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Finding a parish I can love aligned with a pope I can follow

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When Pope Francis encourages compassion for those judged and excluded by the church, I can't really include myself among those alienated masses. I'm not gay. I'm not a woman. I'm not divorced.

But he speaks to me as a lifelong Catholic estranged from a hierarchy too often in conflict with what seem to me to be basic Christian values.

True, Francis has not changed the policies that perpetuate the discrimination I find so objectionable.

What he is changing is the way we relate to one another, shifting emphasis from the doctrine of the church to the message of the Gospel.

The argument that his papacy is more about tone than substance fails to grasp the power of his bully pulpit. By focusing on ways we might make room for one another -- as opposed to issuing directives that defend the rules and close the ranks -- Francis is laying the foundation for a church quite different than the one led by his most recent predecessors.

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As important as his message is to each of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, it's the 221,000 Catholic parishes around the globe that represent an especially ripe audience for his message.

For it's at the parish level that we decide how we'll relate to Catholics of various beliefs and experiences; how we'll relate, as Catholics, to the rest of the world; how, in other words, our day-to-day interactions with one another shape the lives we lead.

Before moving to Boston last year, my wife and I had been without a parish for several years as a result of our failure to find a church home we found nourishing.  

What excites us about our new parish -- The Paulist Center on Beacon Hill -- is the community it fosters within its walls and the welcome it extends to everyone else.

The spirit of the place is reflected in this 60-second video, titled "All are Welcome," released by the center this week as a Lenten outreach. Its creator, fellow parishioner Vincent Rocchio, said he was inspired by a comment by center director Fr. Frank Desiderio as he wondered aloud about a new tagline for the center: "If you like Pope Francis, you'll love us."

The video opens with a question: "What if there were a church that cared more about feeding the poor than keeping track of the rules?"

It's not as if The Paulist Center does anything that conflicts with Catholic doctrine. It doesn't.

The video focuses on what the center does, beginning with clips from a Wednesday Night Supper Club that feeds more than 100 homeless neighbors every week. It goes on to explain how the center has made room for disaffected Catholics along with anyone else interested in joining its worship and other activities.

I hope you'll take a minute to watch the video, which concludes by describing the center as a place "where 'catholic' means 'universal' and everyone is welcome, whoever they are and wherever they are on their spiritual journey.

"That's the church Pope Francis envisions, and it's right here in the heart of Boston."

I feel blessed to have found a parish I can love so aligned with a pope I can follow.

The great promise of this pope is the possibility that more and more of the world's 221,000 parishes will discover similar harmony, outside as well as inside their walls.

[Bill Mitchell is a former NCR board member who lives at Beacon Hill Friends House and blogs about it with his wife, Carol, at ayearinaroom.com.]

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