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Tuesday, Mar 26 2013 12:56 PM

'First Look': Monsignor says 'it's a very different Lent for me'

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    St. Francis of Assisi Pastor Monsignor Craig Harrison.

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BY CHRISTINE L. PETERSON Californian web editor cpeterson@bakersfield.com

With both his parents facing stage 4 cancer, the Rev. Monsignor Craig Harrison said Tuesday he's trying to see what he can glean and learn from the experience of caring for his parents, the same journey experienced by so many others.

"It's a very different Lent for me," the pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in downtown Bakersfield said during an appearance on "First Look with Scott Cox."

Harrison said with both his parents under hospice care, he wants to enjoy each moment more and be more authentic. He emphasized that he knows others have also cared for their families and parents, and that life experiences are part of what he preaches.

Californian CEO and President Richard Beene asked about the Easter message he plans to deliver.

Each Easter focuses on life, death, suffering and the resurrection of Christ, the pastor said, adding he seeks to apply that message to children and youth. He expects that Easter message to be influenced by what's happening in his own family.

For nearly an hour, Harrison tackled topics including the pope, the church, marriage as a sacrament and Easter.

Of new Pope Francis, the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, Harrison said: "I am loving this man. I am absolutely loving this man."

He said he believes the pope is bringing forth what the church needs today, reviving traditions, focusing on service, not power, and calling people back to the basics of loving their neighbor and serving the poor. For example, he said, Pope Francis will go to a youth prison to do the traditional washing of feet on Holy Thursday.

Beene asked if a new pope really does impact the church.

Through his spirit and his teachings, he does, Harrison said.

"Every day I get excited. I wonder what's next," the pastor said of life with a new pope.

Asked by "First Look's" Jeff Lemucchi how he explains the Catholic Church to those who don't really understand it, Harrison said judgments and barriers have to be broken down. Harrison said he's often able to do that at funerals and weddings at which there are many non-Catholics who learn about the church.

"When you really enter dialogue and not debate," Harrison said, you can break through barriers.

Beene queried whether Harrison worries that the church is out of step with changing political norms, such as gay marriage.

Harrison said the universal church deals with issues of war, poverty and human trafficking, and the issues aren't always the same in the United States.

Turning to the topic of Easter, show host Scott Cox asked how we got to rabbits and candy during this season. Harrison said with Christmas you can understand the association with St. Nicholas giving small gifts to children.

"I still haven't figured out the rabbit thing," Harrison said. In contrast, he explained that for him, the Easter vigil will include baptizing 42 adults.

Beene asked about surveys that show many people identify themselves as spiritual, yet not connected to a faith tradition.

Harrison urged people to be very careful about judging anyone, and rather say you believe your faith has truth.

"I am called to respect people where they are at," Harrison said.

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