By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
Nearly 300 people gathered at Sacred Heart Academy July 26 to hear a panel discussion about Pope Francis and his effect on the church and the world.
The workshop, hosted by the Angela Merici Center for Spirituality and the Social Concerns Committee of the Ursuline Sisters and associates, was titled “Pope Francis 101.”
Ursuline Sister Paula Kleine-Kracht said she believes people, including many non-Catholics, are so drawn to Pope Francis because he doesn’t focus on what “separates us but what joins us together.”
“The real astounding thing about Pope Francis is people of other religions find him as influential as Catholics do,” Sister Kleine-Kracht said in an interview prior to the workshop.
The workshop was a chance for those in attendance to hear reflections on Pope Francis from a diverse panel of Catholics and non-Catholics, Sister Kleine-Kracht said. There also was time for discussions and personal reflection.
The panel of speakers included Father John Burke, pastor of Good Shepherd Church and sacramental moderator of St. William Church; Reverend Joe Phelps, pastor of Highland Baptist Church; Cory Lockhart, program director at JustFaith Ministries and member of St. William; and Ursuline Sister Jean Anne Zappa.
Father Burke explored what he and many others have called the ‘Francis Effect.’
“What is behind the phenomenon called the ‘Francis Effect.’ What is it about this man that’s captured the hearts and renewed the hopes of so many people?” he asked.
Father Burke referred to the Gospel of Matthew, specifically chapters 5 to 25, which begin with the Beatitudes and end with Jesus’ teaching right before his passion and death. Between these bookends is the central core of Jesus’ teaching, he said.
When asked which commandment of Jewish law is the greatest, Jesus responds. ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind and all your strength. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it — you shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ ” Father Burke explained.
“Thinking about this reminds me of a quote from Stephen Covey, the author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, who once wrote ‘The most important thing is to make the most important thing the most important thing.’
What makes Pope Francis such an interesting individual is that he knows what is the most important thing, Father Burke said.
“Not only does he talk the talk but he walks the walk,” Father Burke said.
He recalled Pope Francis’ first appearance on the papal balcony following his election March 13, 2013.
“He started by asking people to pray for him,” Father Burke said.
The pope also lives simply and embraces immigrants, handicapped persons and prisoners, Father Burke added.
“He reminds me of my own image of Jesus. Pope Francis reminds me that love and compassion for the poor are far more important than rules and regulations,” he said.
The Reverend Joe Phelps became an oblate through St. Meinrad Archabbey and Seminary in 2009 and chose the name Francis because of his love of St. Francis, a fact which was unknown to the organizers of the “Pope Francis 101” event. The Reverend Phelps said that as a person of faith he understands the need for rules and order.
“God gave us the 10 commandments and not the 10 suggestions. But, there is a way to do this,” he said. “Some Christians focus on the rules. Others believe love and order are polarities that have to be managed and held in balance.
“He (Pope Francis) appears to trust that ‘agape’ love is self-regulating and self-correcting. And in that regard I view him as being fearless. By which I mean not so much as being brave but rather refusing to operate from an emotional place of fear,” he said.
The Reverend Phelps said that because he is free from fear, Pope Francis is able to embrace his role, his responsibilities and his relationship with the world with a winsome spirit.
And the Reverend Phelps said the world takes notice when people actually follow Jesus.
“In a world where religion in whatever form gets connected with control, power, violence and bigotry, here is a man — Francis — that is the opposite,” he said.
Pope Francis is humble, he said. He seeks peace, is loving and inclusive to others. He is a person “who refuses even in a symbolic way to play the power game,” The Rev. Phelps noted.
“He has an ethos to make people listen. When he talks about the poor, when he talks about refugees, when he talks about violence, when he talks about what’s going on in Palestine, when he talks about inclusion, people listen,” he said.