By Reyanna Rice, March 3, 2014
I recently wrote a letter to Pope Frances. When I told my friend Rosemary about this, she said “You should share it.” I explained to her my hesitation in doing that, as the premise for writing the letter was to introduce myself, and I wouldn’t want to bore folks with those details. I also included some things I wanted to ask him. After talking with her I decided she is right that I should share it but I will do so only with redacted parts of it and some explanation.
First off, I think we should all be writing letters to Pope Francis. There is no guarantee he will get them but you never know. It is reported he has a team of letter screeners who select ones to pass on to him, screening several thousand letters a day. The ones that get passed on to him, several hundred a day, deal with issues of conscience or issues of dire need. After introducing myself, mine then dealt with issues of conscience. Letter writing (and faxing) was a tactic that those of a more conservative bent in terms of church have used for the past two papacies. I have read that at times fax machines in various offices at the Vatican were flooded with faxes. It is said that this effort paid off for them. They knew they had an “ear” with the past two popes. Application of the squeaky wheel principle does work. So, why shouldn’t we take a page from their playbook? I think with Francis we in the progressive elements of the church may have our best chance to have an “ear”. Let’s take advantage of that. My efforts may be a fool’s errand, but I found it very personally rewarding as it helped me clearly identify some issues that have been causing me heartache with the church in recent years. If you think this is an expensive endeavor, my 4 page letter on 8 x 11 ½ regular computer paper in a regular envelope cost me a whooping $1.15 to mail from my local post office in western Montana. When I laid it on their counter, the mail clerk’s eyebrows rose. I asked her if this was a first for her…and yes, it was.
I began my letter under the premise that Francis plans to visit the US in 2015:
“I understand from the news reports here in the United States that you are planning to visit in 2015. I am writing to introduce myself, one of your US sheep, so that you may come to know at least one of us better before your visit. In all honesty, I also have a few things to ask you. Fair Warning: I am encouraging friends to also write to do likewise.”
I must admit I found it a bit intimidating writing a letter to a world leader, let alone the Pope. Yet, after watching this man and reading about him this last year my deepest impression of him is that he seems to be such a “regular guy”. So, I decided to not use “holy” language but to write like I would be sitting across from someone whom I just met who seemed interested in me, maybe as we sat chatting over a cup of coffee (or in his case Mate’). I spoke a bit about myself as you would when you have just met someone. Then I moved to my first impressions of him:
“I also write to tell you that I think you are doing the best job you can and doing so in what I think must be trying circumstances. I offer my support and prayers for you on a daily basis, sometimes several times a day. I must tell you, in good humor, that when you stepped up onto the loggia of St. Peter’s after your election you certainly had a look on your face that we in Montana colloquially say as that of a “deer in the headlights”. That said, you certainly were able to move through it to something that astounded me. Although a life-long Catholic, one who has attended to her faith with prayer, practice and education, these last few years have tried my soul. Today I describe myself as a “hanging on by my fingernails” Catholic. When I saw you bow to ask the people in the square (and I included myself in their number even though many miles distant) to pray a blessing for you, I was moved to tears. My faith is being tried not so much by what has personally happened to me with the loss of my beautiful Steven (Note: my husband died in 2012, which I explained to him in my introductions), but more so by what is happening to the church. I wrestle deeply with all of this. Many times I wonder if I can continue. The kind of person you are, what you are teaching and your lived examples, beginning on the loggia with your bow, offer me guarded hope.”
And then I began with the questions and concerns (with explanation):
At times I feel driven away by the church and not brought closer into her tender embrace. I feel driven away by the moral decay I see in the clergy, especially the abuse. Fortunately, I have had only good pastors, good men. Two especially have truly been brothers to me. Yet I read about and hear personal stories of people’s experience with those who exemplify the clerical culture at its ugliest, which you are trying so hard to change. Some of these men are the “little monsters” you spoke about. Because of this kind of hypocrisy, neither of my children feel drawn to the church. They adamantly want nothing to do with it. This pains me. I can tell you that many, many of my Catholic friends are parents of children who feel the same. This is a problem for which there are no easy answers. We continue to lose an entire generation and soon the next one also. My two kids live in ways that we taught them, coming from the best the church has to offer, which is with a strong sense of social justice. Papa Francesco, as regards those clergy who sexually abuse children and those who facilitated it by covering it up, many, many US Catholics want to see you take strong, decisive action soon such as visibly bringing to accountability bishops who covered it up and/or who dismissed victims. The victims especially need this so as to begin to regain a level of trust in the church as part of their healing. Please listen to the cries of these poor, poor in the sense of being deprived of their sense of worth and the love they need to heal. All of us who feel the pain of this dark time in the church need your action to begin to feel trust in the church again. Unless there is this trust, how can we know that only true and good things come from her?
