A Bishop's Perspective Bishop Burns

The challenges and joys of following Francis

By Bishop Edward J. Burns

‘A BISHOP’S PERSPECTIVE’ in the Juneau Empire  Bishop cropped
December 8, 2013

When I walk to the office in the morning or home in the evening I listen to various things on my iPhone. There are a couple radio stations that I tune into to catch the news, I have my small stash of music selections, Pandora is always a popular choice, but there are many times when I thoroughly enjoy listening to lectures on iTunes U. This is an opportunity to listen to professors from various colleges and universities from around the country and “sit in” on their courses.

I downloaded a course from a Protestant Bible college that provided a series of lectures on leadership in the church. It proved to be most worthwhile for many reasons — the scriptural references, the practical pastoral ideas, the professor’s wit, etc. One morning, as I was listening to the professor addressing the topic of conflicts within the Christian community, he acknowledged how the early church faced conflicts as found in the Acts of the Apostles and entreated the members of the community to listen to and to follow Peter.

Within the Church this past year we have seen extraordinary events of our own, beginning with the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI in February 2013, the first papal resignation in over 800 years. This was followed by the election of a new Pope from Latin America, the first Bishop of Rome ever from the New World. Both of them have illustrated their very different styles of leadership and both of them have stepped forward to fulfill the role as the successor to St. Peter.

I am intrigued by the character and personality of Pope Francis and the impact he has had on the world since his election. Pope Francis took his name from St. Francis, the “poor man of Assisi.” His humble and forthright words and, even more importantly, his eloquent and heartfelt actions, have spoken powerfully of the love and compassion of Jesus. He has inspired a renewed sense of hope and purpose among millions of people.

Like St. Francis, he is also a man of peace. This past September he called on Christians, people of faith, and men and women of goodwill to pray urgently that a wider war in Syria might be averted. Although war between Syria and the United States and its allies seemed, at the time, inevitable, within days of the worldwide vigil for peace the path to a negotiated settlement opened.

It was also during this past year that millions of young people from around the world gathered with the Holy Father in peace and prayer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for World Youth Day. What was extraordinary about this gathering was the fervor and zeal of the participants, and I am grateful that a number of Alaskan youth had the opportunity to experience this event. At its conclusion, 3.5 million young people gathered on Copacabana Beach to celebrate Mass with the Holy Father.

At World Youth Day young people embraced the compelling message of Pope Francis, echoing as he does the words and deeds of Jesus, that the church must become above all else the church of the poor and for those who suffer. While he was visiting with recovering drug addicts at a hospital he said, “We must hold the hand of the one in need, of the one who has fallen into the darkness of dependency perhaps without even knowing how, and we must say to him or her: You can get up, you can stand up. It is difficult, but it is possible if you want to. Dear friends, I wish to say to each of you, but especially to all those others who have not had the courage to embark on our journey: You have to want to stand up, this is the indispensable condition! No one is able to stand up in your place. But you are never alone! The Church and so many people are close to you.”

In addition to his words of compassion, Pope Francis uses words of conviction to challenge his listeners. In Rio de Janeiro he called for the youth to “create a ruckus” in resisting things that are worldly and to bring forth true acts of selfless charity that are contrary to the current culture’s theme of individualism. And in his recent apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), the Holy Father has challenged the world’s economic system to be mindful of those in need as well as advance a change within the church which would authentically reflect the message of the Gospel. This exhortation has brought about significant challenges and joys for those in the church as it clearly represents the thrust of Jesus’ message.

In advancing the need to serve the poor, on Tuesday, Dec. 10, Human Rights Day, Pope Francis has asked for a worldwide day of prayer to begin working together to end world hunger. He is asking all men and women of good will, to pray at 12 p.m. (noon) in their time zone. This global wave of prayer will begin in Samoa in the South Pacific, and spread westward around the world.

I urge you to follow the lead of Pope Francis and join your prayer to the prayers of millions of our brothers and sisters this Tuesday, so that all may have their daily bread.

• Burns is the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Juneau and Southeast Alaska.
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