In Theory: What do you think of Pope Francis?

Pope Francis has received praise from all quarters for pausing to hold a severely disfigured man. While receiving an audience in St. Peter's Square, Francis spent several minutes comforting and praying with the unnamed person, who sufferers from neurofibromatosis, a condition that causes tumors to grow all over the body and can result in serious conditions like cancer.

Writing in British newspaper The Guardian, Jonathan Jones calls the pope's action “gothic,” saying, “What is gothic is the return to 13th-century values in this picture of a Christian leader showing humility and charity by physically interacting with someone visibly sick and visually different from those around him ... Charity and humility and love really are Christian ideals, and for someone in the pope's position of power to so graphically express them is full of concrete meaning.”

An article in the Washington Post says, “In the pope’s prayer over the man, many saw echoes of Jesus’ healing of the leper.”

Q: What do you think of the pope's action?

It made me think of a line from a hymn that sums up Jesus’ life and ministry: “Love to the loveless shown, that they might lovely be” (from “My Song is Love Unknown”). To touch the untouchables, cross the barriers of what is socially correct, see the truth of a heart beneath the cruel realities of the body — these were the daily acts of Jesus’ ministry.

And they seem to be the same for Pope Francis: not just contrived photo ops, but legitimately caring impulses, arising from a deep well of Christian spirituality. If he’s faking it, he’s really, really good at it. He continues to look like the real deal — a cleric who actually takes the imitation of Christ as a serious calling on his life.

Even more impressive than the momentary embrace of one luckless man — and just as Jesus-like — is the Pope’s commitment to address the wider issues of societal injustice and imbalance that confine one person in a lifetime of physical suffering, while another has the means for and access to medical care and cure.

Jesus’ healing of the leper was more than an interpersonal compassionate act; it was a symbolic and revolutionary critique of the institutional systems of his day, which like our own, assigned some to oppression, while allowing the unoppressed far too much freedom to do nothing and care less.

Jesus’ countercultural vision was for a complete overhaul of the way the world works: a breaking of the crushing power of selfishness and cruelty, and a setting free of love to be the reigning power in human life. Here’s to every single thing Pope Francis does and says, to turn the world upside-down in the name of Christ.

The Rev. Amy Pringle
St. George’s Episcopal Church La Cañada Flintridge


The acts of Pope Francis since he took the helm of the Catholic Church have been an inspiration not only to Catholics, but to people of different faiths and backgrounds, including myself as Muslim. Indeed, I know many Muslims who have been touched by this pope.

As Muslims, we believe good deeds performed by people of other faiths are equal in the site of God, and that God does not favor acts made by Muslims over non-Muslims. The Holy Koran states explicitly: “Verily, those who have attained to faith [in this divine writ], as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians, and the Sabians — all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds — shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve.” (Chapter 2, verse 62) Thus God does not reserve salvation for believers of a particular faith, but rather categorizes people based on their actions in this life, as well as their basic belief in God and a Day of Judgment.

The position of influence and leadership held by the pope is special and rarefied. There are few people in the world who have a global influence through their words or deeds. Pope Francis seems to grasp not only the role and impact of his position, but he also embodies a spirit that reflects mercy and love toward all fellow humans.

I join with many Muslims around the world in applauding Pope Francis, and thank him for using his position to renew a spirit of compassion much of humanity desperately needs.

Omar Ricci



I applaud Pope Francis' genuine expression of unconditional love. There is no doubt in my mind that Pope Francis has a compassionate heart and is a modern-day example of the model set by our Elder Brother, Jesus.

Developing a compassionate heart helps all of us open up as channels of the highest qualities of Spirit. “Love God with all your mind and heart and love your neighbor as yourself.” These are words for all of us to live by, whether Christian, Jew, Muslim or followers of any other spiritual path.

The Rev. Jeri Linn
Unity Church of the Valley
La Crescenta


When I was growing up there was a man in my neighborhood that lived with what looked like neurofibromatosis. While he had the support of his family, other people avoided him, and we children of course, made fun of him. How ignorant and hurtful we were. Thank God that the pope reached through all the years of misinformation and fear to make physical contact with this worshiper.

