POPE FRANCIS

Overdue Thank-You’s, Part One: Radical Islamic Hospitality

A few of my friends are consummate thank-you note writers and senders, the latter being the most important part of the thank-you note process.

They always send a thank-you note.

For gifts, dinners, advice, favors, and other kindnesses. It’s not unheard of for one or two of them to send a follow-up thank-you note for especially wonderful thank-you notes they’ve received from someone else.

I, on the other hand, am terrible about sending thank-you notes.

I have beautiful stationary. Several sets. And I’m great about saying thank you and sending thank-you emails or posting thank-you posts on Facebook and occasionally via Twitter or Instagram. But I have a mental block about sending actual, physical thank-you notes.

While I am unsure of the definitive source of this strange block (strange for someone who is, generally speaking, deeply grateful and who says “Thank you” all the time to all sorts of people for all sorts of things, and stranger still for someone who, ya know, writes for a living), I believe it has something to do with my First Communion when I was in second grade. I received a load of beautiful gifts from family and friends and my mother — who still is a consummate thank-you note writer and sender — oversaw my writing of thank-you notes with all the zeal of a hangry drill sergeant.

I’ve had the thank-you note yips ever since.

I still feel badly about the thank-you notes I didn’t send for some of the gifts I received when I graduated from high school almost 30 years ago.

Shokran or “thank you” in Arabic.

This note (which is one of what will be a several-part series of overdue thank-you posts) is not that overdue, but it is much later than it should have been. If it were a wedding present that I’d not yet sent, I would have about six weeks left to mail that Le Creuset four-quart Dutch oven in Marseille blue from what remains of the happy couple’s registry and still make it under the one-year wire.

Happily, etiquette experts at the Emily Post Institute insist that, “It’s never wrong to send a written thank you, and people always appreciate getting ‘thanks’ in writing.” So here it goes.

But first, a little background:

Two years ago I traveled to Nepal for the first a few days after the first of two devastating earthquakes struck the Himalayan nation that had occupied my imagination since I was a teenager. The trip was planned long before the quake struck. When it did, I delayed my departure for a few days, pivoted my purpose from semi-pleasure with a side of social justice to freelance journalism with four duffle bags stuffed with water filters, medicine, and whatever else I could carry with me to help the survivors of the quake.

Suffice to say it was a life-changing trip and I fell hopelessly in love with Nepal and her people.

 Then about a year ago, my son’s high school spring break was approaching and we were trying to decide what to do when I had tea here in Laguna Beach with a friend I’d met in Kathmandu. She spends part of the year here and part of the year there where she runs a marvelous group home for orphaned and other vulnerable children. Come visit again, she said. Bring your son.

When I returned from tea I began Googling and quickly discovered that a couple of RT tickets on Etihad Airways from California to Kathmandu and a week’s accommodation in Nepal for spring break were more affordable than most of the other options we’d considered, including Cabo, Dublin, New Orleans, and New York City.

So off to Kathmandu we went, my 16-year-old son, Vasco, and me, for what I imagined might be the last mother-son trip for a while. Manhood approaches and such adventures hold less appeal, at least for one of us.

Even from the west coast, Nepal is far, far away. I’d flown Singapore Airlines on my last trip, but this time we rolled the dice and went with Etihad, one of two national airlines of the United Arab Emirates. We’d flown on thet other, Emirates Airways, to Malawi and back in 2010 when our entire family had to make the journey for Vasco’s adoption hearing. There were a few hiccups, but by and large, the service was good — even in coach. Reviews for Etihad were largely enthusiastic, so I booked our coach seats and hoped for the best.

I used to be a terrible flyer when I was in my twenties, worried that every tiny bump of turbulence was the beginning of the end of my life. Over the years, that fear has disappeared, but a few of my tics and habits from my terrified-to-fly era remain. Namely, every time I board a plane, I pause in the threshold for a moment, put my hand on the side of the plane, and thank God for a “safe, uneventful flight” and for the angels that go with us, protecting us on our journey.

While domestic air travel is something one survives or, at best, endures without incident, hope still springs eternal for international travel where small kindnesses and attention to detail make a huge difference on a 16-hour flight. I don’t recall much about our flight to Kathmandu—and that’s a good thing, i.e., no complaints, no horrible food, no surly flight attendants, no stranger with his seat reclined in my lap for half a day, etc.—except that we were comfortable enough to sleep a little and arrived in Nepal more refreshed than frazzled.

I did, however, remember one thing enough to make a note of it in my journal: before we took off, the airline played a video on all of its screens that included what sounded to me like a prayer in Arabic. I didn’t know what it said, but I found it—the sound of the words, the gentle music that accompanied it—soothing.

Etihad Airways’s dua (prayer) for travel

My son and I spent a wonderful, if too-short week in Kathmandu with friends of mine who quickly became friends of his, saw a lot of things I couldn’t see the year before in the wake of the earthquake, and made hopeful plans to return someday soon when we had time enough to make a trek along the Annapurna range farther west than we had time to visit. Spring Break Kathmandu was a wild success as a perspective-giving, spiritually-inspiring, bonding mum-son adventure. Mission accomplished.

On our last afternoon in Nepal, before heading to the airport we made a quick run into a neighborhood in Kathmandu where a lot of textiles are sold. I was looking for locally-sourced sheep’s wool to bring home for knitting projects. After a few false starts at dealers hidden behind elaborately carved wooden doors tucked into nooks along a warren of tiny dirt lanes, we found a dealer on the main drag, hopped out of the jeep (that carried at least six or seven members of our host’s family) and bought about 20 pounds of wool, much of it spun but un-dyed and carrying the pungent aroma of its former wearer with it.

Locally-sourced wool from Kathmandu.

