By Emily Geddes
Back in 1985, in response to the controversy surrounding building a new LDS temple in Stockholm, Bishop Krister Stendahl of the Church of Sweden developed his three rules of religious understanding. As part of his rules, he coined the phrase “holy envy” to describe his admiration of elements of other faiths – in this case, Mormonism – and his desire to learn from them and incorporate those aspects into his own faith.
Well, I have a confession. I feel holy envy about Pope Francis.
As a Mormon, I love our church’s current president Thomas S. Monson. He has endeared himself to millions with his concern for the poor and needy. His care for and devotion to the 87 widows in his congregation when he first became a bishop is legendary and continued long past his call to greater responsibilities in the church. Elder Holland recently told of returning with him from then-economically depressed East Germany and noticing that President Monson was wearing house slippers because he’d literally given the shoes off his feet – and all his extra clothes – to those in need.
I see the same admirable care for individuals in Pope Francis.
Breaking with tradition, he washed the feet of women, Muslims, prisoners, the elderly, disabled people, and AIDS victims in ceremonies where previously only Catholic priests were included.
He has insisted on – and personally demonstrated – an open welcoming attitude towards populations sometimes marginalized in the Catholic Church and other communities, including divorced people, LGBT individuals, and women who have had abortions.
He has shown special concern for the poor and homeless and called on Europe’s Catholic parishes and religious communities to open their doors to refugees.
His public statements on evolution and climate change unapologetically recognize the scientific foundations of the issues and the disproportionate effect climate change has on the poorest and most vulnerable.
He demonstrates strong and humble leadership, fighting hypocrisy and other “diseases” inside the church and working towards greater accountability and transparency.
His focus on humility and simplicity, eschewing the more ornate vestments of his predecessor, living in a two-room suite instead of the luxury papal apartments, and traveling in a Fiat, underscores his commitment to the substance of a Christian life.
While I’m sure we wouldn’t agree on some doctrinal issues, I admire Pope Francis immensely. He is living out the gospel he preaches, serving others, and emulating Christ, regardless of resistance from others or the inertia of long-standing traditions. In the words of a modern LDS scripture, he is one of those who “stand as witnesses of God at all times, and in all things, and in all places.”
This weekend, Tracy Simmons, the editor and executive director of SpokaneFaVS, will travel to Philadelphia and cover Pope Francis’s visit – the only reporter from the Inland Northwest to do so – and I’ll be following her every post here, feeling a twinge of holy envy with every update.