By Daria Zeoli, Guest Contributor

Pope Francis has just ended his first US visit. What an interesting several days it’s been. I live near Manhattan, so it may come as no surprise to hear that my local news stations have been pretty wall-to-wall Pope lately.

I watched a lot of the coverage of this visit. I watched the Mass at Madison Square Garden. I watched in confusion as Marky Mark emceed a World Meeting of Families event in Philly. I found it endearing when Pope Francis asked those in attendance at both events not to forget to pray for him.

I was baptized Catholic, but I was not raised in the church – much to my grandparents’ chagrin. Religious films were a staple on the television on holidays, and my mother still admonishes me if I curse and use Jesus’ name in the same sentence, but I was raised more in the “be a good person” philosophy than in the Catholic faith. I identify as agnostic: I simply can’t be certain if God is out there somewhere, but I’d hate to think that this is all there is for us.

I am certain that I disagree with the church on many things. I am pro-choice. I do not feel that marriage must be between a man and a woman and I do not agree that marriage is for procreation. I am certainly not against contraception, and I find it puzzling that a woman can’t be a priest. Where in the Bible is it laid out that these things go against Christ’s teachings?

That reminds me… if you didn’t catch it last week, I recommend reading Fareed Zakaria’s Washington Post Op-Ed, “If you have a problem with Pope Francis’s message, you have a problem with Christ” –

When I came to the United States in the 1980s, I remember being surprised to see what “Christian values” had come to mean in American culture and politics — heated debates over abortion, abstinence, contraception and gays. In 13 years of reading, reciting and studying the Bible, I didn’t recall seeing much about these topics.

That’s because there is very little in there about them.

But I digress.

I like Pope Francis. No, I don’t see eye-to-eye with him on a lot of things; he believes most of the things I listed out a couple of paragraphs ago. But I don’t see eye-to-eye on everything with many people – people I work with, people I live with… why should it be different with the pope? I feel we can learn from him, even if we do not agree with everything he says or stands for. This is a concept I’ve written about before, in What My Dad Taught Me About Being Vegan:

There are plenty of brilliant, important people who cross our paths, directly or indirectly. We should take the opportunity to learn from them, to embrace the traits we admire in them, regardless of whether we agree on everything.

Pope Francis chose his papal name in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment. The mainstream media likes to frame him as a liberal head of the church, though the Vatican tries to correct that framing. You’ll find plenty of progressives who find him to be a PR guy for the RCC. And perhaps that’s true. But for some reason, I’m trying to see the good in some of what this PR guy has to say.

Francis speaks of dialogue quite a bit – he did so in his address to Congress last week and he has in the past:

Dialogue is born from an attitude of respect for the other person, from a conviction that the other person has something good to say. It assumes that there is room in the heart for the person’s point of view, opinion, and proposal. Dialogue entails a cordial reception, not a prior condemnation. In order to dialogue it is necessary to know how to lower the defenses, open the doors of the house, and offer human warmth. (1)

As animal activists, we have something to learn here. Disagreement does not mean disrespect. It’s so easy to raise the walls and get our hackles up, especially in the face of questions about where we get our protein and statements like, “But, bacon!” It’s so easy to forget our compassion for others when we don’t share a point of view – and that’s when the potential for respectful dialogue begins to fade. And let’s not forget – disagreement doesn’t happen inside a bubble. There are plenty of things that vegans disagree about as well. There is not one of us who has all of the answers, and I’d consider that a very good reason to keep the dialogue open.

Dialogue is what keeps me talking about animals. Humanity’s bond with our non-human co-residents of this planet is long and twisted, and “dominion” comes up very often.

This summer, Francis said in a letter:

We have only one heart, and the same wretchedness which leads us to mistreat an animal will not be long in showing itself in our relationships with other people. Every act of cruelty towards any creature is “contrary to human dignity”. (2)

He goes on to discuss extinction and environmental destruction at the hands of human acts, and reminds us that everything is related. I’m not an optimist by any stretch, but I hope that statements such as this one will help move us toward a world that does not mistreat animals… a vegan one. Will it happen now? No, perhaps not. After all, Francis is not vegan; rumor has it he was looking forward to eating a hot dog during his stay in New York City. But for thirty years of my own life, I ate animals. It’s not impossible to think that one day, he won’t, either.

I read a lot over the past week about Catholicism. I’ll admit, I read a little too much in a sub-Reddit. It made me think that plenty of us are headed for Hell. I hope that’s not the case; I hope that I’m “being a good person” like I was raised to be. In a papal address in March of 2013, Pope Francis said this of “nonbelievers”:

“They are our valued allies in the commitment to defending human dignity, in building a peaceful coexistence between peoples and in safeguarding and caring for creation.” (3)

I entered my thirties intending to do as little harm as possible. As less of this decade lies ahead of me than behind me, I can say that safeguarding and caring for this planet, and for its inhabitants, is something I support. And if that’s a common ground that I can share with others, even if we don’t agree on all things, well, it’s a start.

FURTHER READING:
Jesus, Christianity, and Animal Rights
The Movie Noah: Animals are Innocent; Humans Not So Much
Peace, Veganism, and the End of Days

REFERENCES:

  1. On Heaven and Earth. “Pope Francis on Faith, Family, and the Church in the Twenty-First Century”
  2. La Santa Sede. “Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ of the Holy Father Francis on Care for Our Common Home”
  3. La Santa Sede. “Audience with Representatives of the Churches and Ecclesial Communities and of the Different Religions”

Photo: Photo Phiend