REFLECTION: Our parishes would thrive if we stand up and be leaders

Bishop Thomas Gumbletonby Bishop Thomas Gumbleton
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

As always, we try to listen to our Scripture lessons at our Sunday liturgy within the context of what is happening in the world around us. Of course this past week, all our news media have been just overwhelmed by the coverage of Pope Francis and his trip to the United States. There have been millions of people flocking to see him. We’ve watched the crowds on television. We’ve listened to what the pope has to say and it’s been an overwhelming experience, I think, for most Catholics probably here in this country and especially for those who’ve had the opportunity to be where the pope has been in Washington and New York and Philadelphia.

Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio washes feet of shelter residents during 2008 Mass at church in Buenos AiresAs we listen to our Scripture lesson in the light of what Pope Francis has been doing, I think there’s a couple of things we should especially notice. The first is very obvious — his outreach to the poor. When he spoke before the Congress, one of his main points was calling upon the people of the United States through their elected leaders to reach out to the poor, and in this case, especially the immigrants in our country who are flocking to our shores and whom many people want to push away and get rid of.

Francis is saying, “No, these are the poor. They’re coming here because they need assistance. They’re fleeing violence. They’re fleeing economic oppression. They’re coming out of a desperate need.” In fact, Francis makes it very concrete. One day this week when he was in Washington, he had lunch. Most of the time on a trip like this you would expect people invited to that lunch would be the mayor and the civic leaders, the church leaders and the wealthy — the important people.

Not with Francis — he invites the poor. And what I like about it, too, he doesn’t stand behind a counter and hand out the food and serve them in that way. That would be notable and good, but he sits down with them and engages with them. He shows them he enjoys their company. He wants them to feel welcome with him as the symbol of the church. He’s acting like Jesus who spent most of his time with the poor, drawing them in, having them follow him.

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