After his visit, high hopes for the Pope

In a tough period for Catholicism with its scandals and stern stances on social issues, many Catholic families have started to loosen their binds with their faith. People saw the Vatican as a disconnected authority, more worried about imposing its presence as a political entity rather than connecting with practitioners. Pope Francis’ tenure has been ultimately progressive: reversing the rash sentiment towards the Catholic authorities and understanding the needs of today’s average Catholic.

Pope Francis knew it was time for the Catholic Church to clean up in order to further expand the Church’s reach and people’s sentimental attachment to their faith. He also knew that people weren’t looking for a stern figure to lead them. Being appointed as the Pope came as a shock to the whole entire world: no one had ever imagined a humble, Latin-American man to lead the Catholic Church.  With this sacred promotion, Pope Francis stayed true to his upbringings. The Buenos Aires man was once a nightclub bouncer and lab chemist; your typical, hard-working man. Pope Francis, in order to gain popularity and confident responses from the international community, initially built upon his humility. The very small gestures such as refusing to use ornate chairs, not buying glamorous cars and avoiding exaggerated ceremonies transmitted a sentiment to Catholics that the Church was less about the glamour but more about transmitting trust to its people.

As a young Catholic, Pope Francis was essential to me in strengthening my faith. I often found myself in high school doubting the credibility of my religious sentiment with the stories that came out in the news. The Vatican seemed like such a disjointed part of the Church. As Catholic, we are supposed to look up to the authorities in Rome as the incarnation of God’s faith. How could I tolerate seeing a Church full of corruption, disconnected with the social issues that challenged international communities?

It is hard to be progressive in a historically conservative and strict environment. Pope Francis nonetheless veered away from conventional behavior that many Catholics had seen in Pope Benedict XVI’s conservative biblical interpretations. The Pope tackled important discussions such as LGBQT inclusion and poverty reduction. The more conservative voices of the Catholic Church illogically tried to discredit Francis who responded with the famous phrase: “Who am I to judge?” According to Catholic teachings, everyone is born with sin and not a single person can escape sin. Who is the Catholic Church to judge who can indulge in faith based on the types of temptations they fall for? For many young individuals struggling to cope with years of Catholic authorities scorning them for their idetentities, Pope Francis came as a sign of relief; being LGBQT no longer became a barrier to connect to Catholic teachings.

The Pope saw his open mind and his popularity as great opportunities to have his opinion resonate on important political global issues. Pope Francis never backed down from a challenge. One of his many goals as a religious leader is to promote peaceful interaction amongst states. Thus when the Syrian crisis started to become a trending topic worldwide, the Pope quickly stated his opinion and even publicly advised President Obama to avoid any sort of American bomb intervention. This is part of a larger agenda to promote wellbeing and global peace, and he has since aggressively decried capitalism as the root of all human evils and destruction in society. For this reason, his visit to the United States proved to be highly controversial from a political perspective: how were political candidates or representatives going to react to a Catholic leader bashing common American principles and practice?

Pope Francis was very worried when coming to the United States about how capitalism can consume relationships. Love can often be lost if people are more worried about the benefits reaped from connections than the satisfaction of caring and loving for their neighbors. The Pope warned the American people not to be engulfed by these behaviors. He also tried to personally embody these sorts of inclusive, loving mentalities during his visit by going to a correctional facility, where he was seen embracing several prisoners and beckoning them to take their rehabilitation seriously in order to contribute to society. He also talked at the General Assembly of the United Nations, where he stressed how states must make collective efforts to reduce selfishness and promote peaceful cooperation. He had several conversations with different Washington officials to make it clear that capitalism can’t have an aggressive presence in all aspects of American lives. Pope Francis made it clear, too, that religious beliefs of love and peace aren’t sufficient to fight world poverty and war. States have to collectively cooperate, whether that is through some of the religious ideologies found in Catholicism or otherwise. The Pope had a positive mindset going into his American visit. It was important to stress how people could use their faith to improve the general well being. The boring, conventional message Popes in the past would give about converting to Catholicism was thankfully not a message the Pope repeated to American audiences. Francis’ visit was crucial for people to see that they are not alone when sharing their faith. Individual efforts in promoting love and peace can go a long way in reducing poverty and inequality.

It was often difficult for me to defend the Catholic faith when only negative news would come out about the heads of the Catholic Church. Francis immediately changed this negative cloud that so many Catholics were obscured by. Even at a very liberal institution like Swarthmore, my Catholic upbringing was always incredibly respected and I have seen a relatively positive and accepting mindset when discussing the Pope. Students are aware and acknowledging of the progress that Francis has made in the two years of his tenure. The man is not perfect in many ways and a liberal community will definitely be harsher on the Pope when topics aren’t addressed quickly. I for one have been occasionally disappointed when the Pope could have taken immediate action but decided to stall a topic. The Pope has tried to advocate for women’s health issues, but he must learn and listen to their needs before stating his opinion.  Nonetheless I am grateful and impressed by the amount of institutional change he has been able to make in his two years as leader of the church. One can only imagine what Pope Francis can achieve with more time and by learning from his mistakes. With religion becoming a hot topic of debate from a political standpoint on campus and in American communities, people will look to authoritative figures like Francis to seek instruction and trust. Ultimately a more progressive and open-minded Pope’s visit to the United States can only be beneficial to conversations and debates regarding the importance of religion in American society and religion’s sphere of influence on policies .


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