March 13, 2013 was a big day for the Catholic Church. I – along with millions of viewers across the world – was glued to my television. We were all anxiously waiting to hear who had been chosen to replace Pope Benedict XVI as the next leader of the Catholic Church. But when the announcement finally came, I didn’t understand what had happened. My Italian is pretty basic, and I had never heard the name ‘Jorge Mario Bergoglio’ before. It took me a couple of minutes before I figured out that a humble Cardinal from Argentina had just been elected to be our new Pope.
Since that day, Pope Francis’ name has become a household world. ‘Papa Francesco’ is loved the world over, and the media follow his every move. In December 2013, Time Magazine named him ‘Person of the Year’. They called him the ‘People’s Pope’, “[a man who] has made society’s most vulnerable – the sick, the elderly, immigrants and children – the focus of his ministry.”1 Rolling Stone Magazine described him as “a man whose obvious humility, empathy and, above all, devotion to the economically disenfranchised has come to feel perfectly suited to our times.”2 According to the The Economist, American Catholics have given him an 85% approval rating. “BUSINESS schools regularly teach their students about great ‘turnaround CEOs’ who breathe new life into dying organizations: figures such as IBM’s Lou Gerstner, Fiat’s Sergio Marchionne and Apple’s Steve Jobs. Now Harvard Business School needs to add another case study: Jorge Bergoglio, the man who has rebranded RC Global in barely a year.”3 They even have a name for the impact this man has had on the Church and throughout the world. They call it the “Francis Effect.”
After attending a Wednesday audience with Pope Francis during a recent visit to Rome, I began to understand what everyone is so excited about. It’s impossible not to be drawn in by the Pope’s warmth and charisma. He has a way of making everyone feel welcome. Somehow, when you’re there, you don’t feel like you’re just one among thousands. With disarming informality, warmth, and charm, Pope Francis succeeds in making you feel like an intimate, honoured guest. Even so, I didn’t envy the security men circling the Pope as he waded into the crowds, greeting people and embracing and blessing the sick.
Although I will likely never meet Pope Francis in person, being in Vatican Square that morning inspired me to try to get to know him better. After all, he’s the head of the Catholic Church. And as a member of that Church, it’s important for me to know who he is and to understand his vision. Pope Francis is Peter’s successor here on earth – the one Christ entrusted with the keys of the kingdom – and his leadership will impact not only the Church, but all of history.
But it’s tricky trying to get to know someone when you can’t talk to him in person. While there is certainly no lack of information, the secular media can’t be expected to understand the faith that informs the Pope’s actions and decisions. Religious sources understand the context, but it’s never possible to be completely objective. Personal opinion, past experiences, editors … many things come into play when deciding what statements will be highlighted and how they will be presented. So I came up with a couple of ideas on how I think we can get to know the Pope better that I’d like to share with you today.
1. Get to know a bit about Pope Francis’ life. Did you know that Pope Francis studied Chemistry and moonlighted as a bouncer at a bar in Buenos Aires? Do you know what inspired him to enter the seminary – and that his Mom was unhappy about his decision? So unhappy, in fact, that it took her years to reconcile herself to his decision …
2. Get to know a little bit about Jesuit spirituality. Pope Francis is a Jesuit, and the training and formation he received within that order have made him who he is today. Understanding Jesuit spirituality helps explain a lot about his approach to issues and his way of thinking. I recently enjoyed a book by David L. Fleming SJ called, What is Ignatian Spirituality?
3. Read reliable news sources. Consider downloading the Pope App on your iPhone, or check out the Vatican network website at http://www.news.va. It will give you all of the latest news and information on the Pope. Other excellent sources of information are the Catholic News Service (CNS) (http://www.catholicnews.com) and the Catholic News Agency (CAN) (http://www.catholicnewsagency.com).
4. Read papal documents. The Pope writes letters to us on differing issues all the time. Consider checking out his Encyclical Letter, Lumen Fidei (“The Light of Faith”). It’s available from publishers such as the Catholic Truth Society (Publishers to the Holy See). You can check out their website at http://www.ctsbooks.org. It’s also available online at http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20130629_enciclica-lumen-fidei.html).
Another great read is the recently published Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”). The Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference wrote, “Evangelii Gaudium challenges every member of the Church to ask what it means to be a follower of Christ and calls everyone to preach the good news in today’s world. Evangelii Gaudium touches on many of the themes of Francis’ papacy, including obligations Christians have to the poor, and the duty to establish and maintain just economic, political, and legal orders.”4 It’s divided up into bite sized paragraphs and can be read a bit at a time. Evangelii Gaudium is available from the Catholic Truth Society, or online at http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium.html.
5. Read the texts of the Pope’s letters, homilies, General Audiences etc. They are available online at http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en.html. Another wonderful resource is Pope Francis’ recently published book, The Church of Mercy: A Vision for the Church. It compiles the texts of many of his homilies, addresses, and General Audiences, organizing them by subject. Perfect for evening meditation!
6. See for yourself! Go to Rome and attend a Wednesday Audience, or take in the Sunday Angelus. Tickets for the Wednesday Audience are free, but are best reserved in advance. (No tickets are required for the Sunday Angelus.) For more information, go to http://www.papalaudience.org/tickets.
Closer to home, you might want to check out the 8th World Meeting of Families, to be held in Philadelphia, U.S.A. from September 22-27, 2015. Although not yet officially confirmed, it is expected that Pope Francis will attend. For more information, go to http://www.worldmeeting2015.org.
Another event you might want to consider attending is the 51st International Eucharistic Congress to be held in Cebu, Philippines from January 24-31, 2016. For more information, go to http://iec2016.ph.
Or if you are between the ages of 16 and 35 (but all ages are welcome), consider heading to the next World Youth Day, to be held in Kraków, Poland from July 25-31, 2016. For more information, go to http://worldyouthday.com/krakow-2016.
You can watch events like these online, or read all about them. But in the end, it’s never the same as being there in person. Find out for yourself what the Francis Effect is all about. Hope to see you there!
– Sharon van der Sloot
1 Howard Chua-Eoan and Elizabeth Dias, “Pope Francis, The People’s Pope,” Time Magazine [online magazine], 11 December 2013; available from http://poy.time.com/2013/12/11/person-of-the-year-pope-francis-the-peoples-pope/3/; Internet; accessed 5 August 2014.
2 Mark Binelli, “Pope Francis: The Times They Are A-Changin’,” Rolling Stone Magazine [online magazine], 28 January 2014; available from http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/pope-francis-the-times-they-are-a-changin-20140128; Internet; accessed 4 August 2014.
3 “The Francis Effect,” Economist [online magazine], 19 April 2014; available from http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21600980-about-take-over-crisis-ridden-company-demoralised-workforce-turn-roman-case; Internet; 6 August 2014.
4 “Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) proves to be an Irish bestseller,” Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference; available from http://www.catholicbishops.ie/2014/03/18/20869/; Internet; accessed 6 August 2014.