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Crossing Boundaries: Pope Francis’ Trip to the Middle East


Pope_Francis_Western_WallAs the disciples came to meet Jesus on a mountain just before his ascension into heaven, he gave them the commandment to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19). Perhaps not by coincidence then, Pope Francis’ recent trip to the Middle East, in which many of his stops were characterized by ecumenical or peace-making intent, fell on the weekend before the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. Pope Francis carried with him a sincere desire to take the love of Christ into areas ravaged by war, terrorism, and feuding based on religious, political, or ideological differences that have lasted for decades or longer.
 
In light of this trip, and of the constant barrage of news reports about world destruction, we might wonder how we can make bringing the light of Christ to all nations a reality in our daily lives. Most of us do not have the resources to travel the world nor the time to spend long stints as missionaries in foreign countries. We also do not have the ability to meet with great dignitaries or political figures as does our Holy Father. However, all of this is not to say that we can’t learn a lot from his example, or from the many great missionary saints for that matter, in order to apply this teaching to our lives.
 
For those living in the United States, or nations with great diversity, the answer should come easily. Often in our own local communities there are a large variety of ethnicities and religions that give us ample opportunity to cross cultural boundaries. In his trip, Pope Francis met with Holocaust survivors, prayed at the Western Wall, and met Patriarch Bartholomew of the Eastern Orthodox Church to discuss Christian unity. These are just a few examples of actions he performed in order to highlight the need for peace and understanding in the Middle East. Likewise, in our own communities, there are ample opportunities to explore what is beyond our current scope of living. Here are just a few examples: visit a Shabbat service with a Jewish friend while reciprocating with an invitation to attend Mass; attend a Mass in another language, or organize an interdenominational dinner in order to highlight Christian unity.
 
Recently I had an opportunity to do something just like this. While volunteering at a local library, I got to know a young woman who was a non-practicing Baptist. After a while of getting to know one another, eventually we landed on the topic of religion. As she got to know more about my Catholic background I got to know more about her Baptist background. This led to invitations to visit each other’s churches. These experiences, from which we both gained, could not have happened had either of us decided to stay within our comfort zones. During his trip, Pope Francis illustrated, as have many other popes and saints, that making disciples of all nations does not mean that we call others to come to us, but that we go out to others. Often, however, this is not a one-way street; just as Pope Francis saw Christ in the Holocaust survivors he met with, but was also Christ to them through a kiss on each of their hands, we can also both bring Christ to and see Christ in areas surrounding us that we may have overlooked.
 
– What are some of the ways that separations in our community distract us from bringing Christ to others or seeing Christ in others?
 
Matt is a summer intern for RENEW’s Publications & Resources team and will begin a master’s degree program at Providence College in the fall.

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