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