Close Personal Encounter by
Rev. Fr. Alexander J. Kurien
Deputy Associate Administrator
Office of U.S. Government-Wide Policy
United States Government
The Roman Catholic Church was in communion with the Orthodox Church until the great schism. It is one of the five ancient Orthodox Patriarchates of the Christian world, but sadly fall out of communion from rest of the sister Orthodox Patriarchates over a number of key theological and historical reasons. Orthodox Churches consider Pope as the Bishop of Rome and respect him with Primacy of honor (this can be only cannonically valid once the Roman Catholic Church return back to the original Orthodox communion) but completely reject all additional teaching of Roman Church including Papal infallibility.
Washington D.C. Some would say getting to see the pope was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Thousands of people got the chance to see Pope Francis. As others across the world, my experience was indescribable; literally made me cry. It was a feeling that is almost hard to describe of peace and tranquility and emotion and spirit. It was really just something. I consider a real honor and myself blessed. Hearing my multitasked secular and spiritual life, “Live your life abundantly” – was the guidance from Pope Francis. Turning to a friend, I expressed, “wasn’t that an amazing?” I recall him saying, “Yes, and I am a Baptist.” Being a priest of the Indian Orthodox Church, the encounter showed the unifying power of Pope Francis’ papacy.”
Spiritual leadership as knowing where God wants people to be and taking the initiative to use God’s methods to get them there in reliance on God’s power. The answer to where God wants people to be is in a spiritual condition and in a lifestyle that displays his glory and honors His name. Therefore, the goal of spiritual leadership is that people come to know God and to glorify him in all that they do. Spiritual leadership is aimed not so much at directing people as it is at changing people. This is the quality I saw in His Holiness.
Pope Francis’ leadership style appeared to one that other people will come to glorify God, that is, he magnifies the true character of God. According to Matthew 5:14-16, one of the crucial means by which a Christian leader brings other people to glorify God is by being a person who loves both friend and foe. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid, nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your father who is in heaven.” Pope Francis spoke of the reality of God’s promises to take care of us and to work everything together for our good grips of our hearts so that we do not fall prey to greed or fear or vainglory but rather manifest a contentment and a love and a freedom for other people, then the world will have to admit that the one who gives us hope and freedom must be real and glorious. When our hope is strong, we are freed from fears and cares that prevent the free exercises of love. Pope appeared to be a person who has strong confidence in the sovereign goodness of God to work everything together for His good.
Pope was very clear about why he felt so strongly about issues ranging from poverty to climate change. I fully understood because, it is about people and it is not the issues for the issues sake; it is how they impact on people’s lives. I could sense that there has been some resistance from some quarters of the Catholic Church about the Pope weighing in on what have traditionally been seen as more political issues. But, being a priest I could really read the writing on the wall that, the Pope sees all issues through the prism of its impact on people regardless of faith; it is not at all political and this is pastoral.
During his historic address to the U.S. Congress, he reminded of the “The Golden Rule” – “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, from Matthew 7: 12. He also reminded us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development. How much progress has been made in this area in so many parts of the world! How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty! He asked to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope, he said. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. He recognized that, many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem. It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy, which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. He said, he is convinced that we can make a difference and he has no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play. 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.
The charismatic leadership of Pope Francis appeared much like that of St. Francis of Assisi and the effect he had on audiences. He is following the example of St. Francis when he offers ancient wisdom as a cure for today’s climate crisis. St. Francis embodied the integration of care for the poor with care for the planet. The 13th-century saint inspired rich and poor, men and women, faithful and faithless to respond spiritually to the social problems of his age. He preached against greed and inspired many to live in voluntary poverty. St. Francis’s life was a model of humility, without judgment on the sin or failures of others. Though he is the patron saint of ecological spirituality, he did not consider himself a steward of nature. Rather, he viewed animals, elements and the planet as brothers and sisters, and he in their family. His example teaches that care for the environment goes hand in hand with reverence for human beings — that everything is a gift. This concept is at the heart of Franciscan economics, which governs the Franciscan order.
