What a hopeful sign from Pope Francis this week in his interview with Jesuit magazines. For the first time in a long time there is an expression of inclusiveness that has been missing from the Catholic hierarchy. Francis is making overtures to the poor, to women, to the LGBT community, to non-Catholics and even to atheists! It seems that everyone is surprised by this change of perspective, but my experience and exposure to Jesuits would have me expect this of the new pope, who is the first Jesuit pope.
First, let me address why this is important. We are living in a world where the news media only focuses on extremists, especially when it comes to religion. We are bombarded with fanatics from every conceivable religion which only reinforces fanatics from other religions. Most of these fanatics are threatened by diversity and inclusion. They cling to the belief that their religion is the only true religion and in most cases their religious practices are rigid and traditional, which is why they are called fundamentalists. Having a pope who is opening his church to listen to and respect others hopefully will bring out other religious leaders and nonbelievers who are equally open-minded. If only the press would give them the attention it gives to the fanatics.
I am writing this as a non-Catholic who did his undergraduate studies at a Jesuit college and then went on to teach at that college for 33 years. There are many stories I could write about the Jesuits, but one will suffice for now. I was invited to apply to St. Peter’s College by some Jesuits I knew from the civil rights movement. They wanted non-Catholic students to add different perspectives at the college. I admit to being very concerned about being ostracized and discriminated against as a Jew in a Jesuit college, and this apprehension was raised the very first day of classes when Fr. Fitzsimmons, the Jesuit professor of my English literature class, asked me to see him after class. When I approached him with much trepidation, the first question he asked me was if I was of the “Hebraic persuasion.” When I answered in the affirmative, he told me “next Monday is your Yom Kippur, and I do not expect to see you in class.” I have to admit that my life would not be the same if it were not for the Jesuits.
Many of my life choices, including studying for my junior year in Israel, would not have happened without their encouragement. I hope that the new pope will bring the understanding and enlightenment that I experienced to the rest of the world.