Let me start by making a few observations. First, I share this reflections as a protestant evangelical within the main line church in Kenya. As one rooted in the reformed tradition, I am clearly aware of the doctrinal difference existing between my tradition and the R.C. Church. This notwithstanding, I need to point out that I have close friends serving in the catholic church as clergy and some as scholars whose love for Jesus in their lives continue to impact my walk with the Lord every day. Indeed, the typical stereotype that is common within some of us is the view that see many in the R.C church as nominal Christians. I wish to point out that nominal Christians are equally present within protestant churches. Yet within these two distinct traditions (Protestantism and R.C) there are brothers and sisters who confess our savior and Lord Jesus Christ.Therefore, I share my own reflections on Pope Francis based on this visit to Africa as I listened to his speeches and observed his movements.
There is no doubt that Pope Francis has captured the imaginations of the world in recent times.From the moment the world was introduced to the 266th catholic pontiff, Pope Francis has distinguished himself as the most ‘radical’ church leader of our time. Of the Jesuit order, he was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio on December 17th 1936 in Buenos Aires in Argentina.Upon his appointment on March 13th 2013 following the resignation of his predecessor,he chose Francis as his papal name after St. Francis of Assisi. Since his appointment, he has spoken on various issues but mainly onfamily, social justice and environmental concerns. His maiden trip to Africa recently saw him visit Kenya, Uganda and Central Africa Republic. Of many things that can be said of this visit, I could draw three major points that stood out for me;
- He is a great communicator and a genius at that– This goes beyond his great and powerful speeches to his actions. There is a way Pope Francis speaks powerfully to many through his actions. His choosing to ride on modest Honda spoke volume of his humility especially to those of us in positions of leadership in the church and society. He has a common touch. He can spot a widow, notice a child and stop to kiss a physically challenged person. By visiting Kangemi slums, he brought hope and life to those marginalized in the society. His visit to a Mosque in C.A.R. will go a long way in strengthening peace and reconciliation initiatives in this war torn country. By reaching those in the periphery, he has brought the church to the poor, and the church of the poor to the attention of the world.
- He is not a liberal theologian. This is something the media gets wrong on him all the time.The writer of the New York times on December 2, 2015 writing on the ‘Pope’s Failure in Africa’ accused pope Francis for his silence on gay issue on his visit to Africa. In July 2013 while flying back from Brazil, Pope Francis was asked by a journalist on his position on gay issue to which he posed, “Who am I to Judge?’The media misunderstood him to mean he was sympathetic to gay agenda. Indeed, the pontiff was simply reminding himself and the church, that the cross provided a level playing field for all with regard to sin. No sin is greater than the other. How sobering this reminder is for us as Christians.
- He has challenged capitalism that is not controlled. His speech against corruption and greed was a call to check on the excess of capitalism. Corruption is not only stealing from public coffers,but also the malpractices in business that disadvantages the poor hence feeding the gap between the rich and the poor. He went further to locate the seat of corruption as the heart and called for its ‘transplant’. His anecdotes in his Kasarani speech on wealth and the rich clearly issued from Psalm 49.
Indeed more can be said about this charismatic servant. But I share this particularpoints for many of us who are still stuck in October 1517 view of the R.C church. We ought to move away from this textbook view of the R.C church and open our eyes to what God is doing in his church today. Jesus prayed; “may they all be one as you father, are in me and I am in you…may they be one as we are one”(John 17:21-22).
(I am greatly indebted to Rev.Dr John Huffman for his chapel reflections on Pope Francis based on his close interaction with the Pontiff).
Mathew Kipchumba is a Pastor and currently attending graduate studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, USA.