I must admit I am challenged by Pope Francis’ visit to Mexico. Why? Because he is shining a light on the margins.
“Pope Francis will visit some of the most marginalized communities in Mexico and seek to bring hope to a country suffering from crime, corruption and inequality when he visits Feb. 12-17.”
This was a simple enough opening paragraph to a story in the National Catholic Reporter.
But I must admit that thinking about his courage in traveling to the peripheries challenged me to think about traveling to peripheries in my own life. In other words, “what’s in for me”?
First a bit of context. Rocco Palmo recently described a common component of all the Pope’s journies as “Matthew 25 stops!”:
In his over 11 overseas journeys to date Francis’ concerted insistence for his “open time” has become more than clear, and – surprise, surprise – it’s a conspicuous shift: in a nod to what he’s repeatedly cited as “the protocol by which we all will be judged,” every visit now hinges upon what can be called the “Matthew 25” stops: that is, an outreach to some mix of the sick, migrants, prisons, the poor… in a word, “the least brothers” of whom Jesus said “whatever you did for [them], you did for me.”
“I examine my conscience with this chapter,” Francis told a 2014 audience – “Every day.”
Of his Mexico trip, the pope said in November that he wanted to visit cities where St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI never went. I am certain he did not intend this as a criticism. That would be so out of character. Rather it does give us a lens through which to follow his journey.
So he will visit families and indigenous communities in the southernmost state of Chiapas, Mexico’s poorest state, which gained worldwide attention for the 1990’s Zapatista rebellion.
In Ciudad Juarez he will visit its infamous Cereso state prison, where at least 20 people were killed during riots in 2009 triggered by rival gangs among the prisoners.
My first reaction was once again to stand in awe of his example in going to the peripheries, our planet’s most troubled hot spots and places we would rather not look at.
But my second reaction is what troubles me. Should I be doing something like this in my own life?
Maybe the question gets to me because of late I have been reflecting on how I unconsciously limit my understanding of the Jesus’ words “Do this in memory of me.” Saying this once a day when I celebrate Eucharist is not enough. In reality, his words were a challenge to all his followers to change their lifestyle. Metanoia or conversion to a life of service.
So I have to ask…
What are the margins of my life that I need to shine a light on?
What areas of my life and my heart have I not gone to?
Whose feet need washing in my community?
What areas of my life would I rather leave in the shadows?
Lots of food for reflection on both counts… especially in this Jubilee of Mercy.
But he also said he will stop at the capital of Mexico City to pray at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. “But if it wasn’t for Our Lady,” he wouldn’t go there, he had told reporters.
And now we know why. He recently begged…
“I would like to ask — as a favor from you — that this time, which will be the third time I will step on Mexican soil, to leave me alone a few minutes in front of the image. That is the favor I ask. Can you do that for me?” he said in the video released Jan. 3 by the Mexican news agency NotiMex.
I immediately connected the dots with Jesus desire to go off and pray… as he did in so many instances in his ministry but especially on the night before he suffered.
So maybe the second thing Pope Francis is teaching us is that to go off to the peripheries both of our social and interior worlds we have to take time out to pray and allow God’s mercy to shine.
I don’t know about you but I think I just got my marching orders for Lent!
PS This was written before the Pope announced his historic meeting with Patriarch Kyrille. This meeting is just another example of going to the peripheries and bridging gaps that were unthinkable. Now about the strained relationships in my life…