“Our life is a journey, and when we stop moving, things go wrong.”
With these words, Pope Francis opened his first homily as the Bishop of Rome. Francis’s papacy has had a particular focus on those on the existential margins of faith. More than a pope for Sunday Mass-going Catholics, Francis has been a pope for everyone who struggles, and sometimes fails, to find God in the grittiness of everyday life.
That’s why I think the popular Jesuit pontiff would give his classic thumbs up to Oprah’s newest series Belief, airing this week at 8 p.m. ET/PT on OWN.
The seven-night series highlights men and women throughout the world who are searching to live for something beyond themselves and to be connected with others searching for redemption and meaning in life.
The episode airing Friday night features John, a 65-year-old Australian doctor who grew up Catholic but hasn’t been to Mass in more than 40 years. John lost his faith over what he believed was the Church’s inaction during the atrocities he saw committed firsthand during the Rhodesian Civil War.
Along with his faith, John also struggled with alcoholism and lost his wife and his family. John put it bluntly: “The last 12 years have been the most miserable of my life.”
To try to reconnect with God and with his family, John decided to complete a pilgrimage on the Way of St. James, an ancient 500-mile-journey through Western Europe to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The pilgrimage route has existed for more than a millennia, but only in recent years has it become a worldwide sensation. Along with James, more than 200,000 will make the trek in 2015.
Why do so many people come? James puts it well: “I’ve made some big mistakes. And I want to set things right. Look, I’m 65. The bells are tolling! I’m tilting at windmills. I’ve got to fix this.”
Or as Pope Benedict said when visiting the pilgrimage site in 2010: “The fatigue of the journey, the variety of landscapes, their encounter with peoples of other nationalities — all of this opens [pilgrims’] hearts to what is the deepest and most common bond that unites us as human beings: We are in quest, we need truth and beauty, we need an experience of grace, charity, peace, forgiveness, and redemption.”
If Pope Francis is right, John and his companions won’t be disappointed in their search for something more: “Time and time again, [God] bears us on his shoulders. No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew.”
Before Pope Francis visited the United States, Oprah told him, “I hold your life and work in the highest esteem.” After seeing Oprah’s latest production lifting up those who are trying to find God in daily life, he might say the same of her.