. Francis. It didn’t seem fair; it seemed sexist, in fact. So they stuck my Little Flower and the beloved patron saint of animals, merchants, stowaways, cub scouts, Italy and the environment together to make room for the deceased pontiff. Did you know that Therese and Francis are two of the most popular saints in the history of the Catholic Church?

Performing a minimum of two miracles is one of the criteria for sainthood. I didn’t think that John Paul had performed any, so I did some research. The Vatican confirmed that he was responsible for “the inexplicable healing of Sr. Pierre, a French nun suffering from Parkinson’s disease.”[1] Okay, one miracle down, one to go. The process by which the Catholic Church declares someone a saint entails: “investigation into the person’s life and writings for holiness and orthodoxy, a ‘debate’ among a panel of theologians at the Vatican, and an examination of the corpse.”[2] According to U.S. Catholic, a miracle “is considered proof that the person is in heaven and can intercede with God.” Sadly, Pope John Paul had Parkinson’s disease also, and died three months after the nun was cured.

Miracle #2.  Floribeth Mora Diaz of Costa Rica said that John Paul cured her of a brain aneurysm after doctors told her she had only a month to live. She began praying to the late pope, clutching a magazine with his portrait on the cover, and she was healed. So clearly John Paul is worthy of sainthood. He also endured two assassination attempts, one of which required emergency surgery.

St. Therese performed four miracles, so she trumps John Paul by sheer numbers. These are her miracles:

(1)  Sr. Louise Germain was cured of stomach ulcers that she had from 1913-1916;
(2)  Charles Anne, a 23-year-old seminarian, was cured of TB;
(3)  Gabrielle Trimusi of Parma, Italy was cured of arthritis of the knee and tubercular lesions on the vertebrae; and
(4)  Maria Pellemans of Belgium suffered from pulmonary TB, which had spread to the intestines. All signs of intestinal ulceration vanished. Coincidentally, St. Therese also suffered from TB, which spread to the intestines.

Ecclesiastical authorities confirmed that St. Francis of Assisi performed over 40 miracles in his lifetime, including:

(1)  Bringing a drowned boy from Capua back to life; and
(2)  Aiding a thief whose eyes had been gouged out. Apparently the thief “sprouted” new eyeballs after crying at the altar of San Francesco (St. Francis), begging for the saint’s intercession.

The combined total of miracles between St. Therese and St. Francis is 44, 22 times the number performed by John Paul. Therese died at the age of 24, Francis at the age of 45 (that’s almost one miracle for every year of his life), and John Paul at the age of 85. If you ask me, Therese and Francis are entitled to a little more space, judging by the volume of supernatural deeds committed in their considerably shorter life spans. Well, at least St. Therese wasn’t removed altogether.

I won’t begrudge St. John Paul, though. He was a good and holy man, a peacemaker, beloved by the people. He lived a life of splendor in comparison to T and F: popes do. But I must take the higher road and ask, “What would St. Therese do?” Surely she would not mind being moved next to St. Francis to make room for the pope. She was humble and kind, doing good deeds in silence throughout her short life. Perhaps she enjoys sharing a cubby with St. Francis, and he with her. They could share stories in her native tongue, as St. Francis spoke some French. She loved nature and flowers, and he loved animals and nature. That’s a good place to start. It took some time, but I’m reconciled to St. Therese’s re-location. Nothing stays the same. We all have to move on at some point in our lives, and like so many of us have learned, no position is secure.

[1]           U.S. Catholic, January 2012, Vol. 77, No. 1, p. 54.

[2]           U.S. Catholic, January 2012, Vol. 77, No. 1, p. 54.