This Guy Is The Real Deal!

It’s hard to overstate the symbolic significance of events surrounding Pope Francis’ recent trip to a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos last week. First of all, the media-savvy pontiff was well aware that his very visit would shed the light of the world’s press on the faces of these victims of the greatest human tragedy in our current time.

Secondly, of course, he not only  visited the refugee community he “walked his talk” by flying twelve Syrian refugees back to Rome. Even he admitted that this was but “a drop of water in the sea” of Europe’s migration crisis, but if every Christian community in the world would follow his model, there would be no refugee crisis anywhere in the world.

Related items got little attention: He made this visit with the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, representing the Orthodox churches. This great man, often known as the “Green Patriarch” because of his strong environmental stands, was sadly neglected by most press reports and yet is the titular head of the second largest Christian communion in the world just as Francis is the actual leader of the largest. This ecumenical gesture is the latest in a movement toward healing the split between East and West in the Christian world which has existed for more than a thousand years.

Ecumenism extended to inter-religious awareness as the twelve Syrian refugees (members of three families) turned out to be Muslims, not Christians. This sends a clear message to the world about the need better to integrate Muslims into Western society because, Francis said, “Their privilege is that they are children of God.” In other words, human beings.

The Roman Catholic community of Sant’Egidio will actually welcome these refugees into their headquarters in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood. I have worshiped, broken bread, and traveled with this amazing, primarily lay-led charitable community which has quietly led to instances reconciliation around the world and daily feeds and shelters members of the “Roma” (or gypsy) community in the city of Rome. They, like the Bishop of Rome, are examples of Christianity at its finest, putting flesh around the spirit of love demonstrated by the religion’s Founder.

Finally, just before his departure, the Pope met briefly with U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Some have decried this as an openly political move by Sanders even while Pope Francis described it as “good manners and nothing more.” Actually, it was both. Sanders genuinely admires Francis’ “democratic socialism” (otherwise known as Catholic social teaching) and is married to a Roman Catholic.

But he could not have been unaware how this would have played with desired Catholic voters in New York who will be voting in the primary this Tuesday. Nor could Francis — again, extremely politically and socially aware — have failed to know what kind of signal he was sending about his admiration for (and support of?) Senator Sanders.

I just think this brief trip was an amazing and extremely effective gesture which reveals with startling clarity how the twin poles of “the Jesus Movement” (evangelism and reconciliation) so often spoken of by our own Presiding Bishop Michael Curry can come together seamlessly.

In the words of one young Facebook commentator on Pope Francis’ recent trip: “This guy is the real deal!”

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