I wrote this letter to Pope Francis upon his being chosen to lead the Catholic Church. While I doubt he will ever get to see it, I thought you might find it of interest.
Dear Holy Father,
I am a rabbi, an author so long in this business as to be jaded by much of what happens in the realm of religion. And yet I found myself strangely hopeful when I learned that Ruach haKodesh, the Holy Spirit, has call a new pope from the new world to lead the Catholic Church, and that this new pope has taken a name new to the Papacy, Francis. What better name to choose, Father! What greater sign that you were chosen by something surpassing even the College of Cardinals.
So, with all humility, Holy Father, I am writing to you to you as a would–be friend and well–wisher, and pray that Pope Francis lets the renewing spirit of St. Francis be your guide.
St. Francis vowed to rebuild the Church, and people will expect this of you as well, yet they will look for institutional change rather than spiritual renewal when in fact it is the latter than is needed most, and which will, in time, lead to the former.
I pray that the simplicity of St. Francis empower you to bring the simple message of Christ to the world—not the Church’s message of extra Ecclesiam nulla salus (“outside the Church there is no salvation”)—but Christ’s message of justice and compassion: doing unto others what you would want others to do unto you, knowing that this is whole of the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12). Our Rabbi Hillel, perhaps your rabbi’s rabbi as well, said much the same thing: “what is hateful to you do not do to another, this is the whole of Torah,” (Talmud, Shabbat 31a). Nothing is more simple to grasp or more difficult to do. Yet this is the message of both our faiths; I pray you will make it the hallmark of your Church. This is the Francis we need.
It is said that Francis spoke to and befriended the animals. I pray that you will speak for them as well. Jews, Christians, and Muslims, through our common grandfather Abraham, are called to be blessings to all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3). All of them. And yet our very presence on this planet makes all other families fear us and dread us (Genesis 9:2). I pray that your Church will befriend the earth and all who dwell upon her, and stand with others who seek to do the same. This is the Francis we need.
Francis often rattled the complacency of his Church, and I hope you do the same. There is no rebuilding without it. While St. Francis dared to stand up to the powers of his day, I pray that Pope Francis will do no less. I invite you to consider not only your obligations to your Church, but to the world; not only to your people, but to the planet. Let the Church be catholic as well as Catholic. I fantasize about Pope Francis traveling with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Bishop Desmond Tutu, the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers, and others to stand in silent witness against the principalities and powers (Ephesians 6:12) that shroud our world in the blinding cloak of ignorance, arrogance, fear, and hatred. Your combined presence would be enough to make the liberating Presence of God palpable in our hearts and prophetic in your hands.
And lastly may I offer you this, Holy Father: If you are ever in doubt about your task, if you are ever confused by the politicking of the pious who will kiss your ring only in hopes of turning your hand to their agenda, please, Father, remember and return to the Prayer attributed to Francis, a prayer that you might bring to the world in both word and deed:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
I have gone on longer than I had intended, and I thank you for indulging me. May your tenure as Pope bring renewal to your people and peace to our world. In the name of the One who embraces and transcends all names, I wish you great success.
Rabbi Rami Shapiro