When I heard Pope Francis throughout his six days of U.S. visit, he demonstrated a deep understanding of his Patron Saint, St. Francis. I believe the example of St. Francis can help us address our environmental problems. Now we know Pope Francis believes this as well — and that gives many great hope. In proposing integral ecology, the pope is calling us to bring together care for our planet and practical compassion for the poor. We cannot effectively protect the environment while more than three billion people are living in poverty. There is no absolute shortage of resources. Pope Francis is calling us to find new ways of sharing creation’s bounty. He is broadly endorsing the environmental movement and its goals but challenges us to take a more holistic, universal view. The integral-ecology framework asks us all to deepen and broaden our compassion, to care for creation and the poor in our neighborhoods and globally. The pope calls into question our own choices as individuals and as a society, urging us to act now.
He highlighted in his speeches that the wealthy countries, like United States, have a special moral obligation to dramatically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. We are responsible for the majority of emissions and need to transform our energy systems — generation, transmission and consumption. He said, poor countries are already experiencing climate disruption and are likely to disproportionately suffer its worst effects. Ingenuity and innovation are needed to create climate resilience — the ability to withstand the coming disruptions. About one-third of all humans, for example, live in energy poverty, defined as lacking access to modern energy for heating, lighting and cooking. He said social entrepreneurs across the developing world have demonstrated that renewable energy can improve the lives and livelihoods of millions of people. Solar home systems, clean-cook stoves and community micro-grids are examples of how innovation and entrepreneurship create exits from energy poverty. These practical initiatives help the poor cope with the climate disruption already underway, while improving the dignity of their lives. Pope Francis said that, the practical need to protect the climate system is real — but so, too, is the moral outrage of billions of human beings denied access to a dignified life. By invoking St. Francis, the pope called us to remember the fundamental interdependence of all life. Everyone has a role to play in the family; everyone can make a valuable contribution.
I was extremely impressed by Pope Francis’ call for ecumenism and unit. In his opening prayers, Pope Francis prayed that God the Father might send the Holy Spirit, Who will guide us to unity. During one of his speech, it is the Holy Spirit, he said, who gives the various charisms within the Church, who works through the variety of gifts in the Church, and who grants unity. Pope Francis asked that Jesus, who prayed for unity in His Church, might help us to walk along the path of “unity, or of reconciled diversity.” Pope Francis also spoke about the idea of “unity in diversity.” Unity is not uniformity, he said, but reflects the confluence of all the different parts that go to make it up.
He warned of the temptation of leaders – or rather, servants – to imagine that they are indispensable, a temptation that can lead to authoritarianism or personalism, which “does not allow the renewed communities to live in the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit, Pope Francis exclaimed, is the only indispensable actor in the renewal, just as Jesus is the one Lord. Pope Francis emphasized the ecumenical dimension of the charismatic movement, rooting it in our common Baptism. Unity among Christians, he said, must begin with prayer.
Pope Francis asked that we value the immense contribution which women, lay and religious, have made and continue to make, to the life of our communities. His Holiness asked that, with gratitude for all we have received, and with confident assurance in all our needs, let us turn to Mary, our Blessed Mother. With a mother’s love, may she intercede for the growth of the Church in America in prophetic witness to the power of her Son’s Cross to bring joy, hope and strength into our world.
The Holy Father said the people who walked with all their dreams and hopes, their disappointments and regrets, the people have seen a great light. The people of God are called in every age to contemplate this light, a light for the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. One special quality of God’s people is their ability to see. To contemplate, even in moments of darkness, the light that Christ brings. He reminds us that Jesus tells his disciples to go out and meet the people where they really are, not where we think they should be. We should go out like the father who goes out looking for his son, and when he returns, embraces him. He moves us from the fray of competition and self-absorption and opens before us a path of peace. That peace which is born of accepting others; that peace which fills our hearts whenever we look upon those in need as our brothers and sisters. God is living in our cities. And God who lives in our cities want to be leaven in the dough, and relate to everyone, to stand at everyone’s side while they proclaim the wonders of the mighty counselor … the prince of peace. The people who walked in the darkness have seen a great light, and we Christians, are witnesses of that light.
Pope Francis’ common theme emphasized the significance of family, equality, justice, kindness, caring for the poor, sick, and the homeless. He called attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture, which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family. How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life. In these remarks, Pope said, I have sought to present some of the richness of your cultural heritage, of the spirit of the American people. It is my desire that this spirit continue to develop and grow, so that as many young people as possible can inherit and dwell in a land, which has inspired so many people to dream. He ended his historic tour, which I will cherish for eternity, with Apostolic Blessings: “God bless America!”