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point of view

The Pope Effect
Vatican reaches Methow

The Catholic church has gotten a facelift thanks to the new 76 year-old Pope Francis. And though he is the Archbishop of Rome and the leader of the Catholic church, he has reached an audience beyond the faith. And, yes, he has even reached the Methow Valley.

photoSt. Genevieve Catholic church in Twisp. Photo by Rose Weagant

It’s hard to find a news source or social media site which hasn’t followed Pope Francis’s most recent activity. The most apparent is his continued practice of a no-frills lifestyle. “The last Pope wore those fancy red shoes,” said Sam Carlin of Lucid Glass works. “This one doesn’t. He’s simple. I like him.”

“On one hand, people are excited about who the Pope is,” said Methow Valley’s St. Genevieve Parrish Father Nicks. Pope Francis, formerly Jorge Mario Bergogliois, was born in a barrio in Buenos Aires and worked as a bar bouncer and janitor before beginning his papal career. Throughout his vocation he has maintained a simple and humble life.

“On the other hand, people are excited about what the Pope might do,” added Father Nicks. Within his first six months, Pope Francis has already made choices that appeal to the general public and not just Catholics. Pope Francis has chosen not to live within the Papal apartment, a lavish domicile, and chose a guesthouse within the Vatican’s walls instead.

“He challenges his Priests to look at their lifestyles and find ways to make them simpler,” said Father Nicks. And he not only challenges other priests to become simpler in their lives but he also takes action against those who do not.

On October 30th, Pope Francis suspended Limburg’s “Bishop of Bling” and re-appropriated Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst’s living quarters, which had just received a $42.7 million renovation, into a soup kitchen. These actions against opulence are getting the attention of non-Catholics as well. Methow local Mo Kelly-Akker said to this, “I really like the idea of this Pope kind of challenging all of us religious people to re-evaluate how well we’re living out our faith.”

In the Pope’s most recent publication, the Apostolic Exhortation, he confronts capitalism, calling it “a new tyranny” the world must face:

“While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few [...] The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.”
Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium (Apostolic Exhortation, p.35).

photoFather Nicks, up in God's country in the North Cascades. Photo courtesy Father Nicks

“What Pope Francis does for the Catholic church,” said St. Genevieve’s Deacon Bill Wehmeyer, “is that he personifies the pastoral view of the church being with and for the people.” The pastoral view of the church is that of service and helping those in poverty, regardless of faith. Over the last few days rumors have surfaced to suggest that Pope Francis dressed as a regular priest and left the Vatican to serve the poor and homeless. The claim has been questioned after a firestorm of media ran the story.

Pope Francis’s steadfast attention to the pastoral service of the church has led to many controversial remarks that have made headlines. When questioned about his thoughts on homosexuality, he answered simply, “Who am I to judge?” He has also noted that the roles of women within the church must be re-evaluated, saying, “The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions.”

Pope Francis has also challenged the church to turn its focus from homosexuality, abortion and contraception to the more pressing issues of poverty and peace. These statements have struck a chord with many Protestants and non-religious and created an excitement in the non-Catholic audience. But Father Nicks is reticent about the media-born enthusiasm.

Father Nicks’ concern stems from increasing hope the non-Catholics have for the possibility of a great reform within the church’s message. Father Nicks pointed out that the church’s message has been steadfast for centuries and he does not anticipate real theological restructuring. “I am worried that many will have their hopes raised high and be hurt when those hopes are not met.”

In spite of potentially conflicting messages, Pope Francis has set a challenge to the world to serve each other. And his words have resonated here within the Methow. “It has increased excitement in fulfilling our pastoral responsibilities,” Deacon Wehmeyer said. “Our service provides insight into the church, and we are so fortunate that people naturally help each other.”

The Methow’s view on pastoral service is unique in that community assistance, both religious and non-religious, is paramount. Speaking highly of the Methow, Father Nicks said, “St. Genevieve’s is a gem of a parrish.”


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