In that last wool dealer’s shop, I felt something in my eye. I tiny piece of fiber or a speck of dust. I blinked and rubbed my eye, didn’t think much of it, until a few hours later when my eye really began to bother me. My friend Gautham kindly offered to take me to the doctor in his neighborhood, the same place he takes his own children. We had a night flight and I was concerned about being uncomfortable on the 17-hour ride home, so I said OK and off we went. We found the “doctor” at his stall a few blocks away. He looked at my eye, gave me some drops, and said to try to flush it out with water before we headed to the airport.

I followed the instructions, put in the drops, had our last dinner with Gautham’s family where they prayed for our safe journey home. Born in Bhuthan, Gautham became a Christian as a young adult and now is deeply involved in his local church in Kathmandu. Late last summer, his eldest son married the daughter of one of his pastors. Faith runs deep in the family’s bones, as it does among most Nepalese people, whether they’re Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Muslim or just simple but robust believers in the goodness of mankind.

A few hours later, by the time we were boarding the first of what were supposed to be three flights home to California (Kathmandu to Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi to New York, New York to Los Angeles) my eye was watering nonstop. Not long after our flight from Kathmandu to Lucknow, India (an unscheduled stop to refuel because Kathmandu was experiencing a fuel shortage at the time) took off, I was really uncomfortable. My eye was swollen and I realized the water I was wiping from my eye had turned into pus (think the Beatles’ line “lemon yellow custard dripping from a dead dog’s eye), and in truth, I was beginning to panic. I called for a flight attendant who responded with calm concern. She brought back the flight purser and they quickly determined I was having a serious medical incident.

They moved other passengers away from my son and me, a precaution just in case whatever was going on with me and my eye was contagious. The cabin crew were wonderfully attentive, bringing me cups of ice and damp cloths. About halfway through the short flight, I began asking to deplane when we got to Lucknow. I wanted to see a doctor, STAT. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed, and the purser, who had consulted with the pilot, strongly encouraged me to stay on the flight until it reached Abu Dhabi five hours later. There, the airline could ensure I received proper medical care. In India, they couldn’t guarantee it. They’d take care of me and my son, who was starting to come down with a nasty chest cold. They’d get us to the United Arab Emirates and a medical team would meet the plane when we arrived.

 We made it to Abu Dhabi, the medical team met the plane as promised, put me in a wheelchair and quickly wheeled me to the airport’s medical clinic a few terminals away, while Vasco followed carrying our carry-on luggage. Shortly thereafter, a kindly, efficient doctor examined me, took some swabs (to rule out conjunctivitis or anything else contagious/communicable that potentially preclude me from air travel for a while), gently lifted and turned my eyelid inside out to discover a scratch not on my eye but on the inside of the eyelid itself. It probably happened a few days before, got infected, and then the cabin pressure on the first flight brought it to a head (literally) and it burst.

GROSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!

But at least we knew what we were dealing with. The doctor flushed my eye several times over the course of an hour, administered prescription drops, and sent Vasco with a prescription to retrieve antibiotics from a pharmacy in another terminal. After a few hours, the doctor fitted me with a not-so-swashbuckling eye patch, and told me that I couldn’t fly for 36 hours and only then with the permission of a flight doctor.

Anatomy of a travel nightmare. Selfies by the author.

 Before I could begin to ask about logistics and accommodations and how we’d manage to eat etc., another Etihad employee appeared to collect us, said the airline had arranged rooms for us at the airport hotel (so we wouldn’t have to go through customs and that bother), and had our meals covered, and cheerfully began pushing me in the wheelchair back to the hotel near the Etihad terminal. The airline would check on us and reschedule our flights for us. Just rest, he said.

Back at the hotel in the early hours of the morning, we both crashed. Vasco’s cold was getting worse. He slept for 16 hours uninterrupted. Couldn’t even get him to arise for some food. I kept him hydrated and found whatever over-the-counter cold medicine I could, had several delicious meals at the hotel’s restaurant, and tried to rest while my eye began to heal.

A day later, I walked over to Etihad customer service and was told by a genial man that the airline was working on new flights for us, hopefully a direct flight to Los Angeles so we’d not have to change planes. That was thoughtful. The idea of traveling in coach for 17 hours in the shape we were both in was not appealing, but we needed to get home. I tried to find not-middle-seats online for various flights, but it looked grim.

Heading into the 30th hour of our unexpected layover in Abu Dhabi, we just needed to get home. I walked back down to the Etihad desk in the departures terminal and was told we had a flight early the next morning. They’d assign our seats when we checked in. Fine. We bathed, climbed back into the same clothes we’d been wearing since Kathmandu, grabbed our carry-on bags and headed for the check-in desk. There the gentleman manning the phone asked us to wait for a moment, he had to make a call. My hopes began to flag. What now? More delays? Middle seats? Another visit to the doctor? The kind folks at the Abu Dhabi airport were taking good care of us, wayward strangers in their midst, but we just wanted to be home already.

A moment later, the manager appeared. He looked at the bill-of-health the airport doctor had signed, made a quick phone call, then looked up at us with a smile. You’re all set. Your bags are on the plane and we’ve put you in Business Class to make your flight home more comfortable. Also he was going to walk us through immigration pre-registration so that when we got to LAX, all we had to do was get off the plane and head to baggage. No customs and immigration. That was taken care of in Abu Dhabi.

Please, Mrs. Possley, follow me. Right this way. Your’e all set. And have a safe flight home. 

Thank you, I said. Shokran.

It’s been our pleasure and privilege, he said.

I began to cry. To weep, really. I was so relieved and moreover, so grateful for the kindness of strangers. For the gracious care with which Etihad had looked after my son and me, half a world away from our homes, sick and tired and a little bit scared.

Etihad perfectly exemplified the spiritual practice of hospitality, something that is at the heart of Islam, as it is an essential teaching of its cousin religions, Christianity and Judaism. The Quran says, “Let the believer in Allah and Day of Judgment honor his neighbor. Let the believer in Allah and the Day of Judgment honor his guest.” 

