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Nun 'Inspired' By Pope Francis' Work For Poor

Sunday, March 17, 2013

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Sister Pat Farrell is the former president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. She speaks with host Rachel Martin about what the selection of Pope Francis says about the Catholic Church's future vision for social justice and charity.



We're joined now by Sister Pat Farrell, past president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. It is the largest, most influential organization of American nuns. We spoke with Sister Pat recently about some of the issues facing the Catholic Church during its leadership transition and what she wants to see from a new pope. Now that a new pope has been chosen, we thought we'd check back in with her. Sister Pat Farrell joins us on the line from Clinton, Iowa. Welcome back to the program, Sister Pat.

SISTER PAT FARRELL: Thank you. I'm glad to be here.

MARTIN: The new pontiff, Pope Francis, seems to have taken very seriously the plight of the poor and the marginalized. He even assumed the name of St. Francis of Assisi, who famously rejected material wealth to live among the poor. That has been a focus of your life too. What is your impression of him?

FARRELL: Well, I am very heartened and very hopeful when I see the man's simplicity and his desire to be close to the people. I think that's just a picture of the kind of church all of us would like to have. Of course, we're all in wait-and-see mode, but a man who has a heart for the poor, I would suspect has openness on other levels too.

MARTIN: The Catholic Church has a long tradition of promoting social justice. Do you think his election signals a new direction for the Catholic Church, a new focus on those issues?

FARRELL: Well, I hope so, although I do have to say in fairness that there had been for some time a couple of offices in the Vatican that have consistently done that work - the Office for Justice and Peace, the Office of Refugees, Migrants and Itinerant People. And hopefully, his papacy will give greater importance to that work. And I think also that the shift in focus that's very hopeful to me is I think he's asking for an outward thrust. He did say already that a self-referential church is a dead one. So, that says to me that he wants to have a hierarchy that is not insular, that is close to the people, aware of real needs and real problems. And in that sense, I think the focus on justice and on a preferential option for the poor really reminds the institution of what is it was instituted for.

MARTIN: You told me a few weeks ago when we spoke that you hoped the new pope, whoever he would be, would do two things: open more doors for women in the leadership of the church and make a very clear statement condemning the perpetrators of sexual abuse in the church and those who covered it up. Do you think Pope Francis will do that?

FARRELL: Well, that's my sincere hope. And if the pattern of his life has been one of trying to live a simple life close to the poor, there are no more vulnerable people than abused children, than women, who are half the population of those who are poor. So, I think if he is true and consistent to who he seems to be, that should point us all in the right direction.

MARTIN: Did his selection as the first pope come from Latin America, did this surprise you?

FARRELL: You know, there were some indications that it could be a pope from outside of Europe, but I'm very happy that it was a Latin American specifically. Because, first of all, I think that is a recognition of the importance of the global self, not just for the church but for the world, for the future of all of us. And I think also it's a recognition and something of a validation of the path of the church in Latin America, which has been outspoken on issues of justice and has given priority to work with the poor.

MARTIN: Sister Pat Farrell. She is past president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. She joined us by phone from Clinton, Iowa. Sister Pat, thanks very much for taking to talk with us.

FARRELL: And thanks for having me on the show.


MARTIN: Coming up this hour, NPR's Quil Lawrence shares his reporting on the challenges facing America's nearly two million female veterans, and a conversation about memories and the ways we remember and forget. We talk with Charles Fernyhough about his new book "Pieces of Light."


MARTIN: You're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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