Pope Francis is my Pope as a Mormon

image004Warner Woodworth is a BYU professor emeritus.

As a Latter-day Saint, I embrace my religion and the full, restored gospel of Jesus Christ. I sustain our leaders, especially our Prophet, Thomas S. Monson. However, I also connect with Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church. On some occasions, I tell my Mormon friends we should pray for the pope, and I tell my Catholic friends that I support the pope, as well. Do you?

Over the years in several conversations with members of the Quorum of the Twelve, they have asked whether I prayed for the pope, to which I answered, “Occasionally.” Next I was asked to always do so. The brethren pointed out how aligned we are with the Catholic Church on many doctrinal matters and political issues, as well as global partners in humanitarian efforts. So I’ve followed their counsel.

Over the years, I’ve collaborated with leaders of many faiths, including representing our church with the Utah Valley Ministerial Association (UVMA), and more recently as the LDS representative at the Coalition of Religious Communities for Crossroads Urban Center in Salt Lake City. I’ve been privileged to labor on a range of issues such as homelessness, poverty, unemployment, healthcare, and so forth. Our work has hopefully reduced social and economic injustices, as well as benefitted Utah’s have-nots.

These opportunities to work with other faiths have helped me understand the Prophet Joseph’s assertion that: “Mormonism is truth…the first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation or without being circumscribed or prohibited by the creeds or superstitious notions of men, or by the dominations of one another, when that truth is clearly demonstrated to our minds.” 1

In other words, we embrace an inclusive spirituality that opens us up to others and enables us to learn all things. This also brings us to areas of partnership for doing good around the globe. On April 8, 1867 in the old Bowery, Brother Brigham asserted the following: “‘Mormonism,’ so­ called, embraces every principle pertaining to life and salvation, for time and eternity. No matter who has it. If the infidel has got truth it belongs to ‘Mormonism.’ The truth and sound doctrine possessed by the sectarian world, and they have a great deal, all belong to this church. As for their morality many of them are morally just as good as we are. All that is good, lovely, and praiseworthy belongs to this church and kingdom.” 2

These ideas bring me to the current trip of Pope Francis to Cuba and the United States this week. I’ve been impressed by the life and example of this good man who practices the rigors of his Jesuit calling: humble, simple, aware of the one lost sheep, open to accept all humans in spite of their sins and weakness. To the Cubans, he admitted his own foibles as a youth, and later as a young priest in Argentina. He also emphasized the need to not “always throw rocks at that which separates us.” Instead, he spoke of reconciliation and peace between nations such as Cuba and the U.S., after 50 years having facilitated the normalization between the two countries in recent months.  Francis sought to raise the bar of young Cubans so they can change their world and dream big of a new and better life.

Now the Pope has been in our country for two days. What an amazing experience for many Americans! His words to Catholic bishops stressed holding a hand out, wiping away tears, and comforting the lonely. Wednesday, he said: “It is important that the Church in the United States also be a humble home, a family hearth which attracts men and women through the attractive light and warmth of love. As pastors, we know well how much darkness and cold there is in this world; we know the loneliness and the neglect experienced by many people, even amid great resources of communication and material wealth. We see their fear in the face of life, their despair and the many forms of escapism to which it gives rise.”

Today, he called on Congress to transcend division and act on climate change, immigration and poverty. His vision of a better world apparently inspired the mighty and the weak, Dems and the GOP. I loved his message on immigration, that “We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners,” including the fact that his parents emigrated from Italy to Latin America.

He stressed the need to reduce the ravages of inequality and restore human dignity in the workplace and in the community. I was thrilled he cited four of my heroes: Dorothy Day, the great Catholic pro-poor activist, Thomas Merton, the well-known Catholic poet and mystic, as well as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln.

Perhaps even more than what Pope Francis says, is the many actions he takes to show us a simpler pathway to Christ, much like President Monson’s visits to the elderly, the poor, the hospitalized. I love the reported incidents of Francis washing the feet of the poor, embracing the homeless, comforting people in prison, going out at night to visit AIDs patients, giving alms to modern beggars in our streets.

He has a common touch, an approach to people that shows his solidarity with those who suffer. He even used a tiny Fiat to make his way around Washington, DC, instead of the traditional huge limousines of the rich and powerful. Like St. Francis of Assisi, this simple Jesuit seeks to live the life of a believing pilgrim, perhaps aligning himself with Joseph Smith who declared that “A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race.”3

After the pontiff’s visit to America this week, I hope more of us Latter-day Saints will seek to practice the ordinary values of Pope Francis on a daily basis.

