A week or so ago I lamented that when it comes to religion, the British press rarely gets anything right. They are incredibly incurious and inaccurate.
Today we read in the UK Telegraph that Mikael Gorbachev has admitted he is a Christian. Get that? He “admits” he’s a Christian.
Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Communist leader of the Soviet Union, has acknowledged his Christian faith for the first time, paying a surprise visit to pray at the tomb of St Francis of Assisi.
Accompanied by his daughter Irina, Mr Gorbachev spent half an hour on his knees in silent prayer at the tomb.
[...]Mr Gorbachev’s surprise visit confirmed decades of rumours that, although he was forced to publicly pronounce himself an atheist, he was in fact a Christian, and casts a meeting with Pope John Paul II in 1989 in a new light.
Mr Gorbachev, 77, was baptized into the Russian Orthodox Church and his parents were Christians.
In addition, the parents of his wife Raisa were deeply religious and were killed during the Second World War for having religious icons in their home.
[...]After his prayers, Mr Gorbachev toured the Basilica of St Francis and asked in particular to be shown an icon of St Francis portraying his “dream at Spoleto”.
St Francis, who lived in the 12th century, was a troubadour and a poet before the spiritual vision caused him to return to Assisi and contemplate a religious life.
Even in his early days, St Francis helped the poor, once giving all of his money to a beggar. As well as spending time in the wilderness, he also nursed lepers and eventually became a priest.
“It was through St Francis that I arrived at the Church, so it was important that I came to visit his tomb,” said Mr Gorbachev.
This Telegraph article is a mass of inaccuracies of ambiguities. St. Francis was never a traveling entertainer and he was never a priest, either. He was – reluctantly and under obedience – a Catholic Deacon, like our pal Deacon Greg. Francis was the son of a wealthy textile merchant who lived a very debauched life and romantically went off to fight in the crusades before an illness sent him home. A conversion experience occurred wherein he saw Christ ask him to “rebuild my church” (and the Catholic church needed spiritual rebuilding then, as it has from time to time). Francis renounced his wealth and lived the life of a preacher and beggar while literally rebuilding a church and forming the Franciscan order and (with St. Clare) the “poor ladies” (now known as the Poor Clares) who embrace monastic poverty. Yes, he kissed a leper – he did it because he wanted to get over his repulsion of them, and it did the trick. Two excellent books on Francis are featured below.
It is worth remembering that Gorbachev said that the collapse of the Soviet Union would have been impossible without the influence of Pope John Paul II. At the pope’s death he reminisced about their meeting:
“He said, ‘I don’t serve any political parties, I serve God,’ ” Gorbachev recalled. ” ‘So I’m after the same things that you are trying to achieve with your perestroika.’ ”
Gorbachev said he told the pope he “had a lot of criticism for him, too.”
A day after their meeting, Gorbachev said, he traveled to Malta to meet with President George H.W. Bush. They later announced that the United States and Soviet Union were no longer enemies. “So, see, it’s all interconnected,” Gorbachev said.
Anyway – this is good news, although it is difficult to tell, from the shoddy reportage, whether Gorby is Russian Orthodox or Roman Catholic. The fact that he is traveling with Lithuanian Catholic Franciscan priests, and his remark, “it was through Francis that I arrived at the Church” suggests he might have gone Roman, but this article does not make it plain.
How interesting, though, that Gorby is surrounded by Franciscans and that President Bush had Franciscans around him when he recently toured the Holy Land. Francis’ men have always been the counterpart to worldly power.
Certainly does seem like things are aligning. Deacon Greg says it’s been an amazing Holly Week newswise.