“This pope works for the poor. He’s already changed lives. That’s how I see the pope. ” – John Hummel, one of more than 1,200 homeless people in Spokane

With the whole world talking about the Jesuit pontiff, we share stories, too – stories of hope and inspiration.

To Give People Hope


Marjorie Humphrey

Marjorie Humphrey

As a longtime Maryknoll lay missioner in East Africa, I was deeply affected one Christmas by a Midnight Mass I attended in the parish of our rural mission hospital in Kenya. The church was absolutely packed. And outside, people stood 10 deep around the open windows. Hundreds had walked miles from small mission “outstations” to celebrate the feast day in the main parish church. The Mass lasted four hours, with every verse of every song. The offertory procession itself ran an hour, each village group dancing up the aisle, one by one, carrying offerings of maize, chickens, sugar cane and cassava flour to set before the crèche. I couldn’t imagine how long Communion would last. To my great surprise, it took only 10 minutes. Very few went to Communion. Even lovely Theresa refrained, Theresa who taught the children catechism, prepared them for First Communion and confirmations, and served on the Parish Council. Afterward I asked a friend and parish member, why no one went to Communion – Theresa, in particular.

Her answer crushed me. “Many years ago, when Theresa was 15, her father arranged her marriage as the second wife to a much older man. She had children with him and has remained faithful, all these years, to her family. The church considers her ‘living in sin’ because she is a second wife. The marriage could not be blessed in the Catholic Church which is so dear to Theresa’s heart. Thus she is barred from receiving Communion. That is the case with many people here. Their culture does not ‘fit’ the church’s laws. But they love the church and are devoted to it.”

Before his election, Pope Francis gave an interview in which he spoke of the church as “missionary.” He said, “The church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographical but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of pain, of injustice, of ignorance… When the church does not come out of herself she becomes self-referential and then gets sick…The evils that, over time, happen in ecclesial institutions have their root in self-referentiality…”

This made an impression on me. As missionaries, we are asked to go outside of ourselves, out of our comfort zone and those places where we are in control.

As a non-European and the first Latin American pope, Francis has recognized, I am sure, how bound to one certain culture the Catholic Church has been for centuries. He is responding, I believe, literally and figuratively, to the church’s call to “mission,” taking the church outside of itself, making it vulnerable, and enabling it to begin to flourish in all cultural realities, be they geographic, ethnic, racial, sexual, religious or economic. Only history will tell us how truly missionary or “inculturated” the church will become under Pope Francis, but he certainly seems to be speaking the language of the “other.” The real purpose of a missionary, I believe, is to give people hope. Pope Francis, I feel, is doing exactly that.

Drink The Tea


Bishop Blase Cupich

Bishop Blase Cupich

Last fall, I was asked to reflect on the messages in Pope Francis’ major interview. Many commentators tried to find hidden meanings and clues behind his comments, “reading the tea leaves.” However we should not overlook the value of Pope Francis’ witness; his words reveal much about himself. I identified areas in my own ministry that would benefit from his words.

Teaching within the Church must not only be about educating the members of our communities in our tradition. This is important, but it must equally be about developing their spiritual sensitivity to how God manifests His presence and action in the world. Schooling people in ongoing discernment produces a greater receptivity to the tradition of the Church and also creates a freedom that brings more responsiveness to the will of God. This balance is in keeping with the Lord’s great commission: “Go teach and make disciples.”

Pope Francis’ emphasis on the ongoing discernment of the action and will of the ever-merciful One also has implications for the promotion of communion among Christians. As the source and summit of Christian life, the liturgy needs to be the celebration that reveals His redeeming work amid the people called to be His own. Reflecting that aspiration more fully in our multicultural communities makes the task of inculturation all the more urgent.

Similarly, instead of a minimalist approach to promoting ecumenism, the work of Christian unity becomes foremost an opportunity to ask how God is working in our separated brothers and sisters and to “recognize what the Spirit has sown in the other as a gift for us.”

We need to listen to those who work side by side with the poor, and those on the frontlines in health care, education and other fields. We diminish our effectiveness when we do not call on these brothers and sisters to gain insight. But, more importantly, we pass up the chance to see how God works through them and to more fully know God’s will.

Pope Francis has much to offer us by what he does, not only by what he says. Instead of “reading the tea leaves,” I suggest that everyone just drink the tea.

This essay is excerpted from “Francis the Witness,” an article that first appeared on the website of America Magazine. The original can be found at: http://americamagazine.org/francis-witness.

