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Today marks the 77th birthday of Pope Francis. It is bizarre that for so many Christians around the world there is Christianity and then there is Catholicism. For the better part of history the Catholic Church was synonymous with Christianity. Perhaps the disconnect between Catholicism and Protestantism serves as a sign of just how exceptional this pope is since so many non-Catholics are identifying with his theology and gravitating toward him like the international icon he is. I don't know how many people view the pope as a nominal leader or who actually look to him for spiritual guidance and moral authority, but his papacy has been a breath of fresh air for myself and many others.

In honor of the courage he has displayed during his papacy I have compiled a list of five great things he has done that have inspired me in my walk with Christ (there are several more not included).

1. Who am I to judge?
Back in the summer the pope was asked about the supposed "gay lobby" that existed within the church. His response would shock many as it went against the teachings of the previous pope. Francis said, "When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn't be marginalized. The tendency (to homosexuality) is not the problem ... they're our brothers." The pope would later go on to critique the church's tendency to focus on such divisive issues which took energy and time away from actual ministry. In an interview in September the pope was quoted as saying, "It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently."

2. Bishop Deluxe suspended.
In October, Pope Francis officially suspended German Bishop Franz Peter Tebartz-van Elst otherwise known as the "Bishop of Bling" and ordered him to vacate the Diocese of Limburg. The German bishop spent $42 million on private apartments, an 800-square-foot fitness room, private landscaped gardens and fountains, as well as a couple of million for elaborate walls surrounding the house. The suspension was a clear message that such lavishness would not be tolerated under Francis's watch as he has called for a "church that is poor and for the poor." There are talks of turning the Bishop of Bling's residence into a soup kitchen.

3. I am not a Marxist.
After the pope released his first apostolic exhortation, in which he called "unfettered capitalism" a form of "new tyranny," he was met with fiery accusations of Marxism from right wing Americans. The pope also criticized the "idolatry of money" and implored politicians to guarantee all citizens "dignified work, education and health care." In the document he also called on rich people to share their wealth. "Just as the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills."

4. Pope washes feet.
Last spring Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 inmates at a juvenile detention center in Rome. This occured on Holy Thursday and was intended to represent Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. Two of the 12 inmates were women. Although the church is still officially against the ordination of women into the priesthood, this was still a significant event as Pope Francis was the first pope to wash the feet of a woman, one of which was Muslim. This act not only shows servitude but it also relays the message that the church is to be embracing of "man or woman, slave or free, Jew or Gentile."

5. Disfigured man approaches pope.
In November the pope touched, kissed, and prayed for 53 year old Vinicio Riva who suffers from a non-infectious genetic disease, neurofibromatosis type 1. It has left him completely covered from head to toe with growths, swellings and itchy sores. The act of compassion showed the pope's genuine care for all of humanity and was the actualization of a tweet he sent out earlier in the year saying, "The Pope must serve all people, especially the poor, the weak, the vulnerable."

Catholicism has quite the history spanning from the preservation of books, the creation of the university system, and great pieces of art and architecture to colonialism, imperialism, and the pillage of people whose beliefs differed from theirs. There are some incredibly good figures who embodied the love, compassion, and ministry of Jesus Christ and there are some incredibly bad figures who let power, greed, and sin not only corrupt their soul but also the soul of the Catholic Church. So far I like to think that Pope Francis is shaping to be one of those incredibly good figures. And while in 2013 his efforts might ultimately prove to be futile, my greatest hope is that both Catholics and Protestants will begin to reflect his selflessness, his dedication to the poor and marginalized, and his love and compassion in a way that is transformative to the world and pleasing in the eyes of God.

I wrote a post dedicated to Fred Hampton, the 21 year old Black Panther Party leader who was gunned down in his sleep on December 4, 1969, but in light of today's events it would seem more appropriate to dedicate a post to Nelson Mandela. John 15:13 states, "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends." I quote this verse a lot when discussing my heroes because they all understood love and ultimate sacrifice. Although Nelson Mandela did not suffer the same fate as other freedom fighters he undoubtedly sacrificed everything for the greater good of all people. He spent 27 years locked away in prison for fighting for the rights of his people. To me that is a lifetime. I haven't even been on this earth for 27 years. There will be thousands of posts written in the coming days and I don't have anything unique to offer. Nelson Mandela was a fighter, a hero, a father to a nation and to all of those who watched him from afar. So, I would like to simply say thank you to Mr. Mandela and use what little corner of this ever expanding online universe that I occupy to recognize his achievements and celebrate his life and legacy.

And here are 7 Things You Can Learn From Nelson Mandela's Life:

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