On October 7 at Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church, the National Council of Churches (NCC) hosted a conversation on Pope Francis’s visit to Washington, DC. The purpose of the meeting was for a number of religious advocacy groups to discuss the next steps American churches can take in light of Pope Francis’s visit. Sister Simone Campbell of the Catholic Social Justice Lobby NETWORK, and NCC President and former General Secretary of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society Jim Winkler were the two main discussion leaders.
A variety of progressive advocacy groups were represented, including The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), The Center for Economic and Social Justice (CESJ), The Washington Office of the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), The Salvation Army and the progressive Southern Baptist breakaway group Alliance of Baptists.
The meeting was brought to order by Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, an American Roman Catholic Religious Sister, lawyer, and executive director of NETWORK, as well as founder of Catholic pressure group, “Nuns on the Bus”. Campbell showed approval for the variety of religious groups attending the event. She offered her reflections on the points of the Papal visit she found most important, being especially impressed by the Holy Father’s inclusiveness of Catholics and Protestants, Conservatives and Liberals, Democrats and Republicans, and those with religious beliefs and those with none.
Campbell was also pleased that Francis had faith in Congress’s ability to enact policy for change.
“His belief in their ability to do their job lifted them up,” she exclaimed.
“I was touched by his consistent avoidance of hot button issues,” said Campbell, going on to mention that the Pope’s optimism had convicted her of her own cynicism.
Concluding her talk, Campbell asked: “How can we as the faith community say things that go beyond the hot button trigger issues and say something that is so inclusive?”
The discussion then turned to the fact that Pope Francis attempted to see treatment of economy and treatment of earth as both coming from a culture of exploitation. Again, Winkler and Campbell admired that Francis opening controversial issues as shared concerns between the Right and the Left.
When it was Winkler’s turn to speak, he began by admiring that Francis’s welcome made Protestants excited to see him, and expressed eagerness for a coming change in Protestant/Catholic relations. Winkler was “heartened” by the Pope’s call for legislation on mass incarceration.
The NCC official was impressed by the moment the Pope had stood on the U.S. Capitol Speaker’s balcony and asked the people gathered to pray for him. Francis had exhorted: “For those who don’t have a faith, or don‘t pray, send me your good wishes.” Winkler encouraged his audience to ask themselves how they could be more like Francis in the sense of active engagement in current concerns, as well as inclusiveness of those within the faith and the non-religious.
“We (the faith community) have changed this nation through movements perceived as secular ( i.e. the Civil Rights movement, the Suffrage Movement), but that are actually spiritual. We can’t stop there; we have a long ways to go,” Winkler finished.
At the conclusion of Winkler’s thoughts, the meeting broke up into groups to discuss how they could break down barriers within the Church.Google+