Seven participants in the Mennonite/Catholic ecumenical group Bridgefolk have written public responses to the election of Pope Francis and the initial weeks of his pontificate, each from a particular angle, which have been posted on Bridgefolk’s website over the past week.
Abbot John Klassen of Saint John’s Abbey, who is co-chair of Bridgefolk, notes the significance of the name Francis.
By choosing the name Francis (after Francis of Assisi) the Pope evokes the spirit of a saint who is beloved and admired by all Christians. The name Francis is associated with humility, simplicity, compassion, keeping the Gospel in focus at all times, always watching out for the poor.
Marlene Kropf, a denominational minister of Mennonite Church USA and Bridgefolk’s other co-chair, tells how Pope Francis resonates with Mennonites.
The letter sent by Mennonite Church USA leaders affirmed his choice of a name that “reminds us of Francis of Assisi, a follower of Jesus who loved peace, cared for the poor, and cherished creation.” They concluded, “Most of all, we appreciate his profound commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Though Mennonites know that a single leader, no matter how powerful, cannot renew the church by himself, they are deeply hopeful that Pope Francis I will continue to nurture the friendship that is growing between Mennonites and Roman Catholics. Beyond that, they look forward to seeing how the new pope will work toward the unity of all Christians and extend a hand of friendship to all people of faith.
Msgr. John Radano, the newest member of the Bridgefolk board, who previously served on the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, highlights the continuity of Pope Francis’ “ministry of unity” with that of previous popes.
Over the last century, especially starting with Pope Leo XIII (+1903), popes have contributed to the unity of Christians in different ways…. Pope Francis I, in accepting this office with its ministry of unity, stands on the ecumenical shoulders of those Popes. Let us pray for him as he fosters unity.
Darrin Snyder Belousek, a Mennonite professor and author and the executive director of Bridgefolk, writes more specifically on how Pope Francis is demonstrating his own commitment to ecumenism.
It is no accident the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians, attended Francis’ inauguration mass in St. Peter’s Square. This marked a first since the Great (East-West) Schism that divided the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions in the 11th century. Upon Francis’ election, Bartholomew I, who had friendly relations with John Paul II and Benedict XVI, commented confidently that the new Pope “will give a new impetus to the two Churches’ journey towards unity.”
…Francis then confirmed that “in continuity with my predecessors, it is my firm intention to pursue the path of ecumenical dialogue” and thanked the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, which has conducted dialogues with various ecclesial bodies (including Mennonite World Conference), for its work in service of the church.
Gerald Schlabach, a founding member of Bridgefolk who teaches at the University of St. Thomas, reflects on the significance of a pope from the “global South”.
He is an experienced bishop from the streets and barrios of Argentina. He has named himself after Francis of Assisi, who is not only Catholicism’s most beloved saint but an exemplar of cross-class simplicity and cross-cultural peacemaking. He has de-vested himself of the most ostentatious trappings of clerical privilege. Disappointing traditionalists immediately, he has washed the feet of Muslims and women.
But sooner or later, on some issue or another, Francis will disappoint the rest of us too. And that is okay. Christians from the global South do this (not just Catholics). They are delightfully frustrating for North Americans and Europeans in their tendency to reshuffle our categories of left, right, progressive, orthodox, liberal, conservative. We deceive ourselves if we claim to champion just relationships between North and South yet disparage their voices.
My own reflection focuses on Pope Francis’ potential to bridge intra-ecclesial divides within the Catholic Church.
As an Argentinean with Italian parentage, Francis comes to the papacy with an understanding of the concerns facing the Church in multiple contexts. He has demonstrated a deep concern for the poor and marginalized which has already become a defining feature of his pontificate, while also acknowledging the “spiritual poverty” that pervades much of the industrial West. Not only does he show strong commitment to social justice as well as doctrinal soundness, he has a remarkable way of showing by word and deed that the two are inseparable.
…His deep love for the poor and his deep commitment to the Catholic tradition cannot be set against each other, in short, because he is Catholic. Hopefully, what he teaches by example can inspire us to bridge divides in our own corners of the Catholic world.
Finally, Ivan Kauffman, who, along with his wife Lois, essentially pioneered the Mennonite-Catholic connections that led to Bridgefolk, writes on Pope Francis’ continuation of the commitment to peace demonstrated by his predecessors.
For the past half-century, ever since John XXIII and Vatican II, the popes have been strong advocates of peace. Since John Paul II they have been non-Italians. And beginning with John Paul they have been increasingly attractive to the evangelical community. If early indications endure, this trend will continue under Pope Francis—and if so it will be strengthened, and likely become permanent.
All of these reflections are available in full here.