My Favorite Saint


John Hummel

John Hummel

John Hummel makes his home at Spokane’s House of Charity. He grew up in America’s middle class – raised in a military family and educated in Catholic schools. He is a reader who tackles non-fiction writer Peter Matthiessen and keeps up with the Catholic Worker when he can. And he is a drinker, who on a spring morning might down a few beers as he walks to Mass. One
morning in January, we talked with him about Pope Francis:

“I like that he chose the name Francis, who is pretty much my favorite saint. This pope works for the poor. He’s already changed lives. That’s how I see the pope. But he’s up against a wall, like on gay rights. And gay marriage. I have a lot of hopes for him. I like that he lives frugally. Peace. I think he’s going to be a voice for peace. If I could bring him to Spokane, I would ask him to say Mass here at the House of Charity and then to serve doughnuts.”

I Have Great Hope


Father Patrick Lee, S.J.

Father Patrick Lee, S.J.

I am very thankful to have a Jesuit brother who is now the pope. He is clearly bringing a new life and enthusiasm to the Church and the world. He is harkening back to the energy that was produced in the Church at the time of the second Vatican Council. The pope seems committed to a conciliar method of discernment and decision making. The Holy Father is a man who is reading the signs of the times. As the shepherd of the Church, Francis has heard the call of the poor. He is unafraid of asking all persons of good will, be they Catholic, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu or even atheist, toward ways in which the human family can reach out to all those who suffer lack of food or shelter. He is doing likewise when it comes to issues of war and violence in the world. I have great hope for him and his leadership of the Church.

Not His Fearless Service


Michelle Wheatley

Michelle Wheatley

You might be surprised to learn what I like best about Pope Francis.

It’s not his exhortation to speak Gospel values with our whole lives, although his powerful witness leaves me inspired. It’s not his fearless service, either, although his solidarity with those on the margins challenges my complacency. It’s not his radical inclusiveness, although that kind of hospitality is contagious. It’s not even the fact that he once worked as a nightclub bouncer, although – I admit – that’s cool.

No, what I like best about Pope Francis is the perhaps unexpected response he gave in June 2013 when questioned by a student following one of his addresses. She asked, “Did you want to be pope?” He replied, “No, I did not want to be pope. Is that OK?”

I am struck by the sincerity of this answer. More specifically, I am moved by the even deeper response embedded within it: an answer to God’s call, even when that invitation leads away from personal wants or expectations. When I think about the kind of minister I want to be, or about my hopes for our Gonzaga students, I can’t help but look to Pope Francis’ beautiful model of vocation: fruitful leadership born out of faithfulness to one’s call.

My family or my future?


Michaela Brown

Michaela Brown

What is more important my family or my future? Why am I making a sacrifice for my family? This internal debate is not new. Four years ago, after my mom made the commitment to adopt my two nieces, a newborn and a 3-year-old, I, too, made a commitment: to stay in Spokane and help. Choosing to become a Zag, though a blessing, was a decision dictated by my family’s dependence. Now, as a senior, overwhelmed by questions about my future, I am choosing to put off graduate school and other opportunities – to stay here and help raise my nieces. Until recently, I viewed my decision to remain in Spokane as a harpoon to my future. Beyond being slightly dramatic, this perception stemmed from my poor understanding of sacrifice.

Then I read Pope Francis’ World Peace Day message, “Fraternity, the Foundation and Pathway to Peace.” This inspired me with a new understanding of sacrifice. His Holiness Francis invites us all to “understand more fully this human vocation to fraternity…” Through much reflection I have come to see my sacrifices for my family not as self-stifling actions, but as God’s opportunity for me to live out my vocation to fraternity. As Pope Francis points out, “The family is the wellspring of all fraternity.” I have come to embrace sacrifice, not as a diminishment of myself, but as an awakening to my greater purpose, a recommitment to fraternity. I make this sacrifice out of love and in recognition of God’s call for me to live a life for and with others. It’s not that family is more important than my future. It’s that a vocation to fraternity is my future.

Be a Lamp to All


Sarah Conover

Sarah Conover

To hear the new pope say “Hypocrisy is a grave sin” is to be reminded of the fairytale “The Emperor Has No Clothes,” wherein someone finally states the obvious. I find his statement an enormous relief. How long have we, Catholic or not, felt demoralized by public hypocrisies in our lifetime? Although every institution makes institutional-size blunders, the Catholic Church, in its worldwide reach, leaves a deep imprint on our global psyche and hope for humanity. We may doubt a politician’s ability to steer clear of corruption, but we want so much to believe that at least our religious leaders can keep alight the lamp of virtue.

