Philly: Brotherly Love and Pope Francis


As the Pope’s visit to America grows closer each day, the attention is very much focused on what he will say to Congress and the UN around climate change, the economy, and the Syrian refugee crises. And I agree this should be the media focus of his visit. These are critical issues that require our attention and focus. If Pope Francis’ recent statements and writings are any indication, our political leaders would be wise to heed his call.

090615-Pope-billboardBut as a resident of Philly, I am deeply interested in his visit to my home city. First of all, the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia is fitting to his personality and his Papacy. It’s a hard-scrabble city, yet it is a city that has the highest “deep poverty rate” in the nation. It’s a city that has beautiful murals, yet countless blighted properties that leave communities disinvested. And it’s a city where the state fails to properly resource the public school system, yet invests in one of the largest maximum security prisons just on the border.

I love Philly – it is where I was born and it is where we decided to raise our daughter. Yet, Philly is as much a city of contradictions, as it is of Brotherly Love. And the contradiction is clearly visible in the Philadelphia diocese. And it is this particular contradiction that poses some of the biggest challenges to me and my wife as we try to raise our daughter in the Church.

Consider the following examples:

What can we make of such contractions as parents? Anna may only be two, but she is starting to ask questions. And it is only a matter of time until she picks up the nuanced contradictions of a faith that is supposed to be as much acted as it is believed. How do we balance the fact that we believe in a faith that does justice, a faith that calls on us to center the most marginalized, care for the earth, and act in solidarity with those who are poor, sick, and ignored by society and government – all while many local priests and bishops spout messages of exclusion and difference? Though difficult, it is easier to navigate these tensions individually. However, I am finding it to be much harder to navigate these challenges when raising a child in the faith.

Kate and I don’t quite have an answer yet. And I suspect that we will make mistakes along the way. But, I am finding myself simply reflecting more on what my parents taught us about the Church as kids:

  1. Everyone had dignity.
  2. We need to see God in all things – both creation and humanity.
  3. And we are our best selves when we love others –regardless of their views, their backgrounds, or their differences. And if we don’t treat others or nature with dignity and love, we aren’t upholding our roles as Christians.

It seems quite simple, and yes – much easier said than done. But when I think about it, this is also at the core of Pope Francis’ message. And perhaps, the best way to navigate contradiction is to return to the basics of the faith – the radical message of love that holds it together.

It won’t be easy, and it certainly will be a challenge. Changing a 2,000 year-old institution won’t happen overnight and it will be full of contradictions along the way. But Pope Francis has helped catalyze a change of tone, a spark of clarity, and hopefully one of action. And that is something that not only are Kate and I looking forward to witnessing in Philadelphia next week, but also excited to share in real time with Anna.

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