By Ginny Schaeffer
A nun, a priest, an activist and a Baptist preacher walk into …
This may sound like the beginning of a joke but the room the four panelists walked into on July 26 was no bar, it was the Sacred Heart Academy cafeteria and it was filled to capacity. The program being offered, “Pope Francis 101,” was co-sponsored by the Social Concerns Committee of the Ursuline Sisters and Associates and the Angela Merici Center for Spirituality.
During her time to speak, Cory Lockhart of JustFaith Ministries began with a smile and a question, “What is he going to say or do next?” To emphasize this point she recalled Pope Francis’ call to the youth in Brazil, “What do I hope for from the World Youth Day? I hope … that the church takes to the streets, that we defend ourselves from comfort …” The 1991 Sacred Heart Academy alumna proclaimed, “There is much to love about this pope … He is doing everything he can to respond to Jesus’ call of ‘Follow me.’ ”
Speaking of her own experience in Israel and Palestine as a member of a Christian Peacemaker Team, Lockhart recalled the pope’s unscheduled stop at the 25-foot wall that Israel constructed around Bethlehem. She had prayed at the same wall as the pope, and she remembered his words: “Peace in society cannot be understood as pacification or the mere absence of violence resulting from the domination of one part of society over others.”
Ursuline Sister Jean Anne Zappa, former president of the Ursuline Sisters and currently the director of mission advancement for Shively Area Ministries, spoke from her experience of working with persons in poverty. And she focused on Pope Francis’ teachings related to economic justice that are rooted in the church’s social justice teachings and theological doctrines.
Sister Zappa reminded those gathered of the discrepancies between the haves and the have-nots. “In Kentucky alone the number of children in poverty has increased to 27 percent, an all-time high, when the stock market is also at an all-time high,” she noted.
Citing the Magnificat as the “first social doctrine and teaching of the New Testament,” Sister Zappa used the prayer to highlight some of the pope’s remarks from his apostolic letter, “Joy of the Gospel,” including, “The pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but the pope has the duty, in Christ’s name, to remind the rich to help the poor, to respect them, to promote them.”
She closed her remarks by reminding those present of Pope Francis’ call to action — “An authentic faith is eager to change the world and participates in constructing a better world with decisive consequences for economic life and for the common good that will be a priority for all time.”
Father John Burke, pastor of Good Shepherd Church, spoke about the “Francis effect” and how it began the moment Pope Francis stepped out on the Vatican balcony after his election and asked for the blessing of the people.
Quoting Stephen Covey, Father Burke proposed that the pope’s ability to “make the most important thing the most important thing” has been at the heart of his papacy and has been evidenced by his compassion for those living in poverty, those fleeing their homelands hoping for a better life and those suffering from war and organized crime.
The Rev. Joe Phelps, pastor of Highland Baptist Church, said that the pope reflects the faith to the world and that this pope is projecting joy, love and acceptance.
Rev. Phelps characterized Pope Francis as a “Christ-follower,” adding that he acts like Jesus in his outreach to those on the margins of society. He has “merged right talk with right follow-through … his love, compassion, joy, acceptance and fearlessness are the tone and spirit we need today.”
Ginny Schaeffer is the director of The Angela Merici Center for Spirituality, a ministry of the Ursuline Sisters of Louisville.