Pope Francis seems to be using his high position to do what all Christians are called to do, and that is embracing “the least of these.” My prayers are with Francis. I think that he is clear how vital his humble perspective is at this time in Christianity’s history. There are many women and men of good will all over the world who are breaking down the barriers of hate and fear. But the pontiff has the world’s eye, and he seems to be gaining the world’s respect. His unique position as the Bishop of Rome, in his faith, the traditional successor to the Apostle Peter, the rock, upon whom Jesus created the church, opens not just Catholic, but also ecumenical windows for those of us who might see holiness as drawing away from the world to, as Jesus did, make our main focus those who are unloved.

As we reach into the world to touch those who have been passed over and avoided, we embrace those who are not just physically different, but also elders who have been left to die, woman and children who have been abused, those of different sexual orientations, and on and on. And like Francis, when we wrap the unloved in our arms we put ourselves in a new position to view, and learn from the creator in them.

The Rev. Dr. William Thomas Jr.
Little White Chapel


I’m a bit perplexed. This seems like much ado about nothing, as any person who professes Christ should behave likewise, and especially, we would think, the leaders of such people. Is it that the Catholic Church has so lost the perception that it cares for anyone, that it now merely represents a cold political entity with a papal palace in a sovereign city-state? Is the pope a king, that we should mark the moments he kisses babies or shows any measure of humanity to the handicapped? If the pope is a sincere man, then I would think he is doing what should be expected both personally and professionally. And if that is the case he would probably agree with me.

I’m also rather bemused at the awe which reporters describe as “Gothic” (i.e., medieval or dark ages). Was that really the high point in Christian charity? I don’t think so. If anything, a witness might reference Bible times when Jesus actually walked the land, but then, Jesus touched dangerously contagious people and permanently healed them. The pope simply showed empathy for a noncontagious man who remained in his disease after the chance meeting.

Would the world like to think religious leaders are more genuine than prevailing secular perception? Yes. Is it the case here? I hope so, even though I do not abide Rome. I suppose, as a Protestant, I can appreciate the Gothic corollary (since that was a time before that which necessitated a Reformation) but still, for the past two millenniums, have not Christians of myriad banners been at the forefront of worldwide charity? No matter, the Pope was caught modeling a perceivable good in this instance and we can all nod in appreciation. We needn’t gush about it.

The Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church


It’s unquestionably appropriate to express praise for Pope Francis’ compassionate act. I believe especially so because of the demands of multitudes of other people upon him and the security issues attached to being such a public figure. It’s noteworthy to consider what a “sermon” one simple act like that can preach— for popes and for people like us. I wonder how many opportunities God gives us every day to “preach” like that?

Simple acts of personal compassion make such an impact upon us, I believe, because they remind us of God’s kind nature and personal care when we’re hurting. When two blind men called out for Jesus’ mercy, “moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately they regained their sight” (Matthew 20:34). Jesus touched the hand of Peter’s mother-in-law and healed her of sickness. At Jesus’ touch a deaf and mute man was restored. Jesus welcomed parents who brought their young to him to touch and to bless them. To this day, though Jesus’ healing touch may not be physical, it is none the less real and available to all who cry out to him.

Pastor Jon Barta
Valley Baptist Church


The image of Pope Francis comforting the afflicted man is very powerful, and it can serve as an important reminder to us all regardless of our backgrounds or beliefs. I feel it is the duty of every human being to be compassionate toward those who are suffering. This obligation is even greater for members of the clergy, since they have the added responsibility of educating others in matters of morality, kindness, and caring.

Being a member of the clergy is more a way of life than a profession. It requires complete devotion, and is not simply a 9 to 5 job. Ministering to a congregation involves moments of great joy as well as deep sadness. For example, it is incredibly profound and uplifting to officiate at a wedding and to watch two people who are in love embark upon the lifelong journey of creating something greater then the sum of its parts. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the feelings when you stand at the bedside of a dying person, look into his or her eyes, and offer words of comfort and solace as they draw their last breaths.

Both of these events offer powerful opportunities to bring meaning to the lives of others, and to enrich their human experience. Whether it is over the course of many years or for just a few moments, our ability to positively affect others must guide our lives. In the process, we improve ourselves and help to make our world a better place.

Rabbi Simcha Backman
Chabad Jewish Center


Apparently even ex cathedra infallibility doesn't trump “No good deed goes unpunished.”