For Pope Francis to name hypocrisy as sin is to lay bare the church’s serious lapses in recent times. For the people of the world – believers, atheists, and everyone in between – his brief statement and all that it opens to scrutiny is balm and solace. My chosen religion, Buddhism, has a renowned spokesman for peace and justice: His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. The fact that he attracts large crowds of both Buddhists and non-Buddhists shows the hunger for living examples of selflessness and integrity. The remarkable worldwide response to the death of Nelson Mandela arose from this same longing. The Catholic Church now has a leader who calls each global citizen – and itself – to the task of self-reflection and right action.

Having been born into a Presbyterian family, I grew quickly away from it after the Sunday School years. I didn’t see anyone walk the talk. Even children, maybe especially children, look for tangible evidence of goodness and authenticity in the adults around them. They don’t know the word for hypocrite until much later on, but they recognize the phenomenon until as a teen, they’ve seen so much incongruity between word and deed that it becomes their sole measure of a person.

I might have been one of those teens; instead, my disappointment propelled me into further seeking. My BA is in religious studies, and I’ve kept an open ear and heart to all faiths, publishing seven books on spirituality and world wisdom traditions. Still, I sought a path that could demonstrate to me in flesh and blood the transformative power of religion.

I found it first in Buddhism, but always glanced back over my shoulder to my Christian origins, hoping to notice troves of wisdom I’d overlooked. I’ve begun to find them, and I appreciate the pope’s blazoning role in this quest. Just in time, just when we need our moral beacons, just when we may be irreparably fouling our one-world nest, Pope Francis steps up to the global microphone, shunning the Apostolic Palace, arriving in his Ford Focus. May his living example of humility be a lamp to all. May his call to reject “the globalization of indifference” be a tipping point and give each of us the hope and courage for right action and clear hearts.

Conover studied education as a graduate student at Gonzaga.

Our Two Great Religious Traditions


Howard Glass

Howard Glass

I am a Jew, born and raised in a predominantly Roman Catholic neighborhood in New York City. Religion and ethnicity were important parts of your public identity in such neighborhoods. So after Vatican II it wasn’t surprising, but it was cute, that little Tommy next door asked his mom, “Now that we can eat meat on Friday, can Mrs. Glass eat bacon?” Vatican II seemed to be an important turning point. Historically, the papacy had often been far from friendly to the Jews. In my lifetime there has been continual progress in our relationship. I am hopeful that Pope Francis, who as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Argentina had deep and meaningful friendships with Jewish leaders, will bring our two great religious traditions closer together, while each retains its uniqueness.

To Open the Doors


Father Patrick Case, S.J.

Father Patrick Case, S.J.

The Second Vatican Council closed in 1965, shortly before I started my theology studies as a Jesuit. These were exhilarating times: Pope John XXIII had opened the windows of the church to let the Spirit in.

Over the following decades strong sentiments rumbled through the church – to back away from the inspiration the Council had engendered, to “reform the reform” of Vatican II, if you will. While John Paul II took the church’s message to all corners of the globe, there remained a systematic focus on the Catholic Church in Europe. Vatican II had been celebrated as the dawn of the “world church,” yet the “Eurocentric church” that had lasted for nearly two millennia refused to yield. Meanwhile, we Jesuits, sent by one pope after another to take the Gospel to the frontiers, continued our mission, articulating it in three decrees of the 34th General Congregation in 1995.

Pope Benedict XVI told delegates of the 35th General Congregation in 2008 that, like our forebears Matteo Ricci, Roberto de Nobili and the missionaries of the Paraguay Reductions, we belonged at the frontiers of the church, interacting with cultures, bringing the message of the Gospel to them in ways that would make sense in their culture. We Jesuits felt strongly affirmed in our calling. But Pope Benedict was a man of Europe, terribly concerned over the tide of secularism that was eroding Europe’s Christian culture and Catholic practice. While Benedict supported Jesuits in our mission within the church, he was not exactly one of us, though I always felt a strong affinity for him because of his 2008 speech.

That the pope was not one of us was always OK. We greatly appreciated his affirmation of our mission. We realized, however, that our calling or charism within the Church was only one of many. We serve the church, but are only a small part of it. Part of the church’s beauty is the variety of gifts and callings that contribute to its daily life in the world.

Then along came Pope Francis, a native of the New World, a close friend of the poor, the forgotten and the suffering, and a man who shared our Ignatian spirituality. He is one of us in every way. Like many, I am impressed with the simplicity of his lifestyle and manner. He is at ease with all kinds of people. He truly loves them. Something he said in the long interview that was published in Jesuit journals around the world has really stuck with me. He said that we need to open the doors of the church, not so that those who have left will return, but so that we can go out and engage them in dialogue where they are – trusting that God’s Spirit lives in each person.


Comments are closed.