The following is a letter to parishioners of Christ the King Parish in Pleasant Hill, CA, by Father Paulson Mundanmani, who is pastor. It was published in the Dec. 11, 2016 parish bulletin.

Dear Friends,

I am sure you have been following our beloved Holy Father and some of the controversies surrounding his appointments and writings. I would like to give a shout out to Pope Francis and assure him that Christ the King Parish will be praying for him this advent season. I would like to send him a booklet this Season with our support and prayers.

Pope Francis loves our religious sisters of America and has stood by them. Our parish is fortunate to have many sisters who work, volunteer and attend services. The following story is a testament to his love and support for them. The newly appointed American Cardinal Tobin recounted a story that indicates how well Francis remembers people. He noted that he and Francis — then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires — first met during a week long Vatican meeting in 2005. Tobin speaks fluent Spanish so he and Bergoglio were in the same Spanish-language small group in the synod and they sat next to each other. One day during a coffee break Tobin told Bergoglio that while they were all happy with the election of then-Pope Benedict XVI, who had become pope a few months earlier after the death of John Paul II, “in all honesty, Cardinal, you were my mother’s favorite candidate” to be chosen. (Bergoglio was reportedly a strong contender in that 2005 conclave.) Bergoglio was surprised at hearing this. “How does your mother know me?” he asked. Tobin explained: “Well, she read in the newspaper that you pick up after yourself, you cook your food, and you drive a modest car. And frankly, she’s had it up to here with princes of the church!”

Bergoglio laughed, but never forgot. Five years later when Benedict chose Tobin to take a job in the Roman Curia, the papal bureaucracy, Tobin was surprised to receive a brief note from Bergoglio in Argentina telling him he was praying for him and adding, “I remember our conversations and I remember your mother’s good taste.” Three years later, in 2012, Tobin was effectively exiled from Rome and sent to Indianapolis because he disagreed with what proved to be a disastrously unpopular Vatican investigation of the American nuns over doctrinal orthodoxy. A few months after that, Benedict resigned and Francis was elected, and he let it be known that he did not like how Tobin had been treated. And now he is making Tobin a cardinal. (story from NCR).

Recently four conservative cardinals made a rare public challenge to Pope Francis over some of his teachings in a major document on the family, accusing him of sowing confusion on important moral issues. The cardinals — two Germans, an Italian and an American (Burke) — said they had gone public with their letter to the pope because he had not responded. At issue are some of the teachings in a 260-page treatise called “Amoris Laetitia” (The Joy of Love), a cornerstone document of Francis’ attempt to make the Church more inclusive and less condemning. In the document, issued in April, he called for a church that was less strict and more compassionate toward any “imperfect” members, such as those who divorced and remarried, saying “no one can be condemned forever.”

Under church law they cannot receive Communion unless they abstain from sex with their new partner, because their first marriage is still valid in the eyes of the church and therefore they are seen as living in a state of sin. In the document, the pope appeared to side with theologians and bishops who had proposed an “internal forum” in which a priest or bishop decides jointly with the individual on a case-by-case basis if he or she can be fully reintegrated and receive Communion.

The pope has clashed before with conservatives who worry he is weakening Roman Catholic rules on moral issues such as homosexuality and divorce while focusing on social problems such as climate change and economic inequality. Nobody is saved by law or doctrine. The rich young man learned that lesson from his encounter with Jesus. I understand the need for clarity. What inspires me is the willingness of our Chief Shepherd to emphasize the need for pastoral approach in every situation. If only those rigid on doctrine and law also exhibit the heart in difficult life situations as Jesus did when dealing with so many. “He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners,” was the rebuke he was given by the Magisterium of his day. I don’t want to get in to discussion on who is right or wrong, but I know when it comes to Jesus-like attitude, Pope Francis gets an A plus and more.