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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Rooming House Pope

I have been studying the pronouncements, activities and history of Pope Francis with an hopeful intensity since his surprise election. His choice of name and, the simplicity of his of first appearance and his style of behavior became immediate indicators that something was different, but it remained to be seen what wold be the substance of that difference. 


One of the immediate surprises is that after election, he went to pay his hotel bill, and then he moved into the Vatican guest house, Domus Sanctae Marthae, rather than the papal apartments.  He freed himself slightly from his staff by this, setting some of his own appointments, lived a in slightly simpler manner and became in my mind "The Rooming House Pope."  He had a Rabbi friend come and stay with him in the guest house, invited the Editor of La Republica over for an interview, kissed cleaned and kissed the feet of prisoners on Holy Thursday and did numerous acts that constituted his style. I explored his background.  As Bishop he had ridden the bus to work. His parents had been refugees from Mussolini to Argentina. He group up watching the films of Italian anti -fascists. He was conservative on doctrine, but close to the poor and had organized a network to rescue people from the Argentinian Junta. 


His economic pronouncements and advice to the church stirred up  opposition from Fox News commentators and certain, mainly American conservative Catholics.  Yet other conservatives seemed to like his as much as the liberals. He upheld conservative moral principles and family values while he changed direction in favor of the poor. He presented no new doctrine, yet the difference was greater than style. The difference was an emphasis on the attribute of Catholic social Teaching that most made him the Rooming House Pope: solidarity. That we are all brothers and that we most need to help the weakest: the poor, the sick, the refugees. That the Church should become a poor church for the poor.  That priest should drive used or inexpensive model cars. That all clergy are first and foremost servants. That religious orders should used there closed monasteries as places for the marginalized instead of for income property.  That neo-liberal unregulated capitalism was wrong.  That there needed to be greater collegiality among the Bishops. That reform of the Curia and, the Vatican bank was needed. That the church would take certain measures that would reduce the influence of the Mafia in Italy. That continued work relations with the Orthodox and Protestants was needed. That more work on the role of women in the church was needed. 

A simple example: he did not change Catholic teaching about homosexual behavior and marriage, yet he asked, "Who am I to  judge?"  by that simple question he said the more important consideration was are solidarity with the homosexual, not our teaching regarding sexual matters.  He said the church has to act like the emergency room medics, patch up, not worrying about the fine details of health.   He saw that the church had to heal and nurture those in need.

One of his recent steps is to announce that Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, martyr,  slain  over the altar while saying mass because of his unswerving care for the poor and his call for his nations soldiers to cease killing the populace would be beatified.  Here was the martyr hero of Catholics for whom solidarity with the poor was one of the most important duties of the church. 



As a Roomin' House Blues Catholic, in solidarity with the poor, the sick and the lonely throughout the world, I feel comforted by this new emphasis that Pope Francis has placed on certain aspects of  Catholic social Teaching.  I pray that during his papacy Dorthy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Workers will be beatified. I pray that the church will succeed in influencing the economic policies of governments around the world towards the poor.   I pray that my own behavior will grow in solidarity.  I pray for the re-unification of Christianity and that the church truly become a poor church for the poor.  

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