Unless you have just recently returned to civilization from exploring underground caverns, you probably have heard, seen, felt the palpitation from Pope Francis’ visit to the United States. Pope mania was all over the country as hundreds of millions Catholics and non-Catholic fans of Pope Francis prepared for his coming. I can’t help but wonder, “If only Jesus had gotten part of that welcome, imagine how the birth narrative would have turned out.”
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishop has an interactive map of Pope’s visit from the moment he landed in Washington DC on September 22nd, tracked his every move, and to the moment Pope Francis departed from New York City on September 27th. I recommend you to visit www.usccb.org and you will see all the Pope extravaganza.
As a non-Catholic yet enthusiast of Pope Francis, I watched, listened, and read the major speeches. From his address in the White House garden with President Obama looking on to the historic address to the United States Congress, I hung on every one of his words. In the end, Pope Francis truly stood above the long line of his papal predecessors. The historic papal office traces its root to Jesus calling Peter to build His church and love His sheep in John 21:15-25. Jesus, agreed by many New Testament commentators, redeemed Peter for his three denials during the passion narrative with the thrice repeated “Peter, do you love me?” In all three time, Peter replied, “Yes Lord, You know I love You.” In this exchange, Jesus challenged Peter and pushed him from being a zealot to the rock he would become for the early church.
In the same manner of speech of challenge, Pope Francis challenged the divided audience of United States Congress to confront the problems of the United States and its impacts in the world.
New York Times writer Stephen Crowley writes “Any listener expecting a safe exercise in euphemism amid the American presidential debate had to be delighted as the pope took a highly prescriptive path in reminding American leaders they must never forget the nation’s own roots of tolerance and equal justice. Cutting through the latest political talk about building ever bigger walls to keep immigrants out, Francis spoke to this nation of immigrants as a son of Latin American immigrants.”
“Of all his themes, Francis’ call for rational and just treatment of refugees here and abroad rang with the greatest passion and truth. ‘We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation,’ he said, a rebuke to the ugly diatribes of some in the presidential campaign.”1
Drawing on the advancing dreams of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, Pope Francis brought the house down with straight talk. Yet poised and gentle, Pope Francis imparted the final wisdom to a divided house, “A good political leader is one who, with the interest of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism.”
So how do we Protestants Asian American respond? Perhaps the first and foremost posture is contemplative humility. We are all immigrants! No, no, I am not talking about the Europeans coming to North America in the 1600s and robbed the land from the Native Americans. I am talking about us, Asian Americans. Unless you grew up in the west coast with the Chinese and Japanese who came in the 1800s, you and I are recent immigrants. We are literally all immigrants and pardon the pun, “fresh of the boat.” Perhaps from that lens of recent arrival, let’s get in touch with our inner immigrant sensibility of compassion, acceptance, tolerance, and humility. While our struggles in the immigration process may vary, we can relate sympathetically or empathetically to the flights of immigration experience in facing racism, classism, sexism, and other forms of discriminations. In recognizing the varying degree of suffering, Jesus’ humility and compassion would suit us quite well right now. Jesus was one of the “people of the land.” It was a term to describe all the common people of that time. He knew firsthand the suffering of the “people of the land” and he felt compassion for all their toils and sufferings. Jesus was an immigrant and a refugee. As Christian follower of Asian American stripe, perhaps the posture of contemplative humility will open our eyes to see deeper, and hearts to feel wider.
Next, perhaps we can then take on quiet activism. I know, I know, I am Asian, so we have to do everything quietly or stealthy. That’s not my sentiment at all. I am, however, suggesting to imitate the meekness of Christ to engage the challenges with activism that resembles Christ’s love. It is not self-serving, it is not showy, but it is unwavering, sustaining, and persistent. In other words, this isn’t something trendy for this week and old news the next week. It is something we embody entirely and completely in our lives as the great commandment of Matthew 25 call us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, invite the stranger, cloth the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned.
I recently spent a good 5 months in Taiwan serving as a volunteer chaplain to a seminary. In that time, I met and talked to nearly all the students and faculties on campus. I even made an effort to get to know the groundkeeper who engaged the Sisyphus like effort daily as he swept the sidewalk full of fallen leaves, mangos and waxed apples. More importantly, I learnt the herculean effort of Presbyterian Church of Taiwan in reaching as many tribes of indigenous people to right the centuries of abuse and atrocity committed against them. I saw their intentionality to unite, albeit their common enemy may be of certain political stripe, but nevertheless their compassion to right the wrong against the indigenous people. I hope that we Asian American Christians will not only embrace the inspiriting words of Pope Francis to openness and compassion, but also proclaim our love for Christ in words and in deeds.
The Rev. David Shinn
Former Pastor of New Hope Presbyterian Church in Detroit
- Crowley, Stephen, “Pope Francis’ Challenge to America,” New York Times Opinion Pages, September 24, 2015. ↩
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