Dear Pope Francis, Welcome to America! (An Open Letter to the Pope)

Nicole and Pope Francis (sorta).

Guest post by Nicole Perone
Dear Pope Francis,

First, let me say – I LOVE your work.  That whole “back to basics” move from the hierarchical mumbo-jumbo to a “bruised, hurting, and dirty”[1] “field hospital”[2] Church? One focused on mercy, compassion, joy, and the Gospel? A wild concept to some, but a necessary move that buoys my heart and gives me hope. You are fantastic PR for a Church needing Pope St. John XXIII’s open windows and fresh air.

Further, I am wildly excited that you are coming to our side of the Atlantic.  We’ve been waiting for you – then again, American Catholics have been waiting for someone like you for a long time.  Rest assured that you will be greeted with great joy upon hitting American soil.

That being said, I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but you have got your work cut out for you on your visit here.  American identity is as diverse as it is complicated, and being the leader of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church means you have a lot of visits to make that may make you feel a little less joyful.

If you stand before the United Nations headquarters in New York City as the head of the Vatican city-state, you may find your heart heavy with the sadness of our world.  If you are brave enough to speak to our bogged-down and broken Congress in Washington DC, you will need a stiff glass of American bourbon afterwards to settle your stomach.  (Please don’t judge our country by the inefficiency of our governmental bureaucracy – it is frighteningly similar to the Vatican curia in its digression from the mission.)

You may also have to rub shoulders with a number of American clergy – some of whom do not live as shepherds who “smell of their flock.” If they invite you to their lavish homes, I encourage you to be polite, because the hospitality is genuine, but know that this does not represent all American Catholics.  We care deeply about those on the margins.  Compare that to our healthcare, education, and nonprofit institutions; the American Church has the Gospel at heart, but some stray.

I hope that despite these requisite appearances, you will take heart at the joy embodied in American Catholicism.  We are a unique group of people of faith, committed to seeing the Gospel manifest in our country.  So, while you are in the land of the free and home of the brave, take a break from the requisite appearances and behold the blessings of the modern Church:

  • The best way to get to know a place is to take a tour, so hop on for the ride with the Nuns on the Bus[3]. They are a phenomenal group of religious women dedicated to social justice advocacy, focusing on issues such as aid cuts and immigration reform.  Their energy and commitment to seeing a more just United States will give you heart.  (Plus, they are educated, passionate women serving the Church, and I think it would embolden your desire for a stronger theology of women!)
  • A defining factor of American Catholicism includes the intersection of faith and intellect, so take the MetroNorth from NYC to New Haven, Connecticut and visit the St. Thomas More Catholic Chapel at Yale[4]. It is a shining example of Catholic life at one of the world’s finest universities.  Here, you will witness young people (an untapped resource of today’s Church) grappling with their faith as it is lived through their academics, and learning how to engage in parish life.  Stay for Mass and see the students participate in the Eucharist with open hearts; tour the Golden Center and witness Catholic life lived abundantly. The vibrant community of St. Thomas More will remind you that the future of the Church is now, and how deeply young people care about the Church.
  • While you are in Washington DC, swing by the offices of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management[5]. Their focus on empowering the laity to share their gifts (both faithful and secular) to strengthen the Church – especially in best managerial practices – will demonstrate the American work ethic and passion applied to the Church we love and want to see not just survive, but thrive.
  • If you asked, I imagine Derek Jeter would play one comeback game as a New York Yankee, and that would be really neat – hey, it’s America’s pastime!

If I had more time (and a greater word count), I could write endlessly about the great joys of being an American Catholic. I would summarize it to you, Your Holiness, as thus: we are defined by hope – a hope for a better tomorrow, a hope for the kingdom come, through the grace of God and manifested through our hands and feet.  You have fueled the fire of our hope with your papacy; welcome to the USA, Papa Francesco.

Nicole Perone

P.S. – if you’re traveling from NYC to Philadelphia, the halfway point is in the great state of New Jersey.  Consider this your invitation to take a rest stop in the town of Bridgewater, NJ.  The Perone family would love to have you – especially my dog, Luke Ignatius Loyola Perone, SJ! (My Jesuit education ruined me for life!)

This post is part of Daily Theology’s Theological Shark Week VI: What Should Francis Do? See all the posts here.

Nicole Perone is a Master of Divinity student at Yale Divinity School, discerning a vocation to Church administration and leadership.  A 2013 alumnae of Loyola University Maryland, she enjoys long walks on the New Jersey beaches, cheetah print, anything Italian, and Ignatian spirituality.