In addition to cooler weather and fall colors, this weekend Salt Lake City hosts the Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For many in this state, it’s a time of reflection, a pause for the betterment of self, community and the world. Ecclesiastical leaders of the state’s dominant faith tradition will provide counsel and comfort to members. It’s a big stage, a worldwide broadcast, and a great time to think about the things that matter to the soul.
But it’s not the only stage. I was struck, actually deeply moved, by the recent words of Pope Francis, the 76-year-old pontiff of the Catholic Church. Call me crazy, but I think conference weekend in Utah is the perfect time to reflect upon the words of this marvelous faith leader. His counsel relates to all of us – Catholic and non-Catholic, Mormon and non-Mormon, faith inclined and non-faith inclined.
First a bit of background. Pope Francis is the 266th pontiff and the first Jesuit to become pope. He was raised in Argentina and is the first non-European pope in more than 1,000 years. During his time as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires he chose to live in a modest apartment and routinely used public transit. He relates to the rising generation by tweeting (@pontifex) and will soon be establishing a larger presence on Instagram. His papacy thus far has been marked by a focus on the poor. He chose St. Francis of Assisi’s name because he was “a man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation.” This humble man is a man of the people.
I read with interest his recent interview with La Civilta Cattolica, an Italian Jesuit journal. Many of his words are worth pondering this weekend.
“I see the church as a field hospital after battle.” This sentiment speaks to the profound struggles millions face because of the loss of a loved one, a physical ailment, lack of food and shelter, or a transgression that rocks the soul. Churches of all faiths should be places of comfort.
“We must walk united with our differences: there is no other way to become one.” Even though people live and view the world differently, the only way to unify is to start walking together. That’s where understanding begins. By doing so, we gain perspective, which means understanding is right around the corner. Churches of all faiths should promote unity.
“The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions.” Now that’s a powerful statement about women. Women do indeed possess a “feminine genius” and society will be better if this brilliance is given a voice. Women make a remarkable imprint on families, schools, businesses, congregations, and life. The pope also said, “We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman.” Churches of all faiths should see women as the profound resource they are.
“I can look at individual persons, one at a time I am not used to the masses.” Pope Francis sees the human face in life’s daily struggle. He is not enamored by public fanfare or fame. Churches of all faiths must elevate humanity, one soul at a time.
“The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules.” He goes on to say the ministers of the church must above all be ministers of mercy. This is a complex topic, but an important one, too. Not all religious topics should be given equal weight. As the pope said, “We have to find a new balance.” And a merciful spirit should be a priority. Churches of all faiths should find the right balance between rules and mercy.
I’m no theologian. I’m not well-spoken when it comes to religion. But this Utah Mormon thinks this weekend is a great time to reflect upon the words of the pope, LDS church leaders and anyone else seeking to improve the world by calling the able to action.
Natalie Gochnour is an associate dean in the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah and chief economist for the Salt Lake Chamber.