Pope Francis seems an inspired choice: demographically correct as a Latin American, with ties to the Old World; sophisticated to the point of wiliness as a spokesperson for the Church, while refreshingly humble as a man.

What I think of his actions matters very little. Much more important and interesting will be what In Theory's Roman Catholic contributors think. I look forward to reading them.

Roberta Medford


The picture of Pope Francis embracing a man facially disfigured with neurofibromatosis is a powerful visual reminder of the compassion of Jesus Christ. He had no concern for his public image when he kept company with lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes and the poor. Jesus’ care and concern for these “dregs of society,” was a constant source of outrage to the religious establishment, who were very concerned with their public image.

However, the picture evokes an even more universal image of the gospel to me. I see Christ in love holding broken humanity, hopelessly disfigured in our own fallen state. We are so used to living far below what we were created to be that we fool ourselves into accepting as reality the facades we pose to one another. Scripture puts it this way: “People look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7b)

Father God sees how our souls are disfigured by shame, guilt, lack of forgiveness, envy, pride, greed, despair, strife, fear, prejudice, etc. He knows the wounds caused by alienation, rejection, abandonment, betrayal, intimidation, physical, emotional and sexual abuse that fester neglected and unhealed deep within us.

He understands our futile attempts to cover over our inner disfigurement through external achievements, performance, power, chasing every type of success. In love, he embraces our disfigured souls and offers us healing and wholeness through his sacrificial gift of Christ on the cross. Romans 5:8 states: “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Knowing how lost and lacking we are deep inside, he comes searching for us to liberate us with his love.

Pastor Ché Ahn
HRock Church


Pope Francis set an example that we all should follow when we meet those who have become outcasts because of physical or mental impairments. I can only imagine the joy that the pope’s kindness brought to the man shown in the photo.

Some of the New Testament’s most powerful passages describe Christ’s compassion for the sick, the crippled and the lepers who called out to him. His love wasn’t constrained by the customs of the day nor by the aversion many of us feel when we meet someone who has been disfigured by injury or disease. In the 25th chapter of Matthew, Jesus taught that we should love and care for them, too.

In the parable of the sheep and the goats he said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’’

The Savior embraced and blessed those who were shunned because of their misfortune. Pope Francis’ action serves as a reminder of our own obligation to them.

Michael White
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
La Crescenta


Terrific! I think Francis so far has been absolutely terrific! This man with his actions and his words makes it seem to the rest of the world that change is actually possible in the Roman Catholic Church. I am speaking, of course, as a liberal or progressive Christian — but when the Holy Father embraces someone so ugly (sorry), who can we think of but Jesus himself?

And when he says that the Church needs to listen to those whom it has rejected so far (gays, lesbians, the women who want to become priests), how can one not stop and take notice? I am sure that we are a long way from female priests and the total acceptance of gays and lesbians in the Roman Catholic Church. But I admire the humility, love, and guts of this man from South America. Long live Francis I!

The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
La Cañada Flintridge


I have seldom had any strong opinions about the popes of the Catholic Church, although I remember being impressed that Pope John XIII brought together the Vatican Two Council, changing some of the more restrictive features of the Catholic Church. But Pope Francis seems to have cast the papacy in a very different way than any of his predecessors, and I find myself being very hopeful that his influence will continue.

While he has not made any major changes in Catholic doctrine, he has put his words into action in some startling ways — washing the feet of the poor; seeking to recognize the role of women; and, most recently, embracing and kissing a man who was seriously disfigured by neurofibromatosis at a General Papal Audience. Not only has he spoken from the heart about showing compassion to the poor, ill, and marginalized. He has put his words into action, and he is living in a way that extols simplicity instead of placing himself high above those he serves.

As someone whose religious tradition encourages us to both “affirm and promote” the value of all people and to act with justice and compassion, I am heartened by the pope’s humility and humanity in putting his faith into action in both his private life and his public persona. It is easy to say the right things, but it is much more difficult to live in ways that model our beliefs.

My hope is that others, both Catholics and non-Catholics, will find ways to follow Pope Francis’ examples of equity and compassion. If more of us did that, the world would be a much better place. We are all a part of the interdependent web of life, and Pope Francis has shown us a way to put that realization into practice. May it be so.

The Rev. Dr. Betty Stapleford
Unitarian Universalist Church of the Verdugo Hills
La Crescenta

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