It also tells the story of Abraham who, when strangers approached his home, welcomed them with greetings of peace, (even though he thought, “They seem unusual people”) and then turned to his household staff and quickly had them roast a fattened calf for the unexpected guests. The idea, as I understand it, beyond just being welcoming is to anticipate the needs of your guests (expected or not) before they even know what they are or have time to ask. It’s a radical hospitality that goes beyond the call of duty, with joy, treating the guest as a child of God.

“The goal of hospitality as an act and as an attitude to life is far more radical; it demands a transformation of the self toward goodness and grace, toward how God wants us to be with one another,”Mona Siddiqui writes in her 2015 book Hospitality and Islam: Welcoming in God’s Name. “At the very base of hospitality is compassion, a compassion that shakes our complacency and leads us to think about more generous ways of being with one another. Compassion creates empathy, solidarity, and has the power to reduce personal and social conflicts. And often it is this compassion toward others which first sows the seeds of surprising friendships—the most challenging but rewarding experiences of our lives.”

Reclaiming the trip: Etihad FTW. Settling in for a 15-hour-plus flight home to LAX. Photo by author

When we boarded the flight each of the flight crew members greeted us by our names and with what sure felt like war, genuine smiles. We crawled into our spacious sleeper pods, and Vasco was asleep before we took off. A flight attendant came over to check on us, asked if I needed anything, offered me a glass of juice and a flute of champagne, while I took off the socks I’d been wearing since Kathmandu and put on the soft ones included in the airline’s gift bag.

I leaned back, took out my knitting, put on my headphones, and took a sip of champagne, grateful. So grateful.

Before we took off, the same video I’d noticed when we departed California a week earlier began to play. It’s a verse from the Quran, a prayer that the Prophet Muhammad taught his followers to pray when embarking on journeys.

Taken from the Quran (Surat Az-Zukhruf 13-14), it says:

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
In the name of Allah, the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful.

سبحان الذي سخر لنا هذا وما كنا له مقرنين
Glory to Him who has subjected this to us, and we could never have it (by our efforts).

وإنا إلى ربنا لمنقلبون
And verily, to Our Lord we indeed are to return!

صدق الله العظيم
Allah The Mighty has spoken the truth.

Once again, tears came to my eyes. I was overcome with gratitude.

For the gift of travel, very real traveling mercies, and most of all for experiencing radical Muslim hospitality in all its great compassion.

Thank you, Etihad. Thank you to all the brothers and sisters who care for us.

Azak Allahu khair. As salamu aleiykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh. 

 

Special thanks to Sheikh Jamaal Diwan of the Institute of Knowledge and Yousif Alanazi for their kind help in translating the dua for travel from Arabic to English

 

God Girl on the Radio, Again: KX93.5 with Billy Fried

Had a ball last night in a far-ranging conversation with radio host Billy Fried talking about pretty much my whole life story, and my most recent visit to Nepal. It’s a long one (81 minutes long, to be precise).

Have a listen HERE.

GodGrrl on the Radio: Pope Francis, “The Joy of Love,” and WGN-Radio Chicago

I had SUCH fun talking to Wendy Snyder and Bill Leff on Chicago’s WGN radio yesterday about Pope Francis and Amoris Laetitia. Have a listen below.

Religion journalist Cathleen Falsani: People love ‘Papa Frank’!

Papa Frank’s “apostolic exhortation” Amoris Laetitia is at times beautiful and challenging and worth a read (all 250+ pages of it). For those of you less inclined, here are a few of my favorite bits from the his “Joy of Love”:

++ “By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God.”

++”We also find it hard to make room for the consciences of the faithful, who very often respond as best they can to the Gospel amid their limitations, and are capable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations…We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them.”

++”At times we have also proposed a far too abstract and almost artificial theological ideal of marriage, far removed from the concrete situations and practical possibilities of real families.
This excessive idealization, especially when we have failed to inspire trust in God’s grace, has not helped to make marriage more desirable and attractive, but quite the opposite.”

++”We have often been on the defensive, wasting pastoral energy on denouncing a decadent world without being proactive in proposing ways of finding true happiness.”

++”Conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel…It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal.”

++”A pastor cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws to those living in ‘irregular’ situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives.This would bespeak the closed heart of one used to hiding behind the Church’s teachings, ‘sitting on the chair of Moses and judging at times with superiority and superficiality difficult cases and wounded families.”

++At times we find it hard to make room for God’s unconditional love in our pastoral activity…We put so many conditions on mercy that we empty it of its concrete meaning and real significance…That is the worst way of watering down the Gospel. It is true, for example, that mercy does not exclude justice and truth, but first and foremost we have to say that mercy is the fullness of justice and the most radiant manifestation of God’s truth.”

++”Keep an open mind.. Don’t get bogged down in your own limited ideas and opinions, but be prepared to change or expand them. The combination of two different ways of thinking can lead to a synthesis that enriches both.”

And in perhaps my favorite passage, which reminds me of a few people I’m blessed to know, particularly this guy:

++ “The most intense joys in life arise when we are able to elicit joy in others, as a foretaste of heaven. We can think of the lovely scene in the film Babette’s Feast, when the generous cook receives a grateful hug and praise: “Ah, how you will delight the angels!” It is a joy and a great consolation to bring delight to others, to see them enjoying themselves. This joy, the fruit of fraternal love, is not that of the vain and self-centered, but of lovers who delight in the good of those whom they love, who give
freely to them and thus bear good fruit.”

Chasing Francis: God Girl on the U.S. Papal Visit 2015

I spent the week of Pope Francis’ first apostolic visit (and first visit ever) to the United States following him around Washington, D.C., New York City, and Philadelphia for Sojourners. Best people watching week of all time.

