Pope Francis was elected the 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church in March 2013. As the first pope from the Americas, he was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio.
Since his election though, much of what has been attributed to him has been quite thought provoking, meaningful and endearing to the ordinary man on the street.
For instance, he is quoted as having said:
“I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the center and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures.”
Over recent times, stories written or told about him have made him out as a man rich in compassion and imbued with the foresight that many believe is directed towards the protection of the right of the ordinary man.
One of those stories says that a Priest in charge of a Catholic Diocese in a country in the South Pacific went to Rome, and during the time he was there he met with the pope.
During their meeting the visitor expressed his wish to buy a new car when he got back home. In response, the pope is said to have told his guest the Church should not burden the children of God.
At the time, the pope was apparently using an old car.
Later when his guest returned home, he did not pursue with his dream of getting a new car. He held on to his old one instead.
Another story says the pope was standing in a queue heading towards the door of a theatre when someone offered him his spot on the queue; in response the pope politely turned the offer down saying thank you, and he added that he did not mind waiting like everyone else.
The third story says a couple asked their priest to baptize their baby child but the priest declined; the problem is that the couple had not married so the priest told them they had to get married first.
Somehow the pope heard about this little incident so he went to the parish in question – without the priest’s knowledge apparently – and baptized the couple’s baby.
The moral of the story is simple apparently; it says the baby’s God-given right to spiritual purity should not be denied because of its parent’s negligence.
In his Easter message delivered at the Vatican on 27 March, Pope Francis warned about the deepening threat to family life as a result of encroaching stress being encountered everywhere today.
He wrote: “In many cases, parents come home exhausted, not wanting to talk, and many families no longer even share a common meal.”
He described “severe stress” on families “who often seem more caught up with securing their future than with enjoying the present.
“This is a broader cultural problem, aggravated by fears about steady employment, finances and the future of children,” he wrote.
Titled “The Joy of Love,” his proclamation urged the Roman Catholic Church “to be more welcoming and less judgmental, as he signaled a pastoral path for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive holy communion.”
He also called on priests “to welcome single parents, gay people and unmarried straight couples who are living together.”
He wrote: “A pastor cannot feel that it is enough to simply apply moral laws to those living in ‘irregular’ situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives.”
And as for “same-sex marriage,” Pope Francis is unmoved in his belief that the “door should remain closed to it saying it cannot be seen as the equivalent of heterosexual unions.”
However he “admits that the church has made mistakes in alienating families and dedicates many passages to describing the pressures brought on families by poverty, migration, drug abuse and violence.”
And that brings us down to the seemingly unending horror of war in the Middle East, where reports say many are continued to be killed today and many more are being displaced.
The story is frightening, and yes it is quite real.
Whereas uncontrollable violence triggered by man’s hatred of man is tearing apart the lives of thousands – if not millions – of innocent people in that part of the world today, it seems as if ours in our little corner of the universe here in the Pacific is somewhat being sheltered, and yet we don’t know why.
Still, it is not ours to try to find out why; instead, let’s be grateful as we’re treasuring this mesmerizing peace that we’re been taking for granted over the years, so that wherever we are today – whether we’re at home or in church – let’s just hold on to it tightly and never let go.
And in the meantime, let’s pray for the women and girls living in horror in places like Nigeria, where they’re being forced to become suicide bombers against their will, knowing that they could be killed any time.
In the New York Times on 7 April 2016, the story written by Dionne Searcey that described how those women were being taught, said they were told: “Hold the bomb under your armpit to keep it steady.
“Sever your enemy’s head from behind, to minimize struggling.”
“If you cut from the back of the neck, they die faster.”
Frightening stuff and yet it is quite real.
The Long War Journal which tracks terrorist activities, said the terrorist group, Boko Haram, “has used at least 105 women and girls in suicide attacks since June 2014, when a woman set off a bomb at an army barracks in Nigeria.”
That was when the use of women as suicide bombers started. It did when they took some 300 girls and many of whom were never found.
Reports say hundreds of other women and girls have been abducted, imprisoned, raped and sometimes intentionally impregnated, perhaps with the goal of creating a new generation of fighters.
Since then, women and girls, often with bombs hidden in baskets or under their clothes, have killed hundreds of people in attacks on fish and vegetable markets, schools, mosques, churches and even camps for people who fled their homes to escape the violence.
“This isn’t something you can defeat or eradicate outright,” said Issa Tchiroma Bakary, the minister of communications in Cameroon, where 22 female suicide bombers have been identified since the start of the year.
He said: “You don’t know who is who. When you see a young girl moving toward you, you don’t know if she’s hiding a bomb.”
And he added: “But then soldiers cannot open fire on every woman or girl who looks suspicious.”
One woman, a Christian, who escaped being made a suicide bomber - her name is withheld – said one morning fighters came to her village firing weapons as they were spilling out of cars, and rounded up women and children.
Later she was forced to enroll in Boko Haram’s classes on its version of Islam, a first step on her way toward being taught the art of suicide bombing.
After some months of training though, she was able to escape her captors one day when they assembled for evening preaching.
She stayed behind, gathered two of her young children and a grandchild, and they made a run for the Cameroonian border.
“I don’t want to take a bomb,” she said.
This time she was explaining how she’d made her escape as she was sitting “inside a refugee camp in Cameroon that stretches across a vast landscape dotted by tents and mud huts.”
Have a peaceful Sunday Samoa, God bless.