Pope Francis has occupied the limelight on a number of occasions with pronouncements that went way beyond biblical teachings or church edicts. He has been on the cover of Time and heralded by climate change activists. He worked behind the scenes on the opening of Cuba, and he is cheered in countries all over the world.
Of course I would go. The White House itself is a draw on a beautiful fall day. Walking past the West Wing; taking a photo with the TV series in mind; scanning the audience of military, religious, children, and all races; and finally arriving on the south lawn with the green grass expanse between the White House rear balconies and the Washington monument. Magical.
By now, you've heard every word he uttered during the few days Francis was in the U.S. I was honored to be there as a representative for my anti-war work with Win Without War, and with Women's Action for New Directions (WAND), the organization I have lead for more than 20 years. For over two decades, I have worked daily on nuclear disarmament and ways to make our country think of diplomacy before war. So, the Pope's comments on warmongers brought me to this place, this man.
"Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money - money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade."
Why does it matter? He is leader of the largest denomination of Christianity, which is the largest religion in the world. And there is no one close in religious leadership who can command so much attention. Not just his flock pays attention. The Pope has rattled cages with his views. He has brought young people back to the church. A sitting elected leader of the House of Representatives who is second-in-line to the presidency (Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) resigned the day after he spoke to Congress.
If anyone speaks truth to power, it is he. The Pope did not disappoint me. At the UN, he told heads of state,
"There is urgent need to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, in full application of the non-proliferation Treaty, in letter and spirit, with the goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons."
Be still my heart. For over two decades leading WAND, I and my team have worked tirelessly to convince Congress that spending federal budget money on unmet human and environmental needs is more important, and smarter, than spending on outdated weapons systems; aircraft that is the most expensive in the history of the world (the F-35); nuclear annihilation machines... and what for?
Syrians are streaming out of their country. Iraq is still at war. Afghanistan is struggling to come out of decades of war into peace. And trouble spots abound all over the globe. The war machine is constantly fed and children go hungry.
The event mattered to me. I am Jewish and this occasion was held on the holiest of holy days on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur. I considered it a holy pilgrimage to see him because, though the day is one of fasting, atonement and reflection, there is no other time in my life I would be able to bask in the warmth of someone so glorified who speaks so plainly, and so emphatically, to the mission of my life.
Yom Kippur is a solemn day, yet it affords an undertone of joy and confidence about the year ahead. This Pope added to that in abundance. And later in the week, he sealed my hope for the future by commenting on the recent agreement with Iran over nuclear weapons, saying that the deal is "proof of the potential of political good will and of law, exercised with sincerity, patience and constancy." I continue to hope, and work, for diplomacy over war. And I've got this Pope covering my back.
[Image Credit: White House, Papal Visit to the White House, September 23, 2015. This image is in the public domain.]