Below are links to all of those stories, from newest to oldest. I also shot a lot of photos, which you can find interspersed above below as well.

 

Why We (Still) Love Pope Francis
Oct. 7, 2015, Sojourners

So, why do we love Pope Francis? What does it mean and why does it matter?

Last year in Rome, while reflecting on Francis’ nearly universal popularity inside and out of the church, one member of the Curia in Rome put it this way:

  • People came to St. Peter’s Square to see Pope John Paul II.
  • People came to St. Peter’s Square to hear Pope Benedict XVI.
  • People come to St. Peter’s Square to feel Pope Francis.

Why do people want to “feel” Francis?

Because he has thrown open his arms wide to all of us, without caveat or exception, and extended the unflinching, unfailing love of God. And because he has broken down the walls, real and imagined, that separate the hierarchy of power and privilege from the rest of the world.

Whether it’s choosing to ride in the backseat of an economy car instead of an armored limousine, wearing black work shoes (his only pair) rather than the finest red leather slippers, or referring to himself most often as our “brother” and equal than as a father speaking to his children, he comports himself as a humble pilgrim who asks us to pray for him.

Francis is selfless in the age of the selfie, and yet he appears to take great delight in obliging requests, particularly from young people, to take a selfie with him as he did outside Our Lady Queen of Angels School in Harlem last month.

When he stopped the papal Fiat on the tarmac in Philadelphia to greet a 10-year-old boy in a wheelchair, the pontiff didn’t just give the lad a quick pat on the head. He practically dove into the boy’s space, enveloping him in an embrace, cradling his face with both hands, and kissing him on the cheek. It wasn’t just an “I see you” gesture. It was “I love you and I am with you” in 20-foot-high letters.

That, my friends, is how you preach the Gospel.
READ MORE HERE

 

Breaking In: Pope Francis in a Philly Prison

Sept. 28, 2015, Sojourners

Last week in his historic address to Congress, while expounding on society’s “responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development,” the pope expressed his concern for prison reform and clear support for the global abolition of the death penalty.

“This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty,” Francis said.

“I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes.”

Pope Francis’ focus in both word and action on prisons and prisoners during his U.S. papal visit was a thematic lynchpin in his ongoing pastoral outreach to the marginalized, disenfranchised, and even demonized of society.

Inmates at the Philadelphia prison include some of the most violent offenders, including murderers and rapists. But Francis insisted that God’s grace covers all manner of sins for all of us.

“All of us have something we need to be cleansed of, or purified from. All of us,” the pope said, repeating the word todos (“all of us”) in Spanish as he pointed to himself.

READ MORE HERE

 

Bless Me Father For I Have Sinned
Sept. 25, 2015, Sojourners

Celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation (aka "confession") in an empty bar at New York City's Madison Square Garden before the papal mass, 9/25/15. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.
Celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation (aka “confession”) in an empty bar at New York City’s Madison Square Garden before the papal mass, 9/25/15. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.

“Brace yourself, Father,” I said, taking a seat in a plastic chair facing my would-be confessor in Madison Square Garden’s dimly lit Madison Bar on Friday, a few hours before the start of the papal mass.

The bearded Franciscan priest in his dove gray vestments laughed and said, “No way. It’s all fine. Think of it as a big embrace of forgiveness from your heavenly father.”

OK. I tried to warn you.

“Let me see if I remember how this goes,” I began. “Bless me father for I have sinned; it’s been 35 years since my last confession.”

He tried not to look startled and almost pulled it off.

“Well, I’m glad you’re here,” he said, smiling kindly as he reached beneath his cassock to pull out a small paperback tract that, he explained, contained a list of questions that he could ask me that might make recounting all of my trespasses since the third grade a little less daunting.

READ MORE HERE

pope-blesses-baby-msg

In U.S., Pope’s Actions, As Usual, Tell a Richer Story
Sept. 24, 2015, Sojourners

Wednesday marked the first time we’ve heard this pope speak at length in English. It is at least his third language — his first two being Spanish and the Italian he spoke at home with his parents, who emigrated from Italy to to Argentina before he was born.

Language is a powerful medium and in his native tongue(s), Pope Francis is wonderfully articulate — poetic, even. As we listened to him speak at the White House, those of us who have followed him closely immediately noticed the uncharacteristic uneasiness with which he spoke. I couldn’t help but imagine how frustrating it must be for a man who so obviously loves language not to be able to express himself with his usual playfulness and nuance.

Some commentators have said they thought the pope looked uncomfortable, even angry as he listened to Obama’s address Wednesday on the south lawn of the White House. He sat nearly motionless with a rather dour expression. But I don’t think he was annoyed or uneasy. I think he was concentrating on understanding what the president was saying. It’s his “resting pope face,” if you will.

Reportedly, Pope Francis has spent many months boning up on his English in advance of his first visit to the United States. Learning a new language is never easy, and English can be especially challenging. Can you imagine tackling English’s implausible spelling and grammar in your late 70s?

You might pull a face, too.

READ MORE HERE

First Impressions: Pope Francis Arrives in the United States
Sept. 22, 2015, Sojourners

As Pope Francis’ motorcade made its way from the Joint Base Andrews in Maryland to the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C., late Tuesday afternoon, it made a hard left from scenic Rock Creek Parkway onto Massachusetts Avenue, wending its way northwestward at a fast clip along the manicured thoroughfare known as Embassy Row.

Riding in the passenger-side back seat of his tiny, black Fiat 500L, the 78-year-old pontiff leaned his body toward the open window, stuck his arm out, turned his smiling face toward the street, and waived at the modest clutches of pedestrians law enforcement had allowed to stand along the sidewalk to greet him as he whizzed by.

Along the way, Francis passed dozens of embassies representing nations from six of the world’s seven continents, a group of school kids with signs that read “Te Queremos Papa!,” and one lemonade stand where three boys from the neighborhood were selling cold drinks for $1.50 a cup.

