The people’s pope is challenging us to emerge from our comfort zones

Opinion: Everyone seems to love Francis and everyone wants to co-opt him to their own agenda

Sun, Dec 22, 2013, 00:01

He is opening doors to people who have been away from the church, but are our church communities open to the challenge of living in a way that mirrors Francis’s vision?

John L Allen jnr, the veteran Vatican reporter, refers to The Joy of the Gospel as Francis’s “I have a dream” document.

In it, Francis sets out a vision of a church that is radical, centred on the needs of the poor, not afraid of making mistakes; a church that is humble, determined and spiritual.

It’s a completely practical vision, if that is not an oxymoron. This is a pope who gently told a mother at a papal audience not to be afraid to breastfeed her hungry, crying baby, who says that the three most important phrases in a family are please, thank you and I’m sorry.

He gets family life, but he also gets that families are messy, squabbling places, and the biggest family in the world, the Catholic Church, is pretty dysfunctional right now.

Furthermore, he knows that the global family is facing immense challenges, and he wants us to do something about it.

If this is his “I have a dream” document, we know that the other Christian who spoke those words was willing to pay with his life for them.

That might sound overly dramatic, but Francis spoke recently about the “ecumenism of blood”. Ecumenism is the search for Christian unity – Francis is pointing out grimly that it is being achieved by the shedding of blood.

From Syria, to Iraq, to the Ukraine, to India – in recent weeks Christians have lost their lives or had their human rights curtailed simply for being Christian. Their attackers don’t care whether the Christians are Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant.

This ecumenism is a unity built on experiencing the challenge of living out the message of Jesus where it might cost you your life.

This pope stands with persecuted Christians, and with Africans desperately risking their lives to enter Europe, and with the poor of the world no matter what their creed.

He is also completely aware of his own failings and humanity.

He lives out what he is asking the rest of us to do – take risks, leave our comfort zones, and decide whether we really believe this stuff, and if we do, how would anyone else know that we do? By our fruits shall they know us. That’s his Christmas gift to us.

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