A final thought. On many occasions, after telling my Catholic associates that I consider Pope Francis to be my pope as a Mormon, I often suggest the following: “My Mormon prophet, is your prophet, too. I view the pope as the pope to the entire world. In the same vein, I suggest that President Monson is prophet to the whole world, as well, including you Catholics.” So far, such friends usually concur with me. They say they’d never considered this idea, but it makes sense. A few have even said they agree enthusiastically, just to cover all the religious bases of their lives.

What do you think?

  1. Joseph Smith, Times and Seasons, Vol. 1, No. 4, Feb. 1840, p. 54.
  2. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 11, April 8, 1867, p. 375.
  3. Joseph Smith, History of the Church,1840 letter, Vol. 4, p. 227.

Comments

  1. Thanks for this. I grew up with many Catholic friends. Where we visit temples, they visited the California Missions. It was something I loved to do, too. It was really hard to spend my teens with the idea’s of Bruce R. McConkie about Catholicism, because I did not see it that way. I am thrilled that the top leadership is moving miles away from the negative.

  2. I listened to Pope Francis’s address to Congress, and I was both intellectually stimulated and also spiritually moved. It was full of important insights, calls to action, reminders to be our better selves, and subtle ways of challenging all of us not to be too comfortable in our ideologies. He is not just a humble disciple of Christ, but also a very wise man–wise in soiritual understanding, and wise in crafting his message. I am so glad for this great spiritual leader, who can help the world In ways that our own LDS leaders cannot, because the world does not really quote or listen to our prophet and apostles–because they are not on the world radar. The Pope is, though, and Pope Francis is a spiritual leader for the world. I felt that strongly when listening to him. It was a reminder to me to love and honor the truth spoken by all the world’s faithful–something my parents taught me from a young age. Thank you so much for this post.

  3. Pope Francis exemplifies the simple humility of the Saint whose name he selected as his Papal name.

  4. Randy Knapp says:

    As a devout Catholic living in Idaho I have many LDS friends. I am an older guy and grew up in a time where it was more “Us against them” from both sides. Thank you for your kind words, all of you. I heard a very good priest, actually a Canon, in our church praise Mormons for walking the walk when many of us do not – He was talking specifically of your missionaries, many of whom I have invited into my home. God bless you all my brothers and sisters in Christ. Blessed Sunday!

  5. Single Sister says:

    I saw Papa Francesco in Rome a few years ago. He literally exudes light – up close to him (even far away), it’s almost like he glows. He truly is a Disciple of Jesus Christ. I love him!

  6. I suspect that I appreciate the pope as much as Catholics appreciate Pres. Monson.

    We say that Pres. Monson is the Prophet for the whole world, and so I suppose that since “Papa Francesco” is the only Pope I know of, that in the same sense he is my Pope too. But otherwise I have no warm fuzzies for him, I don’t look to him for any counsel or guidance nor find that which he offers to be any better than any other schmoe I might meet. He’s a guy trying to serve Christ, which I applaud, but he holds a position claiming that he has by divine institution, supreme, full, immediate, and universal power in the care of souls… a claim I don’t believe and snigger at when I think of it. It isn’t admirable to claim divine authority when none exists IMO, and so the positives of what he might say or strive for are outweighed in my mind by the fact I think he (and all others who have held the position) is a charalatan.

    I wish him success in those endevours that are aligned with the will of God.

  7. Dear Jax, Just because you believe something, doesn’t make it true. And ditto the converse.

  8. In the Book of Mormon, which Mormons revere as scripture superior to the Bible, it speaks of the Great and Abominable Church, founded by the Devil himself, that removed many plain and precious parts from the Bible (1 Nephi 13). That church is neither the Anglican nor the Lutheran church. The Bible predated them both by at least a thousand years.

    In the pre-1990 Temple Endowment ritual, worthy Mormons heard Satan claim he will buy up “popes and priests” to rule with blood and horror on the earth. Only one Church has popes, and it’s not the Catholics on the east of Rome.

    When both Mormon scripture and worship positively identify the Roman Catholic Church as belonging to the Devil, I don’t understand how any Mormon can possibly admire the Pope. You have to ignore your Mormon scriptures and liturgy to do that. And that’s not a bad idea… (What is bad is blaming Bruce McConkie for correctly teaching what is clearly found in Mormon scripture and worship).

