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Popes Dodging Bullets

AFP/Thomas Coex

Fr Dwight Longenecker - published on 05/20/14

Francis' risky choice for getting around in the Holy Land reminds us of what we’re all called to do as Christians.

Who can forget that scene in the science fiction film The Matrixin which the hero learns to dodge bullets? Neo, played by Keanu Reaves, miraculously drops and weaves in slow motion as the bullets whiz past harmlessly.

Pope St. John Paul II didn’t dodge a bullet completely on May 13, 1981, but he attributed his survival to the miraculous intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Is Pope Francis courting danger as he refuses to use a bulletproof popemobile in his upcoming visit to the Holy Land? This article reports on the huge security operation to protect the Pope during his visit. Wouldn’t it have been wiser to have used the bulletproof popemobile that is available?

Pope Francis has decided not to. He has said that he wants to be as close to the people as possible. His decision not only puts him close to the people physically, but by eschewing the expensive bulletproof popemobile he puts himself closer to the ordinary people symbolically. Is this humble gesture worth the risk?

While the chance of danger seems small, it is still true that Pope Francis is visiting a highly volatile region where religious extremism is rife and hatred of Christianity by both radical Jews and radical Muslims is everywhere present. All it takes is one madman with a gun.

In this first 14 months of his papacy the Pope has shown himself to be the master of the symbolic gesture. His actions speak louder than his words. Indeed, when he speaks off the cuff, declines to use written homilies, gives impromptu interviews and makes unexpected phone calls, his spoken words are too often misunderstood, misinterpreted and misrepresented. His symbolic gestures, on the other hand, speak volumes. They show rather than tell. They reveal the Gospel in a truly prophetic manner.

In refusing the bulletproof popemobile Pope Francis is not only drawing nearer to the people, but he is showing that the life of faith is a life of risk. He is stepping out of his comfort zone, and this is the mark of true Christianity. Taking remarkable risks is part of the deal. Time and again we see it in Jesus’ ministry, and the lives of the saints. The most remarkable example, perhaps, is Pope Francis’ own predecessor, St. Peter, stepping out of the fishing boat on that stormy night to walk on the water.

Jesus Christ calls every one of his followers to do some wave-walking, to leave the comfort zone, take some risks and learn to walk by faith, not by sight. Pope Francis reminds us of this truth in refusing the bulletproof vehicle. In doing so, he reminds each of us that to follow Christ requires a real risk. Danger is involved and a challenge is demanded.

We may not have the choice to refuse a bulletproof car, but there are other areas in our lives where we value security and ease over the demands of the Gospel. We might have the temptation to compromise our faith to keep a secure job. The temptation might be to keep quiet about certain controversial issues to maintain a peaceful life. Time and again, we are inclined to take the easy way—the way of comfort—rather than the way of adventure, the way of challenge, the way of faith.

The Pope’s courage and uncompromising stance remind every Catholic that the way of faith is one of active and joyful risk.  Following Christ is a great adventure, and to be on the Christian adventure is to hear Jesus call us to leave our ordinary world and embark on the exciting quest of following Christ the Lord.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker’slatest book is all about the adventure of following Christ. Check out The Romance of Religion —Fighting for Beauty, Truth and Goodness. Visit Fr Dwight’s blog, browse his books and be in touch at dwightlongenecker.co

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Pope Francis
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