My Meeting with Pope Francis


Ever since white smoke billowed out of the Vatican chimney back in 2013, I’ve been an admirer of Pope Francis. I love his humble spirit and his heart as reflected in his care for the poor and the disenfranchised. No one was prepared for the new pope from Argentina to reject the palatial papal residence for a simple two-bedroom apartment and to drive himself around in a Fiat instead of traveling in a chauffeured Mercedes.

I find his bold unvarnished criticisms of prosperity, power, intolerance, and injustice refreshing. Pope Francis is giving the world and the church (both Catholic and Protestant) a much-needed radical vision of how it looks to follow Jesus.

Needless to say, I was terribly disappointed when Pope Francis’ 2015 historic visit to Philadelphia occurred when I was on the West Coast. Little did I realize, when my friend Mae Cannon invited me to contribute a chapter to a book she was editing on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, that I would get a second chance.

Pope Francis and I would meet as allies in a common cause on the pages of that book.

Multiple Narratives Toward Peace

9781498298803Hot off the press, A Land Full of God: Christian Perspectives on the Holy Land, is a collection of twenty-nine short essays by a wide variety of individuals and perspectives, including Pope Francis, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Secretary of State John Kerry.

The purpose of the book is to create an expanded space for Christians to listen, and learn from differing viewpoints, narratives, and research about the Holy Land and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Too often we default to a binary perspective where the goal is to decide which side we’re on, when the situation is far more complex.

These essays move the conversation beyond theory by putting the faces and suffering of real people on the crisis and by probing the biblical text for wisdom. At the heart of the book is the profound conviction that American Christians have a major role to play in promoting peace and justice in the region.

My chapter, “Unlikely Friendships,” recalls my family’s experience of living in Oxford, England during the First Gulf War, also known as Operation Desert Storm. The war created tensions in Oxford, where anti-war sentiments ran high and many viewed the war as a battle for the American automobile. Friends from other countries expressed their disapproval of American involvement by withdrawing from us.

During that time, we were drawn into unlikely friendships within the Oxford University student community with two neighbors who were experiencing similar isolation—a devout Muslim from India and an Israeli who was a regular commentator on British news networks during the war. We did a lot of listening.

That experience was proof that Oxford offers more than one kind of education.

Take Up and Read!

My copy of A Land Full of God just arrived, and I am already learning from the contributions of other writers. The book itself is a work of grace and an important contribution toward peace in a conflict that festers at the center of the Middle East. Mae deserves enormous credit for her vision for the project and for assembling such a diverse group of writers.

I’m convinced this book is strategically important for the church and feel strongly that it deserves a wide reading—not just because it documents my official meeting with Pope Francis, but because of the potential impact the church can have for peace. The personal stories are gripping, the biblical teachings speak to the heart, and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian crisis is an issue we can’t ignore.

A Land Full of God: Christian Perspectives on the Holy Land

Mae Elise Cannon

Foreword by Muslim & Jewish leaders:
Aziz Abu Sarah and Rabbi Dr. Daniel Roth

Contributors in chapter order:
Dale Hanson Bourke, David Neff, Rich Nathan, His Holiness Pope Francis, Judith Mendelsohn Rood, Tony Maalouf, Michael Brown, John Phelan, Andrea Smith, Clayborne Carson, Troy Jackson, Donald Lewis, David Gushee, Susan Michael, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, The Honorable John Kerry, Paul Alexander, Bob Roberts, David Anderson, Darrell Bock, Jerry White, Shane Claiborne, Carolyn Custis James, Lynne Hybels, Eugene Cho, Jim Wallis, Joel Hunter, Bill Hybels, and Tony Campolo.

Published originally at Missio Alliance

Also published at HuffPost

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3 Responses to My Meeting with Pope Francis

  1. Peter Ahlstrom says:

    Very gratifying to learn you respect and like Pope Francis! So does my family, for largely the same reasons (many stemming from my personal Bible study on what “Loving our Neighbors” actually means.) Let’s just say, he both lives it and preaches it.

    I will put in a request for the book – here at our library. Why here? Because, besides being what looks like a very good book, it’s a new book. But, if I ask them to interlibrary loan any new book, they won’t be able to get it that way, because other libraries won’t loan new books. So what does our library do to get it for me? They buy it. And then anyone in town can get to read it. I like that little trick. Have used it often on Christian books.

    Prayers and blessings for you and your husband.


  2. Thanks Peter. I hope many others will read the book through the public library.


    • Pete Ahlstrom says:

      One thing that helps is that this library always has a double-faced shelf of their new titles right in front of the circulation desk, plus another section right at the beginning of the book stacks. So the users always can tell what’s new. And after I told the interlibrary loan man about the contributors you named, he said “I’m going to tell the order department I think this book belongs in our library.”


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