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  • Luca Zennaro / Associated Press

    Pope Francis answers questions aboard a flight from Brazil to Italy last month.

  • Jaime Soto is bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento.

Viewpoints: Pope's message of inclusion has been consistent

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 15A
Last Modified: Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013 - 7:58 am

I appreciated the nod given by The Bee's editorial board to Pope Francis' recent visit to Brazil ("Pope Francis could be a force for world's poor"; July 31). Had the Holy Father not mentioned the word "gay" on his return flight to Rome, the editors may have not have judged the subsequent remark "Who am I to judge" and its author as so inclusive. While some will make a fuss about what exactly he meant, the Holy Father's remarks regarding those who are gay was a thoroughly Catholic comment.

His candor over the course of the high-altitude, 90-minute news conference on a wide range of issues was refreshing for both the press corps as well as many Catholics. He put into practice the fraternal admonition given to his brother bishops, priests, religious and seminarians during the Mass celebrated at the Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro only a day earlier.

He challenged us on that occasion to create a culture of encounter ("una cultura de encuentro") in order to counteract a culture of exclusion. His candid manner revealed him as an effective messenger of the consistent message that has been a persistent Catholic question since the Second Vatican Council: how to be the church in the modern world, how to be inclusive and not exclusive, and how to be included and not excluded from the hopes and anxieties of this age?

The pope's comments may seem to signal a nudge toward the shifting social sands on gays and marriage, as some would like to believe. That Francis, the pastor, could elaborate what Benedict, the professor, could not, may prove the popular dictum that the medium is the message. But what Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI both believe and teach are very much in sync. The Christian gospel has always been about inclusion, a profound regard for the human person and his or her rightful place in the human family.

The popes of the new millennium – John Paul II, Benedict, and now Francis – have strived to find the tune and tone of the good news so that it can be heard. With the current Holy Father's transatlantic Alitalia flight we may have a case where the message was actually heard, at least as it has to do with gays and lesbians.

Still, The Sacramento Bee's sense of inclusion may not jibe with the Holy Father's broader culture of inclusion. Among those excluded by The Bee's inclusive description were the unborn child, the frail elderly and the prisoner. These were also included by the Holy Father during his pilgrimage to Rio, as well as those cited in the editorial: the poor, the indigenous, the environment and those who are gay. The former are often excluded from the fashionable political lexicon or proper journalistic style sheet.

Inclusion is an uncomfortable business, as Pope Francis discovered before his visit to Brazil. A week prior, he had made a startling unexpected visit to Lampedusa, a small Italian island, to plead for the humane treatment of immigrants and refugees. His inclusionary vision cost him some support in an increasingly xenophobic, exclusionary Europe.

Not judging a person opens up the possibility of encounter and dialogue with that person. Yet we all still judge behaviors, actions and even intentions. That is the substance of dialogue. Words as well as actions mean something. They have consequences. Inclusion is a behavior, too.

The Holy Father's gesture at 30,000 feet is now being judged as inclusive. In making this distinction, are we using a politically correct understanding of that word or what Francis and his predecessors mean by that word? Pope Francis has communicated the gospel, which is true yesterday, today and forever. His message is "good news" that gives us hope and still makes us uncomfortable, in other words, a good place to begin a dialogue. I'm sure that many people, not just Catholics, hope we can include God in the conversation.

Jaime Soto is bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento.

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