Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Pope's message to us

In early October, Pope Francis visited the town of Assisi where his namesake lived. Francis of Assisi was known for his ministry to the poor. Coming from a rich family, he famously gave up his wealth and chose to live and work among the poor. In Assisi, Pope Francis affirmed the Church's ministry to the poor. "This is a good occasion to invite the Church to strip itself of worldliness", and he called on the clergy and the Catholic Church to, " relinquish all vanity, arrogance and pride, and humbly serve the poorest members of society." Pope Francis means what he says. He lives in a small apartment rather than the much finer papal digs at the Vatican. He is driven around in a 20 year old Renault clunker given to him by a priest. So, when he heard of the scandal about the German bishop who was spending tons of money on renovating his residence (a reported $42 million!), he summoned him to Rome where he was suspended from his duties two days later. The press reported it is not unusual for Catholic officials in Germany to live in style. Most of them, the press said, drive high end Mercedes or BMWs. Nor are expenditures in the millions for housing renovations uncommon. A specialist on church finance in Germany said that the German Church officials are not too eager to follow in their Pope's frugal footsteps. But, there is one concern they have and that is if their parishioners learn of their high spending ways, they may not give as much. They don't have much to worry about yet. With assets in land and bonds, the diocese of Cologne's total wealth is much greater than the Vatican's. And German Catholic Christians have to give 8 to 10 percent of their incomes to their churches, by law! Plus, the state pays Church groups an annual allowance. This sweet deal amounted to $12 million for Christian groups in 2012! At the same time the German Church is bleeding members. In the past three years, they have lost over 400,000  worshippers from their membership rolls. Will Pope Francis's call to get back to the nitty-gritty mission of the Church be heard in Germany, and if it is, will it be enough to change the culture of "bling"? I am not holding my breath but I am not Catholic or German so I will wait and see how his message plays out. I appreciate his message and the way he practices what he preaches. It's a message we need to hear in the US too. Among Protestants, as well as Catholics. What if we had a spiritual leader who eschewed the privileges and perks of power, and did not care a bit about status symbols, and lived simply, and told us to depend upon God for our needs, and was comfortable living and ministering among the poor and told us to do the same…. what sort of difference would that make… oh… wait a minute… we do, don't we.