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.

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.

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