Pope’s visit calls New York minister

dschaper.jpgThe Rev. Donna Schaper, senior minister at Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village, is looking forward to welcoming Pope Francis to New York City next week. She is one of several religious leaders, at the invitation of Cardinal Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York, who will be part of the interfaith prayer service at Ground Zero on Friday, Sept. 25.

“It is a privilege to pray with the Pope,” said Schaper. “My inner prayer is that we will all be as humble as the Pope in our gathering.”

Schaper, who is about as Protestant as you can get, has hope in the Pope. She hopes his visit will empower us. He has empowered her. Schaper will be covering His Holiness on his visit to the United States for Religion Dispatches. She’s written several blogs and devotionals about him, and Pope Francis will be the subject of her next book.

“I am inspired and encouraged by the Pope and know I am not alone,” Schaper said. “Intelligent hope is a rare commodity in this world, especially around the environment and the economy. The Pope provides intelligent hope, is authoritative without being authoritarian, and inspires a kind of trust to a world that has lost hope in the ability to trust.”

The UCC minister, a member of the Stillspeaking Writers’ Group, has been studying Pope Francis and his encyclical letter on the environment for some time, and she celebrates the attention he is bringing to the issue of climate change.

PopeFrancis.pngIn a July 1 UCC Daily Devotional, Schaper pointed out, “The Pope’s words have changed the narrative about climate. It will come from praise, not protest. It will come as one subject, uniting the economy and the environment. The Pope has de-gentrified the subject, making it clear that [a solution to the] environmental crisis will help the lost and the least most of all. The Pope has used his moral authority, authoritatively. I make the joke about the Pope being Protestant because I am ready to follow him as my moral leader. My Catholic friends say I should find my own damn Pope. I think not.”

In one of several blogs written for the National Catholic Reporter, Schaper stressed Francis’ universal appeal as a world leader who embraces all. “The attention he gets when he speaks about the environment, as one example, is qualitatively different than previous popes received,” she wrote. “The Pope has found a way to become truly ecumenical and to speak to constituencies that are not normally alert to religion. The larger green movement has always had an air of elitism to it. We think green and think about special foods or farmer’s markets or community gardens. The pope has not disparaged any of this – and certainly doesn’t call the environmental movement elitist. He has that air of the all, the inclusive tone of the everyone. He may be for the 99 percent, but he is also not against the 1 percent. He joins Jesus in refusing to have an enemy or an edge. He makes borders and boundaries look small.”

Pope Francis begins his U.S. trip Tuesday, Sept. 22, in Washington, arriving at Andrews Air Force Base. The next day, he will meet with President Barack Obama at the White House, and gather with all U.S. bishops during a midday prayer service at St. Matthew’s Cathedral. Later on Wednesday, Sept. 23, the Pope will celebrate Mass outside of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Worship outside the Basilica, a ticketed service, will be in Spanish. 

After a historic address before a joint session of Congress (Francis is the first pope to do so) and a stop at Catholic Charities in Washington, D.C., the pope heads to New York City on Sept. 24, where he’ll celebrate evening prayers at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The next morning, Friday Sept. 25, Pope Francis addresses the U.N. General Assembly on environmental sustainability. Afterward, his Holiness will lead an interfaith service at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

For the final leg of his U.S. trip, Pope Francis travels to Philadelphia Sept. 26 to participate in the World Meeting of Families, a gathering of Catholics held every three years. He’ll celebrate the final Mass of that family meeting Sept. 27 before heading back to the Vatican on Monday, Sept. 28.

Schaper, ordained 40 years in the UCC, plans to continue to walk with Pope Francis as he works for care of God’s creation, and will travel to Paris in December for COP21, the U.N. climate change conference.

“The Pope is making Jesus look good,” she said. “He may even be opening the space for us to look good, maybe even be good. That is religion at its best and most mature.”

Categories: United Church of Christ News

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