It seems like everyone is gaga over Pope Francis! It really is quite remarkable that the new Pope (and the first Jesuit and the first new world Pope ever), has created such incredible buzz across the globe since his election just a few short months ago. His recent interview for America Magazine (www.americamagazine.org/pope-interview), a popular Jesuit magazine and reprinted across the globe, has created quite a stir recently with just about everyone talking about it. His even more recent interview calling out the Vatican curia has made a lot of jaws drop. His refreshing views, his humility, and his deep compassion for all, his blunt speaking style, is really quite something to witness. In the words of well known Jesuit commentator, Tom Reese, SJ, “it’s fun to be Catholic again!” Many of my friends and colleagues, even among those who are from other religious traditions, or are completely secular, or even those who are either agnostic or atheists, seem thrilled (and I do mean thrilled!) with the new Pope and interested in what he has to say. So, what's up with that?
Perhaps there are many complex reasons why the new Pope has taken the world by storm but maybe one critical point that needs to be mentioned is the fact that the world seems to be extremely hungry for his message of mercy, compassion, love, and concern for all and especially for those who struggle and suffer from poverty, oppression, injustice, and indifference. In a similar way that so much of the world (including very secular, agnostic, and even atheists) seem to be just plain gaga over the Dali Lama, perhaps for similar reasons our very broken and troubled world is so hungry for messages from world religious leaders that are focused on non judgmental love and concern for all. In a nutshell, more love and mercy and less finger wagging and dogma seems to be what people really respond to. It almost seems like a spoonful of water has fallen on a very dry sponge...it just soaks it up and wants more.
The Catholic Church has taken a lot of big hits in recent decades with the clergy sexual abuse crisis, the Vatican financial and other scandals, and so much media attention and church focus on sexual ethics involving homosexuality, abortion, and contraception among other matters. For a casual observer it sometimes seems that during recent decades the Catholic Church only cares about sexual issues and nothing else given so many press reports. For many of us engaged Catholics it has been a very tough time and it has been too often rather embarrassing being a member of this church. In fact, if former Catholics were their own denomination they would be the third largest in America!
It is refreshing to see so much attention now on the Pope’s message of humility, love, mercy, and compassion. Perhaps Pope Francis can start a much needed trend among other major religious leaders to do the same. Can you imagine if all religious leaders focused on these needed values? Could you imagine if religious leaders spent less time telling others exactly how they should live their lives in terms of dos and don'ts and more on a message of love and compassion? A ripple effect where religious leaders would underscore love, acceptance, mercy, humility, and compassion in a non judgmental manner might do the world some real and long term good. It is a message that we all need to hear and model in our own behavior. It would be more water on that very dry sponge.
Pope Francis has offered listeners an important message that is refreshing in our cynical, narcissistic, and skeptical times. Catholics and non-Catholics alike might be better for it.
So, what do you think?
Copyright Thomas G. Plante, PhD, ABPP