(No, the pope didn’t stop the motorcade to buy a drink and a cookie. But he might have — he’s been known to make such unscheduled stops to visit with regular folks, the kind in whose company he seems far more comfortable than he does hobnobbing with heads of state or captains of industry. )

The pope rode past the South African embassy with its statue of Nelson Mandela, right arm raised in a fist of solidarity, out front — and then, almost directly across the street, the hulking statue of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill raising two fingers in a peace sign (or to hail a cab) at the southernmost end of the British Embassy’s sprawling grounds.

The Mandela and Churchill statues almost high-five each other across Massachusetts Avenue while the pope’s humble hatchback, surrounded by massive Secret Service SUVs and swarms of police motorcycles, passed beneath their outstretched arms.

I wonder if Francis noticed the statues, and thought of the men — so different from one another, but each remembered as a hero — and wondered what his own place in history might be.

READ MORE HERE

@PONTIFEXCELLENT: Papa Was a Rollin' Stone…

<> on May 18, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican.For the first time in its 46-year-plus history, Rolling Stone Magazine has chosen to put a pope on its cover. (This also means Papa has scored the Holy Trifecta of Magazine Covers: Time, The New Yorker, and now this.)

Papa Frank is the cover-pontiff (and lead story) in Rolling Stone’s February 2014 edition. The story, written by contributor Mark Binelli (who has most recently also written about the Nuns-on-the-Bus controversy, the “hijacking” of Kansas politics by conservatives, and Johnny Depp the “last buccaneer”) is lengthy and as riveting as any of the magazine’s best narrative pieces.

In his story titled, “Pope Francis: The Times They Are A-Changin‘” (with the subtitle, “Inside the Pope’s Gentle Revolution”), Binelli writes in part:

After the disastrous papacy of Benedict, a staunch traditionalist who looked like he should be wearing a striped shirt with knife-fingered gloves and menacing teenagers in their nightmares, Francis’ basic mastery of skills like smiling in public seemed a small miracle to the average Catholic. But he had far more radical changes in mind. pope-francis-news-for-the-first-time-in-history-a-pontiff-has-graced-the-cover-of-rolling-stone-magazineBy eschewing the papal palace for a modest two-room apartment, by publicly scolding church leaders for being “obsessed” with divisive social issues like gay marriage, birth control and abortion (“Who am I to judge?” Francis famously replied when asked his views on homosexual priests) and – perhaps most astonishingly of all – by devoting much of his first major written teaching to a scathing critique of unchecked free-market capitalism, the pope revealed his own obsessions to be more in line with the boss’ son….

Down in the rainy square, the crowd cheers for its new friend, Cool Pope Francis, until he retreats back into the mysteries of the walled city he now rules. I’m reminded of another moment from the press conference on the plane, when a reporter attempted to pin Francis down on gay marriage and abortion. And what is His Holiness’ own position on these matters? The pope’s artful dodge struck me as brilliantly Clintonian. “That of the Church,” Francis said simply. “I’m a son of the Church.”

He didn’t add, because he didn’t have to, that he’s the father now, too.

@PONTIFEXCELLENT: "Nuns Are Grrreat!

<> on May 18, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican.After Mass in St. Peter’s on Feb. 2, Papa Frank spoke to the world about those leading the “consecrated life,” i.e., clergy and men/women religious. (Sunday was the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, which the Catholic church marks as “World Day for Consecrated Life.”

According to Catholic News Service, Papa Frank said:

“There is such a great need for their presence, which reinforces and renews the commitment to spreading the Gospel, Christian education, charity for the neediest, contemplative prayer, the human and spiritual formation of the young and families, and the commitment to justice and peace in the human family,” the pope said.

Straying from his prepared text, Pope Francis told people gathered in the square: “Think what would happen if there weren’t any sisters, if there weren’t any sisters in the hospitals, no sisters in the missions, no sisters in the schools. Think what the church would be like without sisters — no, that’s unthinkable.”

Consecrated life is a gift that moves the church forward, he said. “These women who consecrate their lives to carrying forward the message of Jesus — they’re great!”

I couldn’t agree more, Papa.

Below are a few shots of some of the thousands of sisters who gathered to celebrate Papa Frank’s inauguration mass not quite a year ago. I LOVE nuns. 

@PONTIFEXCELLENT: La Leche Edition

<> on May 18, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican.During a special ceremony in the Sistine Chapel on Sunday where he baptized 32 infants, Papa Frank told the mothers present to go ahead and nurse their babies if the children were hungry.

Right there. In the chapel. Under the Michaelangelos. In front of God and everybody.

“Some will cry because they are uncomfortable or because they are hungry,” the pope said. “If they are hungry, mothers, let them eat, no worries, because here, they are the main focus.”

How awesome is that?

Many mothers are reticent to breastfeed their children in public, particularly in “sacred spaces,” such as houses of worship. Obviously if the pope himself doesn’t have a problem with it, neither should anyone else.

This isn’t the first time Papa Frank has given his blessing to breastfeeding. Last month in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Stampa the pope recalled a young mother who was holding her crying baby behind a screen at one of his general audiences at the Vatican.

“I said to her: ‘Madam, I think the child’s hungry. … Please give it something to eat!’ ” the Pope said. “She was shy and didn’t want to breastfeed in public, while the Pope was passing…I wish to say the same to humanity: Give people something to eat! That woman had milk to give to her child; we have enough food in the world to feed everyone.”

Word.

@PONTIFEXCELLENT: A Hitchhiker's Guide

<> on May 18, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican.During his audience in St. Peter’s Square Wednesday, Papa Frank spotted a familiar face among the throngs in the square: the Rev. Fabian Baez, a priest from the pontiff’s native Archdiocese of Buenos Aires with one of the world’s most awesome names. (Fabian Baez? Come on. His parents must have been 60s music fans. It’s almost as great as, say, Mick Joplin or Elton Faithfull.)

