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How Pope Francis still loves the 'least of these'

Newly elected Pope Francis, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina waves from the steps of the Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica in Rome, March 14, 2013 (Credit: Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi) Before he was Pope Francis, he was Jorge Bergoglio, a Cardinal in Argentina. He has a few other nicknames; recently he has become known as the "Cold Call Pope" for calling Catholics who have reached out to him for help or prayer. He was known simply as "Father Jorge" in Buenos Aires where he lived in a small apartment, rode the bus, cooked for himself and cared for the poor. It was this simple, selfless lifestyle that has earned him the nickname, the "Slum Pope."

This past week, the pope further unveiled his evangelistic vision for the Roman Catholic Church in an 85-page mission-statement-like document. In it he said, "I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security."

"It is my duty, as the Bishop of Rome, to be open to suggestions which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it," he wrote, suggesting he is open to changes to his own power in order to effect his vision of a loving and serving Church.

His current responsibility of leading the Roman Catholic Church keeps Pope Francis busy. But not too busy to take time to "cold-call" some of those who reach out to him. He is also not too busy to hug and pray for those who are sick. There is not as much time for those things as he would like, however, so he delegates them. Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, along with some off-duty members of the Swiss Guard, visit train stations throughout Rome with food from the Vatican. Krajewski's title is Vatican Almoner; he describes his job as "an extension of the pope’s arm toward the poor, the needy, those who suffer... [The Pope] cannot go out of the Vatican, so he has chosen a person who goes out to hug the people who suffer."

Each morning the Pope sends to Krajewski a bundle of letters that he has received asking for help and prayer. Francis, having read them all, attaches a note with instructions to Krajewski on how to proceed.

This Christmas season, I wonder what my response should be to God's ultimate gift: his beloved Son, the Savior. What can I give back to God? Worship? Certainly. And of course my tithe. But Christ has done so much for me I want to give him more. What can I give? He told us how he wants us to love him when he said, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:40).

We know our good deeds cannot save us, but we also must weigh the words of Jesus' half-brother, James: "What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, 'Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it. In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead" (James 2:14-17).

Pope Francis agrees: "How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?"

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