Traffic notwithstanding, it has been fascinating to live in the area where Pope Francis is visiting. There is a palpable excitement about this particular pope and the simple, but timely, message he brings wherever he travels: love and serve the “least of these.” The love and respect for Pope Francis emanates not just from Catholics and Protestants, but from those of many other faith traditions. Even those who disagree with him have been blessed by his humility and adherence to his understanding of the gospel.
Like many others, I had my “wish list” of things I wanted to hear from Pope Francis during his visit to the United States. I long for more discussion about the ordination of women; I wanted to hear his affirmation that “black lives matter.” I wanted to hear an explicit repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery by its name. Everyone, it seems, wants to hear something in particular from Pope Francis. But I think that most of us stand in solidarity with our Catholic brothers and sisters, delighted by a pope who so profoundly connects with people across generations, abilities, ethnicities, races, and every other difference.
For those of us who are Christians, this papal visit should cause us to reflect on the tremendous privilege we have as the dominant voice in this country. For days, we've had nonstop cover of the Christian faith. There have been discussions of Jesus and Christian theology on every major news network and it is being covered with seriousness and respect. Since Pope Francis has been in the United States, his papal masses have been televised live. If you have turned on a television, opened an internet browser, or read a newspaper during this past week, Pope Francis has been the major story. And you don’t have to turn to a particular religious channel to see this coverage - Christianity is being discussed from CNN to MTV.
But it leads me to wonder if we, the dominant religious voice, are willing to extend this same courtesy to our neighbors of other faith traditions? Or to those who are not believers? Would we televise the entirety of Friday night prayers from an American mosque on CBS? Would CNN cover the worship practices of Santería with the same respect and seriousness it has given to Catholicism?
And while Pope Francis’ visit has dominated the news cycle, 769 pilgrims died in a stampede during Hajj outside the city of Mecca this week, along with 934 others who were wounded. The death toll may continue to rise as the situation evolves. The Hajj is the largest religious gathering in the world and an obligation for all Muslims who are able.
Will we grieve with the Muslim community for this tragedy as deeply as we celebrate with the Catholic world the visit of Pope Francis to the United States? Will our hearts break for the thousands of our Muslim brothers and sisters mourning the deaths of those fulfilling one of their highest and most sacred of religious obligations? Will we seek to respect and understand the "Stoning of the Devil" ritual that takes place in the city of Mina during the Hajj, with the same care we give to the intricacies of various Christian worship practices when they are being discussed in the media?
At the core of the Christian faith Pope Francis embraces is the command to love one's neighbor as oneself...not just the neighbor who looks, acts, or worships like us. And our neighbors are every human being on this planet, theists and non-theists alike. We are called to care, love, and honor the humanity of all people. So loving our neighbors means that we can rejoice during the papal visit, but we must also make time to mourn when our other neighbors are experiencing such great loss.
To my fellow Christians, perhaps we need to learn to lower the volume of our dominant voices so that the stories of our neighbors can be heard.