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In Theory: What do you think of Pope Francis?

November 15, 2013

Pope Francis has received praise from all quarters for pausing to hold a severely disfigured man. While receiving an audience in St. Peter's Square, Francis spent several minutes comforting and praying with the unnamed person, who sufferers from neurofibromatosis, a condition that causes tumors to grow all over the body and can result in serious conditions like cancer.

Writing in British newspaper The Guardian, Jonathan Jones calls the pope's action “gothic,” saying, “What is gothic is the return to 13th-century values in this picture of a Christian leader showing humility and charity by physically interacting with someone visibly sick and visually different from those around him ... Charity and humility and love really are Christian ideals, and for someone in the pope's position of power to so graphically express them is full of concrete meaning.”

An article in the Washington Post says, “In the pope’s prayer over the man, many saw echoes of Jesus’ healing of the leper.”


Q: What do you think of the pope's action?

It made me think of a line from a hymn that sums up Jesus’ life and ministry: “Love to the loveless shown, that they might lovely be” (from “My Song is Love Unknown”). To touch the untouchables, cross the barriers of what is socially correct, see the truth of a heart beneath the cruel realities of the body — these were the daily acts of Jesus’ ministry.

And they seem to be the same for Pope Francis: not just contrived photo ops, but legitimately caring impulses, arising from a deep well of Christian spirituality. If he’s faking it, he’s really, really good at it. He continues to look like the real deal — a cleric who actually takes the imitation of Christ as a serious calling on his life.

Even more impressive than the momentary embrace of one luckless man — and just as Jesus-like — is the Pope’s commitment to address the wider issues of societal injustice and imbalance that confine one person in a lifetime of physical suffering, while another has the means for and access to medical care and cure.

Jesus’ healing of the leper was more than an interpersonal compassionate act; it was a symbolic and revolutionary critique of the institutional systems of his day, which like our own, assigned some to oppression, while allowing the unoppressed far too much freedom to do nothing and care less.

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