Pope Francis kisses the foot of an inmate at the juvenile detention center of Casal del Marmo, Rome, Thursday, March 28, 2013. | AP Photo
Updated: May 1, 2013 3:29PM
I’m not Catholic, so I don’t know much about the Catholic religion.
What I do know is this; the humble gestures of Pope Francis cut across religious lines and have renewed my faith that religion still brings light to a dark world.
When we have stories on a regular basis about children killing their parents, it’s midnight.
When you have young people shooting sleeping babies in their strollers, it’s midnight.
When you have elderly people afraid to leave their homes for fear they will be preyed upon by their neighbors, it is midnight.
I may be “Baptist born and Baptist bred,” but the message the Pope delivered in his first official homily made me want to visit Father Pfleger’s beloved St. Sabina. I can’t say I’ve ever felt drawn to Catholicism before.
“Only those who serve with love are able to protect,” Francis said.
It is such a simple truth.
Over the years, I’ve heard from readers in all parts of Chicago and its suburbs. Most people sincerely want to help protect young people from gun violence. Frankly, there is no shortage of well-meaning folks who are willing to mentor someone else’s child. And I’m always amazed by the generosity of people who answer the call by writing a check.
But Pope Francis reminded me that the root of our violence problem won’t be plucked up until more of us are able to love the poor.
Although most people genuinely want to make a difference in disadvantaged communities, for some, that pure motivation has been replaced by a real-life need to pay salaries and to keep an agency’s doors open.
Francis identified the thing too many well-meaning people lack — especially in the ‘hood.
It is easy to love likeable people.
But who loves the wild-eyed, snotty-nosed kids that no one seems to be taking care of? Frankly, it breaks my heart to see mothers screaming and cussing at children who are barely out of diapers.
One reason there is so much violence in our neighborhoods is because there is too little love.
Unfortunately, because of this lack of caring, children are being victimized every day, and many of these same youth grow up and victimize others.
Too many young people witness violence in their neighborhoods, where, by the way, violent rap lyrics have become the soundtrack of their childhoods.
In his inauguration mass, Francis encouraged Catholics to “see the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others.”
“Whenever human beings fail to live up to this responsibility, whenever we fail to care for creation and for our brothers and sisters, the way is opened to destruction and hearts are heartened,” Pope Francis said.
As Christians, we are commanded to love one another, as well as those who are in need. But many of us still believe poor people are poor because they are shiftless losers.
And today, the young gang-bangers, who are responsible for much of the shooting, are the lepers of society.
Even our ministers and civil rights activists are beginning to sound hopeless.
In a recent speech, Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam called the two men arrested in the Hadiya Pendleton shooting “crazy, irrational, savage with a gun in their hands.”
Pastor James Meeks said in a recent interview with the Sun-Times: “Unless the White House, the mayor or somebody comes up with a program designed to reach products of the street, we will never turn it around.”
That’s why Pope Francis’ humble act of kissing the feet of 12 youth at a detention center in Rome was as remarkable as it was symbolic.
Foot-washing is a reenactment of the Bible’s account of Jesus Christ washing the feet of his disciples before he was crucified.
Pope Francis broke tradition by choosing the detention center and by including females in the observance.
A video of the ritual, released by the Vatican, showed Francis washing “black feet, white feet, male feet, female feet and even a foot with tattoos,” according to Blaze.com.
The new Pope’s action might spark controversy in the Catholic Church, but his example may keep this Baptist from becoming jaded by the inhumanity I see almost daily.
Only a heart of love can light the way out of the darkness.