Let's end 2015 here on the blog with a story about someone who was featured in a book I co-authored this year, Pope Francis. For he had quite a year, including his autumn trip to Cuba and to the U.S.
The book Paul Rock and I wrote is Jesus, Pope Francis and a Protestant Walk into a Bar: Lessons for the Christian Church. It's a seven-week study-group book that I hope many of you will recommend to your faith-based book clubs.
Pretty good for a non-European, though his ancestry is Italian. But he's the first non-European in 1,300 years to be pope.
The Economist piece about the award to which I've linked you above explains a bit about the background of the prize, which dates back to 1950 but has roots back into the early 800s.
One reason this seems like an appropriate award for Francis is that his concern for humanity crosses many borders, both national and economic. His view of the world is not limited by political borders, often created for terrible reasons. Rather, in his world all of humanity is related as brothers and sisters, and even what Jesus called "the least" among humans are due respect and dignity -- maybe especially so if they've been crushed economically by systems that tend to favor the wealthy. The model Francis promotes is very much the model that Jesus demonstrated.
One other thing this prize does is to remind the world that in Christianity today, North America and Europe have become very much minority voices. Africa and much of the Southern Hemisphere -- which Francis has called home -- are dominating developments in the faith these days and no doubt will dominate the future, as I wrote about here earlier this week. So although Francis now lives in Europe and affects such matters there as the absorption of Syrian refugees and responses to terrorism in Paris and elsewhere, he represents the larger voice that areas of the world beyond Europe and North America are offering to Christianity, including on such matters as the environment.
In his time in office, Francis has made many friends but also stirred up some rather harsh opposition from people who, unlike Francis, have no interest in finally implementing many of the Vatican II reforms that this pope's two immediate predecessors did their best to forestall. What we don't yet know, of course, is whether this papacy will last long enough to make long-term and substantial progress on those and similar reforms.
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A HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR CONTINUES TO SPEAK
I was happy to hear this week that Barbara Turkeltaub, one of the Holocaust survivors whom Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn and I wrote about in our book, has received an honorary doctorate. Her amazing story of survival thanks to a priest and some nuns in Poland is found in They Were Just People: Stories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust. Barbara promises to keep telling her story as long as she's able and as long as people are willing to listen and learn. It's quite a story, but just one among many in our book.