I have also felt driven away by the revised English translation of the Roman Missal promulgated in Advent of 2010. I was about 14 years old when the revised liturgy resulting from Vatican II was introduced in my parish. It was an experience that also brought me to tears the first time I witnessed the liturgy in English with clear, easily understood prayers and the priest facing the people. It was a real experience of liberating joy. With this recent revised translation that sense of joy in celebrating the liturgy is gone for me. This causes deep pain in my heart. Liturgy has been such an integral part of my faith life I think because I have sung in a church choir or as a cantor since I was about 10 years old. Singing at liturgy is a big part of my prayer life. It is a deep calling for me to sing at liturgy and help people experience sung prayer, a kind of prayer that I sense engages both body and soul deeply. With the introduction of the revised translation in 2010, I chose to no longer support the liturgy with my singing voice. This was a deeply thought out decision of conscience. I spent about 6 months reading and studying everything I could find about this translation and praying about it. I consulted with a close priest spiritual advisor as to how I was processing this decision of conscience. I found many things that troubled me about it from how it was promulgated (non-collegially) to the convoluted prayers, to the model of church that it speaks to, to what I see as heretical wording. With some of the convoluted prayers I have been tempted to raise my hand during Mass after they were read, excuse myself and ask for a paraphrase since I was not quite sure what I was to say “Amen” to. Many of the prayers have repetitious wording and are in what I refer to as “grovel-speak”, the kind of language in which we over and over beg God to forgive us because we are so unworthy. We are, as you so often say, all sinners but I think God also loves us deeply and tenderly. I deeply believe in the mercy you come back to often in your writings and homilies. I think our prayers at Mass, the source and summit of who we are as Christians, should reflect joyful gratitude for God’s love and mercy, not pound us on our sinfulness. The prayers of consecration over the wine are for me the most problematic. In the previous translation, when that prayer is said, the wording is that Jesus’ death was “for all”. In the revised translation Jesus’ death is “for many”. For those of us who object to that wording, we are told that “many” really means “all.” Do we need to keep mentally translating the prayers while at Mass? We are told that “for many” is a true and accurate translation of the original Latin prayers. If this is so, Papa Francesco, why, then, does the church teach that Jesus died for all? I watch video on the internet of the Masses you say in Italian. I know enough Italian to know that when you say the words of consecration over the wine you say “per tutti”. I think that translates as “for all”. Why did Jesus die for all Italians but only “for many” English-speaking people? In English “many” implies that not all are included. When I made the decision to no longer support the liturgy with my voice, it felt like my singing voice was being taken from me. Yet, I had to respect what my conscience had come to. I have found it very hard to even attend Mass with this translation. I feel angry afterwards. So, I stay away, attending only when a retired priest holds Mass in his home using the previous translation. Will Jesus not be present to us in the Mass if we use a translation that is not a true and accurate one of the original Latin texts? The English speaking bishops approved the 1998 work of ICEL but Rome rejected it. Please, can’t we English speakers have this translation to use? I am not alone in objection to this revised translation in use. My sister is an example of how some folks cope with this. When I asked her how she deals with the revised translation she replies “I just don’t pay any attention to the words”. So much for active participation that Sacrosanctum Concilium called us to. I read a lot of Catholic websites of all kinds. Many, many English-speaking Catholics are struggling with this. They are either silently enduring, saying the previous responses or staying away. If those who like the Pre-Vatican II Mass can now have it freely available with the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum, why can’t English speaking Catholics have the 1998 translation freely available?
While I am writing this very long letter, I would also like to tell you that as a woman, I feel left out of the church every time I hear a prayer that uses the word “men” to imply all humanity. Again we are told when we object that this is a true and accurate translation of the original Latin and that “men” means all of humanity. This kind of language does not induce a feeling of welcome for me as a woman. Again, many, many women feel as I do. Incidentally, as regards women, language and you, I think it remarkable to read a document from the Pope that uses inclusive language. I read and was pleased and inspired by your words in Evangelium Gaudi but especially heartened by your use of inclusive language. Thank You!
And since I found that some of the language I was using was kind of direct, I gave the following explanation as to why I am such a direct (some say abrupt) person:
Maybe this letter will never reach you but at least your mail screeners may find a thing or two to smile about. I am a plain-speaking person. My parents taught me to speak up when I found things that I felt were not right. As you well know, many things are not right in our church. I believe very strongly that it is my church and by my Baptism into it I am impelled to speak up. Forgive me if I offend in any way.
I ended my letter by reminding him he always says to people when he parts from them to “Pray for me”. I assured him this was something that I do and that I thought many people in the US do also. I also told him I was surprised to live to see a pope who smiles so readily and warmly and thanked him for that. I also thanked him for introducing me to the joys of listening to Tango.
So, if you plan to write your own letter to Papa Francesco, I think you should just be yourself. You never know if the letter will reach him but I think if it does, he will appreciate reading your thoughts if you just be you. If you have not seen the amazing video clip in which he addressed a group of Evangelicals meeting in Kansas City, you can do so here. In the introduction, in his very halting English, he says he will neither speak Italian or English, but “heartfully”. I was trying to use that same language in my attempt in writing my letter.
I used the following address as it was the most frequent one to come back when I Yahoo’d for the pope’s address:
00120 Vatican City
Most sites said you should address it to “His Most Holiness”….didn’t buy into that. Also don’t add “Italy” after Vatican City as it slows the letter down and Vatican City is its own state.