Seeing his friend from Argentina, Papa Frank didn’t simply wave or blow a kiss. Instead, he broke with Vatican protocol with characteristic panache by stopping the Popemobile and motioning for Baez to join him in the car as he road through the square.

It makes me want to send Papa Frank a bumper sticker for the popemobile: Will Stop for Homies. (Se Detendrá para Los Homies.)

@PONTIFEXCELLENT: 'Nolle timere'

<> on May 18, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican.To my memory, I have never been brought to tears listening to a Pope’s Christmas Eve homily. Until tonight.

Weeping as I type this, wrapping a few last gifts, listening to the replay of the Midnight Mass from St. Peter’s Basilica, I am so grateful for this man. “Sometimes there’s a man … he’s the man for his place and time.”

I am so grateful for this man, for our beloved Papa Frank.

Here’s the part of his homily that turned on the waterworks. It’s just so poetic, beautiful, clear, and true:

 

Papa Frank said:

The grace which was revealed in our world is Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, true man and true God. He has entered our history; he has shared our journey. He came to free us from darkness and to grant us light. In him was revealed the grace, the mercy, and the tender love of the Father: Jesus is Love incarnate. He is not simply a teacher of wisdom, he is not an ideal for which we strive while knowing  we are hopelessly distant from it. He is the meaning of life and history, who has pitched his tent in our midst.

The shepherds were the first to see this “tent,” to receive the news of Jesus’ birth. They were the first because they were among the last, the outcast. And they were the first because they were awake, keeping watch in the night, guarding their flocks. Pilgrims keep watch at night and that’s what they did. Together with them, let us pause before the Child, let us pause in silence.

Together with them, let us thank the Lord for having given Jesus to us, and with them let us raise from the depths of our hearts the praise of his fidelity: We bless you, Lord God most high, who lowered yourself for our sake. You are immense, and you made yourself small; you are rich and you made yourself poor; you are all-powerful and you made yourself vulnerable.

On this night let us share the joy of the Gospel: God loves us. He so loves us that he gave us his Son to be our brother, to be light in our darkness. To us the Lord repeats: “Do not be afraid!” (Lk 2:10). That’s what the angels said to the shepherds and I, too, repeat: Do not be afraid! Our Father Jesus is patient, he loves us, he gives us Jesus to guide us on the way which leads to the promised land. Our father forgives always. He is mercy. Jesus is the light who brightens the darkness. He is our peace. Amen.

You can watch the replay of the Midnight Mass here:

And read the prepared text of the pope’s homily (spoken it was slightly different) HERE.

Merry Christmas everyone. May you see the light in the darkness, know God is with us, and be not afraid.

@PONTIFEXCELLENT: Sneaky goodness

<> on May 18, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican.Papa Frank is a cheeky monkey. Apparently, he’s been sneaking out of the Vatican at night, dressed in civvies, to hang out with homeless folks.

According to the Huffington Post:

A recent interview with Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the “Almoner of His Holiness,” raised speculation that the Pope joins him on his nightly trips into Rome to give alms to the poor, and it turns out that the rumors are probably true.

A knowledgeable source in Rome told The Huffington Post that “Swiss guards confirmed that the pope has ventured out at night, dressed as a regular priest, to meet with homeless men and women.”

Krajewski earlier said, “When I say to him ‘I’m going out into the city this evening’, there’s the constant risk that he will come with me,” and he merely smiled and ducked the question when reporters asked him point-blank whether the Pope accompanied him into the city.

When he was still Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio, Papa Frank used to do the same thing, sneaking out at night “to break bread with the homeless, sitting with them on the street and eating with them to show that they were loved,” HuffPo says. So the next time you find yourself riding the bus at night in the Eternal City and the priest across the aisle looks really familiar, it may be Pontifex Rex himself (or an angel in disguise.)

Just a stranger on a bus …

Argentina's Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, second from left, travels on the subway in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Via HuffingtonPost
Argentina’s Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, second from left, travels on the subway in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Via HuffingtonPost

 

@PONTIFEXCELLENT: Papa Nags

<> on May 18, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican.So it’s almost Advent and winter’s chill has arrived in the Eternal City.

Papa Frank is a good shepherd and he’s concerned for the welfare of his flock — particularly those who aren’t dressed appropriately for the weather.

The folks at Catholic News Service’s Rome bureau posted this awesome Vine of Papa Frank talking to someone in the audience in St. Peter’s Square where you can see him saying something to the effect of, “It’s cold outside and you’re wearing short sleeves?!

Ah, Il Papa. He’s a hugger and he worries. He’s like a Bubbe (or a Zayde, actually). Reason #890,398,471 why we (heart) him so much.

@PONTIFEXCELLENT: Oh, snap! Edition

<> on May 18, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican.Yes, he is loving, kind, warm, gregarious, charming, tender. But Papa Frank is also a bad ass and he’s not afraid to tell it like it is.

Take his homily this morning at Santa Martae, where, according to a report from Francis X. Rocca, Catholic News Service, Il Papa said:

“We should all call ourselves sinners, yes, all of us,” he said, but “not corrupt people. The corrupt man is stuck in a state of self-importance, he doesn’t know what humility is,” Pope Francis said, according to a report by Vatican Radio. “Jesus spoke to these corrupt men of the ‘beauty of being whitewashed tombs’ (St. Matthew 23: 27), which appear beautiful on the outside but inside are full of dead bones and putrefaction,” the pope said.

“We all know someone in this situation, and how much harm they do to the church,” he said. “Corrupt Christians, corrupt priests. How much harm they do to the church, because they don’t live in the spirit of the Gospel, but in the spirit of worldliness.”