    Jesus built his Church on Peter the Rock so that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. On the other hand, Mormonism teaches that hell prevailed against the Church, that’s why Joseph Smith came along to restore it. These are mutually exclusive claims. Both cannot be true, otherwise, there is no such thing as truth.

    In John 17, Jesus prayed that his disciples “not be taken out of the world” (v.15) but that they be protected from evil. That the Bishopric of Peter now held by Pope Francis has survived 2,000 years of world evils, and was not taken out, is a sign that the Father granted his Son’s prayer. Jesus also prayed for his disciples’ unity. The Pope is the rallying point of Christian Unity. It is this unity that built Western civilization.

    And then the Protestants came along, who in 2017 will be celebrating 500 years worth of Christian disunity in the body of Christ. And what of Pres. Monson and his church? He represents another division, another wound in the body. As a young man, Joseph Smith understood that there is only “One Lord, One Faith, and One Baptism”. After he died, he produced two kinds of Mormons: those who believed polygamy and those who rejected it. Even today Mormons are disunited in what to believe about Joseph Smith. Disunity is one of Mormonism’s unpalatable fruits. But this is understandable. After all, Mormonism was nurtured in the womb of Protestantism.

    When any Tom, Dick, or Harry is allowed to interpret the Bible as he wishes, start his own church as he pleases, and behaves as a mini-pope in it, what else do you expect?

  9. I too love Pope Francis. I’m an LDS bishop and I’ve trying to teach our ward members to embrace all ‘goodness’ and ‘truths’ from other religions including the catholic church. May God bless Pope Francis…the world needs more leaders of his caliber.

  10. Rico, I’m not sure what your goal is, but you seem to be agitating for the kind of divisiveness you criticize. That’s your prerogative. All religions, including Catholicism and Mormonism, have a share of truth and a good deal of untruth. Divisions result because imperfect people imperfectly divine the divine will. Joseph Smith was certainly not perfect. Neither has any pope been perfect. What this pope is attempting to do is call us to the fundamental Christian duty of caring for the poor, the sick, the sorrowing, and the outcast. If we do that, according the Savior himself, he will welcome us into his fold, regardless of how we understand or misunderstand the various theologies that men have concocted to make sense of spiritual feelings and ambiguities.

  11. Rico is a hard core Catholic troll. Bye, Rico.

  12. I too find Pope Francis an inspiring and humble servant of Christ. On Sunday in my LDS ward I heard three people make comments about the Pope – comments that disappointed me in that they were not entirely complimentary. The first praised him but did add that “we want to adjust the thinking” of Catholics. I suppose if you really believe that we want to convert everyone to mormonism I guess it’s accurate to say we are trying to “adjust their thinking”. I personally have given up believing that I can or should “adjust the thinking” of many people at all in this world. The other two who spoke about Pope Francis in different places mentioned that they didn’t think Pope Francis talked much at all about Jesus during his visit…that he didn’t invite people publicly to come to Christ. One even had the audacity to say that in contrast Mormons talk about Christ all the time. I don’t think it’s true that Pope Francis talks too little about Christ nor do I believe by any stretch of the imagination that Mormons always speak about Christ. What percent of General Conference talks have as their primary subject Jesus? I’m not sure it’s even the majority.

  13. John Mansfield says:

    Those of an ecumenical bent may find interest in an interfaith event that the LDS church helped with planning in Washington, D.C. last Sunday afternoon. Starting at the Washington Hebrew Congregation, a procession of a few hundred people headed down Massachusetts Avenue to open houses hosted by ten congregations. I had never been inside a Russian Orthodox church, Sikh temple, or mosque before. I noticed our stake Primary president and the mission president’s wife among those walking down Massachusetts Avenue.

  14. John Mansfield says:

    I left out a particular thing from Sunday that made me think of the above event when reading this post. At the end of the walk, in the courtyard of the Islamic Center of Washington, Pope Francis’ homily in Philadelphia was playing live over loudspeakers.

  15. N. W. Clerk says:

    *My* Pope is the one who’s been quoted 17 times in General Conference. I am sorely tempted to call him a Prophet:

    “Vice is a monster of such frightful mien
    As to be hated, needs but to be seen;
    But seen too oft, familiar with her face,
    We first endure, then pity, then embrace.”
    (Alexander Pope)

  16. Susan W H says:

    Thank you for this post, Warner. I find much to admire in Pope Francis, and my admiration of you and your efforts to make the world better are boundless. It is my hope that people like you can make a difference–our world does need it.