One Year Later: Time to RSVP to Pope Francis' Invitation
At this time one year ago, people from all sectors of our pluralistic community came together to joyously welcome Pope Francis to our nation’s capital. Yet, looking now at the landscape here and across the country, what we see is all manner of division and discord culturally, politically and socio-economically. Perhaps then on this anniversary of the Pope’s visit, we ought to use this opportunity to hear again his important message – and take it to heart.
One of the papal titles is “pontiff,” which is derived from the Latin for “bridge builder,” and that is exactly what Pope Francis sought to be during his trip here. Speaking as a humble pastor in this town of politicians, he asked people of all beliefs to reach across boundaries of politics, ideology, and sources of division to seek the common good and for us to care for one another, especially the least among us.
Again and again, the Holy Father spoke of the vital importance of encounter and unity, pointing out that our shared world would be a much better place if we simply came together and saw in others a brother or sister. Urging that “we confront every form of polarization which would divide us,” he said that in the face of today’s problems and challenges, “we must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world.”
“We know well how much darkness and cold there is in this world; we know the loneliness and the neglect experienced by many people, even amid great resources of communication and material wealth,” said Pope Francis. Amidst such a torn society, where “brokenness is now everywhere,” he said “our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity.”
Affirming in his historic address to Congress that “every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity,” this humble man in white advised lawmakers, “Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a ‘culture of care’ and ‘an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.’”
In a particular way, at a time when our society seems to be questioning the rightful place of faith in the public square, the visit of Pope Francis presented our nation with a much-needed opportunity to enter into a rich dialogue between religion and the secular culture. “It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society,” he reminded our nation’s leaders.
The visit of Pope Francis to Washington last year need not be simply a passing moment in history. His message and beautiful vision for life that we should see others not as rivals or burdens, but as sisters and brothers to be accepted, embraced and cared for, especially those struggling on the peripheries – the poor, the vulnerable, the neglected, the oppressed – continues to be most timely and welcome. Why not accept his invitation now?
It is not too late. We can “resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our ‘neighbors’ and everything around us,” as the Holy Father said to Congress.
In our hearts, judging from the very large and well-received embrace he received everywhere he went, we know that Pope Francis is right. In his efforts to heal wounds and end conflict, we know that he offers the only true way forward if we are to have a good and just world. In our neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and in the public square, we are bound to encounter people who are different from us. Imagine what it would be like if we each took to heart his words and, with our gifts and abilities, were to work for a culture of inclusion and solidarity, of love and peace, liberty and justice, all of us members of one human family.
Together we can begin to heal divisions and bring into reality the renewal our nation needs and find solutions to the challenges we face. We can build a better world together. There really is no good reason not to take on this challenge.