BY CHRIS KERR | March 11, 2014
We didn’t know it then, but the announcement of Pope Francis on March 13, 2013, could not have come at a more perfect time at the ISN office. Kim had just begun one of our first steering committee calls of the year for the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice. Initially, I think she was probably a little annoyed when I bounced out of my office screaming, “It’s a Jesuit! It’s a Jesuit!” At ISN this phrase isn’t that unusual so I can see why Kim was a little perplexed as to why I was interrupting her conference call. But of course this was a very unique “Jesuit” announcement. The rest of that day was spent learning more about this new Jesuit pontiff and (frankly) basking in the excitement of it all.
Little did we know that as the Teach-In steering committee was planning a theme for the 16th annual gathering of Ignatian family members in the context of faith and justice, our Church would be turned upside down by Pope Francis’ inspiring words and actions that are leading us toward a Church “of the poor and for the poor.” As it turns out, the theme of the 2013 Teach-In, “Illuminating the Horizon of Hope,” was deeply influenced by Pope Francis’ first homily as pontiff where he said:
“To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love is to open up a horizon of hope, it is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds.”
The past few weeks I have shared stories with many folks in the Jesuit/Ignatian world about “where we were” when Pope Francis was elected. Jesuits have told me of celebrations of liturgy and libation in residences, students at Jesuit universities talked about skipping class to watch CNN and mothers and fathers (including my wife and I) have shared stories of watching with their children as Francis humbly presented himself to the public that evening.
While it is fun to think about where we were or what we said when Pope Francis was elected, his leadership has focused on the long vision of the Church. In his humble manner, he has invited us to reflect with him about ourselves as sinners, as brothers and sisters of the marginalized, as carers of creation and as a Church seeking to live like Jesus. Our memories of his election will always be wonderful, but our response to his leadership will be what matters in the end.
Prayers for Pope Francis and for all who have been inspired by his leadership over the past year.
Chris joined the Ignatian Solidarity Network (ISN) as executive director in 2011. He has over fifteen years of experience in social justice advocacy and leadership in Catholic education and ministry. Prior to ISN he served in multiple roles at John Carroll University, including coordinating international immersion experience and social justice education programming as an inaugural co-director of John Carroll’s Arrupe Scholars Program for Social Action. Prior to his time at John Carroll he served as a teacher and administrator at the elementary and secondary levels in Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. Chris speaks regularly at campuses and parishes about social justice education and advocacy, Jesuit mission, and a broad range of social justice issues. He currently serves on the board of directors for Christians for Peace in El Salvador (CRISPAZ). Chris earned a B.A. and M.A. from John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio. He and his family reside in Shaker Heights, Ohio.