Papa Frank expounded on the Gospel reading for today from St. Luke 17,  in which Jesus says of those who would lead or cause others to sin:  “it would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea.”

What is the difference between sin and scandal?

“The difference is that one who sins and repents, asks forgiveness, recognizes his weakness, feels like a child of God, humbles himself and asks Jesus for salvation,” Papa Frank said.

“But what is scandalous about the other?” the pope asked. “That he doesn’t repent. He continues to sin but pretends to be Christian, (he leads) a double life.”

Don't even start with me. You know who you are.
Don’t even start with me. You know who you are.
( Photo: REUTERS)

@PONTIFEXCELLENT: The Graft Stops Here

<> on May 18, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican.Yes he’s a sweetheart, but Papa Frank is also tough as nails.

In his homily at early morning mass in Domus Sanctae Marthae (the hostel where he lives), the pope talked about bribery — a practice that has become, in some quarters of his new country and Vatican City itself — all too common.

According to the National Catholic Reporter, Il Papa said, in part:

“Devotees of the goddess of kickbacks” bring home “dirty bread” for their children to eat….”Their children, perhaps educated in expensive colleges, perhaps raised in well-educated circles, have received filth as a meal from their father,” rendering them “starved of dignity,” he said in his homily, according to Vatican Radio.

“Perhaps it starts out with a small envelope (of cash), but it’s like a drug,” he said, and “the bribery habit becomes an addiction.”

@PONTIFEXCELLENT: Noses & Kisses

<> on May 18, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican.At the end of Wednesday’s general audience in St. Peter’s Square, Papa Frank embraced a man. He took the man’s disfigured face in his hands, cradled it in his chest, kissed him, and blessed him.

I’d imagine the man is not used to being embraced like that — not by strangers, maybe not even by family and friends.

But the Pope is a lover and, as I’ve mentioned before, a hugger.

A photo of the embrace went viral (as it should have):

Pope Francis' General Audience

 

According to CNN:

The man the Pope comforted suffers from neurofibromatosis, according to the Catholic News Agency. The genetic disorder causes pain and thousands of tumors throughout the body. It leads to hearing and vision loss, heart and blood vessel complications, and severe disability from nerve compression by tumors.

Earlier today, Papa Frank tweeted the following: 11h

Saints are people who belong fully to God. They are not afraid of being mocked, misunderstood or marginalized.

I can’t help but wonder whether Papa Frank was thinking of that man when he tweeted that.

Also Wednesday at the general audience, @Pontifex congratulated a newlywed couple who are members of L’Associazione Arcobaleno Marco Iagulli-Onlus (an organization that uses clowns and humor to cheer sick children). They’re known by their red plastic noses — the international symbol for healing humor (think Patch Adams). They couple were wearing their wedding garb and their noses.

So Papa Frank put a nose on, too. (Have I said today how much I love this guy?)

Photo by Alamy Live News via the Daily Mail
Photo by Alamy Live News via the Daily Mail

@PONTIFEXCELLENT: Baby Noemi

<> on May 18, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican.In the General Audience at St. Peter’s today, Papa Frank asked the 50,000 or so folks standing in the square for a solid:

Pray for a baby named Noemi.

Apparently the child, who he had met before the public audience and may even have been among those in the crowd, is gravely ill.

Papa Frank said, in part (translated from the Italian but watch the video below where you can see how expressive and funny and warm he is):

“And now, I will ask all of you for an act of charity. Don’t worry, it’s not about money,” he said, drawing laughter from the crowd. “Even though we might not know her, she is Baptized. She is one of us, she’s a Christian. Let’s express an act of love for her. First, in silence, let’s ask the Lord to help her at this very moment. May He give her health. Let’s take a moment of silence, then let’s pray a Hail Mary.”

@PONTIFEXCELLENT: LGBTQ

<> on May 18, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican.Papa Frank cares about all of his flock — and just what part of all don’t you understand?

To wit, in a worldwide survey launched by the Vatican today, questions about how to care for (pastorally) LGBTQ folks and their families were among those posed in a lengthy questionnaire sent round the globe.

According to a report from Agence France Presse:

The Vatican on Tuesday launched an unprecedented worldwide consultation on the new realities of family life including gay marriage as part of Pope Francis’s efforts to reform the Catholic Church.

A questionnaire has been sent to bishops around the world asking them for detailed information about the “many new situations requiring the Church’s attention and pastoral care”.

“Concerns which were unheard of until a few years ago have arisen today as a result of different situations, from the widespread practice of cohabitation… to same-sex unions,” it said.

The 39 questions are unusual because of their non-judgemental, practical nature in what could be a signal of greater openness and increased pastoral care regardless of a believer’s background.

Referring to gay couples, one questions asks: “What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live in these types of union?”

“In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?”

I’m so grateful Papa Frank is being, well, frank about issues related to LGBTQ and families in general (which are complex, no matter how they are created.) It’s much better than sticking his fingers in his ears and shouting “LALALALALALALA” with the hope that it might go away if he wills it to be so.

I like him. A lot.

Cartoon of Papa Frank tending to his flock by cartoonist Tony Jones: http://www.cagle.com/2013/09/pope-francis-tends-flock/
Cartoon of Papa Frank tending to his flock by cartoonist Tony Jones: http://www.cagle.com/2013/09/pope-francis-tends-flock/

Which Catholic Women Would You Want to See Elevated to the College of Cardinals?

Lady in Red -  Taras Loboda 1961 - Ukrainian Portrait painter - Tutt'Art@ (40)Ladies in Red, anyone?

Seeing as how it is, apparently, “theoretically possible,” for Papa Frank to make a woman a cardinal, we wonder who’d be on your list if you had to give him a few names. Remember, they needn’t be women religious (i.e. nuns). Think outside the box. (What’s a box anyway?)

Please use the reply/comment box below and tell us who and, if you feel like it, why.

