Pope Francis’ visit to the United States this week won’t include California. It’s a missed opportunity. Rarely has such a secular blue state had so much in common with a spiritual leader: Hispanic roots, environmentalism, Father Junipero Serra, a certain star quality.
Though many Californians – including at least 100 Roman Catholics from the Diocese of Sacramento – are traveling East to be part of the historic occasion, it has been 28 years since a pope last graced this state. The Pope arrives Tuesday with a five-day itinerary that will include Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia. We welcome him, and hope his presence brings more of the nation around to a more Californian viewpoint during his trip, which will coincide with Climate Week.
Francis will meet with Congress and President Barack Obama and the U.N. General Assembly. He may run into Gov. Jerry Brown, who will be in New York for the climate change conference. And he’ll meet with legions of poor people and prison inmates. In this respect, he and California are alike, too – better acquainted than most with both the powerful and the deeply impoverished.
In Washington, at a Spanish Mass, the pope will canonize Serra, who founded this state’s mission system, and reach out to the Native Americans who suffered in the name of Christian salvation. A representative of the Ohlone people, who were nearly wiped out during the mission era, will do one of the ceremonial readings in the tribe’s native language, which until recently had all but disappeared.
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The left points to his anti-consumerism. The right notes the unchanged church doctrine. As with California, people look at Pope Francis and see what they want to see.
We appreciate this spirit of reconciliation. This world hasn’t been open-hearted lately, and Francis’ example underscores how far we have drifted from each other. He is charismatic, and Americans have been swept up in a way that few would have thought possible only a few years ago during the pedophile priest scandals.
And it would be nice if that charisma were to soften some of this nation’s divisions, though that’s probably unlikely. The political left points to the anti-consumerism in “Laudato si,” his landmark encyclical on global warming. The right notes that while he has shifted emphasis, church doctrine is unchanged toward abortion and same-sex marriage. People see what they want to see in him, again, like California.
Meanwhile, there are his actual marching orders, which couldn’t be more counterintuitive to the striving, self-absorbed American middle: Money must serve, not rule. Take in the migrants. If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge? The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.
Here in California, Francis’ challenge is manifest in our burning, struggling, diverse, immigrant-filled, wealthy, poverty-stricken landscape. The challenges he sees are more than rhetoric here, from income disparity to climate change.
Religion isn’t the force here that it once was, but in these desperate times, we’re open to any help he can offer. In a nation that thought John F. Kennedy’s faith might keep him from being elected, nearly 31 percent of Congress now identifies as Roman Catholic, as do eight of the politicians running for the White House. How they greet this pope will be revealing. Here’s hoping he imparts some wisdom. Red or blue, East, West or middle, we could all use a little grace.