Dear Pope Francis: A Sincere Letter from a Faithful Fellow Servant
Posted to Pope Francis at the Vatican; delivered as a Sermon on Friday, 3/15/13,
Congregation B’nai Jeshurun
Your Holiness… Dear Pope Francis:
In the words of my people, I wish you a hearty Mazel Tov on your election as leader of the Catholic Church. Indeed, may God bless you with fortitude, guidance, wisdom and insight.
As a Jew, I have to tell you how moved I was by your election. I tuned in to whatever media was available each time smoke was to come from the foretelling chimney above the Sistine Chapel. I am not a Christian and don’t know nearly enough about Catholic rites, but I was fascinated and moved by your ancient and somehow, still relevant rituals. When it was announced that white smoke was indeed rising from the depths of your age-old conclave, I shivered with anticipation and hope. I wondered and worried; I was excited and concerned.
I got home on time to watch with the world as we wondered about your identity. For 45 minutes, so few knew who would ascend to your holy place. The pundits started to spin their talking heads. The television remained on, but my mind’s voice became louder than the white noise of the media’s rhetoric. I did not want to hear about the politics of your election. Instead, I tried to imagine what it must have felt like to be you in those moments of the in-between; that period of time when you went from eminent cardinal to holy pontiff.
I wonder what it felt like when they asked you, “Are you prepared to accept the responsibilities of being our next Pope”? I wondered what you felt like when they asked you, “By what name will you now be known?”
I thought of you as you left your colleagues and went to the Room of Tears to don your Papal garments. Did you shed tears in the room meant for crying? Were they tears of joy and accomplishment; of dread and fear; of excitement and hope; of anticipation of the unknown? Did you feel alone? You who will now sit on the throne of St. Peter; do you feel closer to God than before; or are you searching in ways you have never knew you had to until your ascension to the Papacy?
“With joy, we announce that we have a new Pope”. Your name was mentioned; and you appeared and I had no idea who you were and where it is that you came from. I heard the name and your place of origin. And, I still did not know anything about you, but I was moved that you are the first to come from the hemisphere in which I reside…..moved that your papacy would represent the millions of Latinos who have flocked to Catholicism in recent years.
With humility, I commend you on your start. It could not have gone any better. You were introduced to the throngs of people in Vatican Square and to millions on television; and you appeared as a humble servant of God. There was more awe emanating from your eyes than there was arrogance; more headiness than haughtiness. You presented as gentle and kind. Your measured smile was inviting and pastoral. You waved in gratitude and wonder at the moment.
With grace you asked the world to pray for you in order than you could pray for the world. You let us know that without the blessings of your people, you might not be able to properly bless your people in return.
Your resume for the job is appropriate in the most sacred of manners. You are a man of the people; not above your people. You have chosen the bus, over of the limousine. Your first order of business when you awoke the day after your election was to stop at your hotel and settle your bill. You made us understand that all of our accounts should be clean, no matter our office or station.
I am moved by your past. You can’t stand the hypocrisy which manifests in injustice. You refuse to accept the poverty which is oh so pervasive in our world. You, like the prophets of old, wrap and unwrap the wounds of our sickest and weakest. You could be found in the AIDS ward, first washing and then kissing the feet of the sickest, letting them and us know that they too deserve comfort and love and healing.
So, your Holiness, I pray for you. I pray for you because your people need you; and frankly, so does the world. I pray for you because the challenges which lie ahead are like facing Goliath again. I pray for you to bring healing to a faith to which so many would come flocking back in return if they could find trust once again.
I respect that you attach yourself to Divine doctrine, but I pray that you are able to understand the evolving nature of religion in our world. To get stuck in the black and white will be to lose good and decent people who want to be Catholic, but have found it sometimes untenable.
With deep humility and respect, I pray that you find subtle paths to dialogue about the ability for your holy servants to marry and have families. You have a shortage of religious leaders because good and decent religious folk do not want to commit their lives to the Cloth if that cannot be accompanied by a life of romance and family. I assure you, with all of my challenges, I am a better servant of God; exactly because I have covenanted with my beloved and have created children in God’s image.
More, I pray that you see the urgency and the need for the ordination of women. I can tell you from working with the best, that there is something organic and intrinsic that a woman can offer spiritually that we men just don’t get. They want and deserve to serve as equal to men. My heart, head and spirit tell me that God does not distinguish.
I pray that you make room in the Church for your Gay and Lesbian followers who are yearning for your embrace. They want so badly to be accepted in the Church which brought them up. They feel rejected not just by people, but by God; because too many of your Priests make them feel like there is something wrong with them by virtue of their biological makeup.
And probably most important, my spiritual brother, I pray that you find the fortitude; the gumption; the intestinal strength, the obvious wisdom, that the Church must be cleansed of sexual predators. To commit such deeds is sinning in the name of God. But, to knowingly protect such pathological criminals is to be complicit. It is not protecting the Church to hide and absolve such predators. Instead it mires the church in sin and deception. Authentically religious people come clean and lead by example. I know it is not just priests, but I will tell you that any time any clergy member crosses that kind of line, every member of any faith group wonders and worries about their own. It is bad for religion and I pray, for all of us committed to service, that you cleanse the Church once and for all.
Finally, dear Pope Francis, as a Jewish leader, I am thankful that you have stood up so steadfastly in your home country for my people. Our history has not always been so kind. Many of my people have been oppressed and murdered in the name of Church sponsored anti-Semitism. Great leaders, like Pope John Paul II; Benedict IVI and our own local Cardinals have pledged themselves, as we have to them, to a warm and open interfaith relationship. We have been called your elder sibling and are honored to be part of your family. I urge you to visit our Holy Land. I urge you to pray with us. I urge you to support our Homeland and help us find peace.
Your People need you. You need your people. We need each other. And God needs for all of that to be true if our divine universe is to survive.
Your Holiness, Mazel Tov to you. My community and I wish you only the best. May God Bless you and keep you. May the Divine Countenance be lifted and bring you compassion. Most of all, may God grant you the most precious gift of all, the gift that we call Shalom….that we call Salaam….that we call wholeness….that we call balance….that we can all together call peace.
With Faithful Respect,
Matthew D. Gewirtz
Senior Rabbi, Congregation B’nai Jeshurun
Short Hills, New Jersey, United States of America