The vestments are already rather unisexual. But they would need to do something about the hats.

The birettas are easy enough (just add a slightly larger tassle or a touch of netting), and honestly, you needn’t do a thing to the galeros.

But if there were a female cardinal (or two or three) perhaps a wee re-imagining of the zucchettos. Perhaps something like ….

2_12f88wf165rd_ophelie_hats_felt_bibi_fascinator_with_felt_flowers_red_2_

or maybe …

Ruby_1__37080.1381143032.1280.1280

 

 

What?

Too much?

@PONTIFEXCELLENT: On Art

<> on May 18, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican.

The time Papa Frank quoted Dostoyevsky…

Last night in Rome, the Moscow Synodal Choir gave a concert in the Papal Basilica of St. Mary Major (the pontiff’s favorite – it’s the first he visited the morning after he was elected back in March). In Papa Frank’s message to the choir, read by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, the Vatican’s prefect for the Congregation for Eastern Churches, he said, in part:

“‘Beauty will save the world’.” A quote from Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

The Pope continued: “Music, painting, sculpture, architecture is simply the beauty that unites us to grow in the faith which is celebrated, in prophetic hope and in witnessed charity”, he said. ““Looking back over the history of Christianity which spans thousands of years, we may observe that in spite of the separate historical events and different ways of understanding revelation, a deep unity has been maintained in art…art in all its forms, does not exist only for simple aesthetic enjoyment but because, through art the Church in every moment of history and in every culture, explains and interprets revelation for the good of the People of God. Art in the Church fundamentally exists for evangelization”.

“Today the Church can and must breathe with both lungs, the eastern lung and the western lung. Where we still do not completely do this, according to the measure of unity asked for by Jesus in the prayer to the Father, we can do this in many other ways.”

Like … say … art.

St. Francis of Assisi (left) and Fyodor Dostoyevsky (right)
St. Francis of Assisi (left) and Fyodor Dostoyevsky (right)

 

 

Magical Thinking: Could Papa Frank Name a Woman Cardinal?

Painting by Taras Loboda via http://www.tuttartpitturasculturapoesiamusica.com/2012/09/Lady-in-Red.html
Painting by Taras Loboda via http://www.tuttartpitturasculturapoesiamusica.com/2012/09/Lady-in-Red.html

Now wouldn’t THAT be something?

I don’t know enough yet to speculate (though I’m chuffed the woman mentioned most often is the Irish theologian Linda Hogan).

Below is an smattering compendium of further speculation by my media colleagues (pay special attention to my friend David Gibson – I trust him more than most…)

  1. Could Pope Francis make women cardinals? A pipe dream, and an
    www.religionnews.com/…/pope-francis-make-women-cardinals-pipe-dre…‎ Oct 17, 2013
    On his list: Linda Hogan, a professor of ecumenics at Trinity College …. in the episcopate, an all-female college of cardinals is a must-have.
  2. Could this married feminist be the Catholic Church’s first woman cardinal? Rumours rife that reforming Pope Francis is
    Daily Mail ‎- 7 hours ago
    Linda Hogan is being tipped as a contender to become the Vatican’s first female cardinal. A woman has never held the title, and while current ...
  3. First catholic female cardinal may be an Irish woman
    Irish Examiner‎ – 8 hours ago
  4. Could Linda Hogan be the Catholic Church’s first woman cardinal

    www.dailymail.co.uk/…/Could-Linda-Hogan-Catholic-Churchs-woman-c‎3 hours ago
    Linda Hogan is being tipped as a contender to become the Vatican’s first female cardinal. A woman has never held the title, and while current 
  5. Lady in red: Linda tipped to be cardinal | The Sunday Times

    www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/uk_news/…/article1335691.ece‎ 21 hours ago
    Linda Hogan, a professor at Trinity College, Dublin, could be a There has never been a female cardinal, but since Pope Francis took charge 
  6. Will Pope Francis appoint a female cardinal? Not as crazy as it

    www.irishcentral.com › News‎ 5 days ago
    Linda Hogan, an accomplished professor of ecumenics at Trinity College Dublin (TCD), listed as a possible choice for a female cardinal by top 
  7. Clerical Whispers: Lady in red: Linda Hogan tipped to be cardinal

    clericalwhispers.blogspot.com/…/lady-in-red-linda-hogan-tipped-to-be.ht…‎5 hours ago
    Lady in red: Linda Hogan tipped to be cardinal There has never been a female cardinal, but since Pope Francis took charge in Rome eight 
  8. Irish Sunday Times tips a Trinity College professor of gender as first

    protectthepope.com/?p=8999‎ 5 hours ago
    Prof Linda Hogan is a signatory of the so called ‘Catholic Scholars tipped internationally to be the Catholic church’s first female cardinal.
  9. Newstalk – Irish woman may be first female cardinal

    www.newstalk.ie/Irish-woman-may-be-first-femalecardinal‎ 8 hours ago
    International speculation grows that Linda Hogan may be appointed. The Catholic Church’s first female cardinal may be Irish. There is 
  10. Trinity Professor Tipped as First Female Cardinal: There has been

    universitytimes.ie/?p=21473&utm…rss…femalecardinal‎ 10 hours ago
    Trinity Professor Tipped as First Female Cardinal There has been international speculation that Vice-Provost of Trinity, Linda Hogan, could be 
  11. Libreprensa – Sacred College of Cardinals

    libreprensa.com/k/Sacred%20College%20of%20Cardinals/1014859‎ 54 mins ago
    Linda Hogan is being tipped as a contender to become the Vatican’s first female cardinal. A woman has never held the title, and while current 
  12. Will Pope Francis Appoint A Woman Cardinal? – DavidMixner.com

    www.davidmixner.com/pope-francis/

    College, started a post on his Facebook page recently by reportedly soliciting nominees for the first female cardinal.