Below is an open letter to Pope Francis written by two Daily Theology contributors, Kevin Ahern and Meg Stapleton Smith with the input from Catholic leaders from around the United States . This letter does not reflect an editorial consensus or the opinions of all the contributors on Daily Theology.
Join us: At the end of the letter is a link to a google document where you may sign your name. If you wish, you may also include where you work, or study (for identification purposes only). In a few days, this letter will be sent to the Vatican Secretariat of State, and the Nuncio in Washington, DC. We are hoping to get as many signatures as possible of people who share our concerns, as well as our hopes, for the upcoming papal visit to the United States.
Being Church at the Peripheries:
An Open Letter to Pope Francis from Young Adult Catholic Leaders
Dear Pope Francis,
- Introduction: Taking Your Message Seriously
As young adult Catholic leaders who seek to live out the “joy of the Gospel” in our personal and professional lives, we strongly welcome your upcoming visit to the United States. Asking ourselves “what would it look like if we took the message of Pope Francis seriously?,” some of us were able to gather in Tarrytown, NY on August 2, 2015 for a day of retreat, reflection, and Eucharist Celebration. Drawing from your teachings, we focused on the multidimensional reality of the margins and our responsibility as leaders to “go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 20) Others, though not able to meet in person, share these concerns and hopes.
As young adult Catholic leaders, we recognize that we have a unique experience in the Church. For us, the Church is a central part of our lives, our professional vocations, and our familial relationships. Many of us have served the Church through years of full time volunteer work for Church organizations in the United States and abroad. Many of us have advanced degrees in theology and are privileged to teach or work in ministry settings in schools, colleges, seminaries, and national or international church ministries.
- The Church at The Margins
As young adult Catholic leaders, we share your deep concerns for the divisions, inequalities and broken relationships in our world. We affirm your recent message to popular movements in Bolivia “that something is wrong” in a world where the 85 richest people on the planet possess as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion.  With you, we share your concerns in Laudato Si’ for the health of our common home, “our sister earth” and the dangers of the throwaway culture and globalization of indifference.
Like you, many of us find our vocation deeply rooted in the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. Each of our individual vocations seeks to live out the Jesuit call to be not only “women and men for others,” but also “women and men for and with others.” Holy Father, inspired by your teaching, we feel it is the call of the Church to place Herself at the margins. To use the words of Fr. Gregory Boyle, SJ, we feel called to “join the easily despised and the readily left out…[to] stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop [and to] situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away.”
- The Margins of the Church
As young adult Catholic leaders, we are grateful for the many opportunities offered to us by the Church and desire to serve Christ through our vocations in theology, ministry, and service. Yet all of us in different ways have felt marginalized, or otherized in the Church. We recognize a significant tension: between feeling that we have a vocation to live out your vision for the Church, and feeling otherized by Church structures that are too often cold, unwelcoming, and even disdainful of our vocation. We know that lay theologians and lay pastoral ministers are relatively recent experiences in the life of the Church. Nevertheless, we lament that, for many of us, our experience of parish and diocesan structures is one of exclusion. For some of us, this marginalization from the center of the ecclesial community stems from our ethnicity, gender, sexual identities, and age.
While we choose to remain Catholic, we lament this experience as we watch many of our peers, siblings, and friends leave the Church. Despite the feelings of marginalization and the struggles that each of us face, we will not leave the Church. We remain Catholic. We are still here. We will continue our vocation to read the “signs of the times,” to be the Church in the world, and to work towards the coming of the Kingdom.
- Call to Catholic Action
As young adult Catholic leaders, we recognize that evangelization is not an individualistic or isolated task. In the spirit of the movements of Specialized Catholic Action, we celebrate our collaborative call to action. None of us can do it alone. In response to your call to become “sowers of change,” we commit ourselves to reflect, pray and act locally and globally.
Without denying the role of the parish, we know the value of the faith-sharing groups and small Christian communities. These communities give our daily lives meaning and support. But we know that small communities cannot do it alone. We must join our local communities together in broader networks and movements. As you recently pointed out, “the future of humanity does not lie solely in the hands of great leaders, the great powers and the elites. It is fundamentally in the hands of peoples and in their ability to organize.” We want to organize.
- Our Message for the Visit of Pope Francis to the USA
Holy Father, please continue to challenge the Catholic Church in the United States and around the world. Please continue to challenge all of us to take the Gospel and the Catholic social tradition seriously. As we embark on the Holy Year of Mercy, we invite you to challenge all parts of the Church “to serve Jesus crucified in every person who is emarginated.”
We need your voice. Please continue to use a prophetic rhetoric, one that invites the powerful to rethink their relationships to vulnerable and the earth. Please know that we share your hopes for a “bold cultural revolution” (Laudato Si’ 114) and your call to people to organize in movements for “real change, structural change” Inspired and impelled by your teachings, we join with you in joyful hope for what the church and the world can be when we listen to the call of the Gospel.
Kevin Ahern, PhD, firstname.lastname@example.org
Meg Stapleton Smith, email@example.com
If you wish to sign your name to the letter and see the updated list of signatories, please do so here:
 Pope Francis, “Speech at World Meeting of Popular Movements,” September 7, 2015, http://en.radiovaticana.va. Daniel Tencer, “85 People Hold As Much Wealth As Poorest 3.5 Billion,” The Huffington Post, January 20, 2014, www.huffingtonpost.ca.
 Greg Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion (New York, NY: Free Press, 2010), 190.
 Pope Francis, “Speech at World Meeting of Popular Movements.”
 Pope Francis, “Speech at World Meeting of Popular Movements.”
The gathering that took place on August 2, 2015 in Tarrytown, NY was co-sponsored by Pax Romana- the International Catholic Movement for Intellectual and Cultural Affairs www.icmica-miic.org