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Guest Opinion: Johann Christoph Arnold of the Bruderhof Communities on Finally a Francis

By Johann Christoph Arnold
March 16th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Much as Saint Francis is venerated today, in his time he was scorned as foolish and impractical. In the same way, those who now hold to traditional Catholic values - that is, the gospel values of faithfulness in marriage and reverence for life - are often scorned as old-fashioned and intolerant.

RIFTON, NY (Catholic Online) - Congratulations to the former Cardinal Bergoglio of Argentina, who is now Pope Francis. He deserves our best wishes, but even more than that, our prayers. He will have a difficult task in a world that clamors for change, while God's truth and the gospel never change.

I am very happy at the name Cardinal Bergoglio chose: that of Saint Francis. This name signifies a desire for service and compassion that even President Obama recognized, when he congratulated the new pope as a "champion of the poor."

Yet as important as Cardinal Bergoglio's heart for the downtrodden may be, much more important is his new task of steering the Catholic Church back to the original teachings of Jesus.

In fact, the story of the original Saint Francis, who lived in 12th and 13th century Italy, begins with a vision: as Francis was praying in the dilapidated chapel of San Damiano, he heard a voice saying, "Francis, repair my church, which has fallen into disrepair!"

At first he took this commandment literally, thinking he was to rebuild broken walls and stonework. But he soon came to understand that God was calling him to something much more: to call his fellow believers back to the radical simplicity of the gospel.
 
Much as Saint Francis is venerated today, in his time he was scorned as foolish and impractical. In the same way, those who now hold to traditional Catholic values - that is, the gospel values of faithfulness in marriage and reverence for life - are often scorned as old-fashioned and intolerant.

Pope Francis' predecessor Benedict XVI wrote to me in a personal letter that "such convictions will inevitably arouse hatred, even persecution. The Lord has predicted it. But with him we must continue in trying to overcome evil through good."

These prophetic words may not be comforting, but they should encourage those of us who call ourselves Christian - even if non-Catholic, as I am - to pray for the new pope. He will certainly be in my prayers.

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Johann Christoph Arnold is the author of ten books and senior pastor of the Bruderhof communities. . His books have been translated into more than 20 languages. The Bruderhof is an international communal movement of families and singles who seek to put into action Christ's command to love God and neighbour. Arnold and his wife Verena live in Rifton, New York.

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