I spent all 13 of my formative years enrolled in Catholic education. I can recite Bible verses upon request, argue the existence of God, and say multiple prayers in multiple languages. My Catholic school education equipped me with the ability to do well in school, an extensive knowledge of religion, and, as so often happens, a cynical and jaded approach to organized religion.
I believe that it is a natural side effect of Catholic school. One in three students comes out an atheist, while the other two are disillusioned or just don’t care. The Catholic Church is antiquated, tired, and frustratingly behind the times—until Pope Francis.
Despite my frustration with the religion of my parents, when Pope Benedict XVI stepped down, I was filled with childlike excitement at the prospect of a new pope. My roommate and I (also a product of Catholic school, though less jaded than I am) watched the TV, eagerly awaiting the smoke. No matter how disenchanted one might be with the religion, the papal election process is exciting.
I knew nothing about Pope Francis when he was elected, other than the fact that he took the name of my favorite saint of all time (St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals). But in the nine months since Pope Francis took over the papacy, I have learned a lot about him. I have learned about his kindness and his wisdom. I have learned that the Catholic Church is not obsolete—it can do good and still be a force of change in the world, with the right people making the right decisions. And I have learned that my faith is still there, as strong or stronger than it has ever been. For the first time I have found myself looking to someone other than my dog for moral guidance. And I can tell you that I never expected that person to be the head of the Catholic Church.[one_third]
POPE FRANCIS FACTS:
- Pope Francis is the first South American pope (he hails from Beunos Aires).
- He is the first Jesuit pope (a religious order focused on education and social justice).
- He chose not to live in the papal palace, instead residing in a smaller guest house.
- Pope Francis chose to have his cross and papal ring made of silver instead of the traditional gold.
- Pope Francis preaches humility and charity, stating “my wish is for a poor Church, on par with the poor we serve.”
- During a religious ceremony, he washed the feet of several young delinquents, including a woman and two Muslims. Reportedly, this is the first time a woman has been included in this ceremony.
Pope Francis has called for the expansion of women’s roles in the Church. He has condemned the Church’s focus on abortion and gay marriage, believing it should focus on helping those in need. Pope Francis has stated that those who live a good and moral life—even if atheist—can achieve Heaven. He encourages peace and dialogue between religions, and respect for followers of Islam, stating, “Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalisations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence.”
Pope Francis has pointed out that Catholicism is not just for white Europeans, and in possibly my favorite of his quotes, has called for Church reform: “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures.”
I’m not the only one who has observed how marvelous of a man he is, clearly. Time magazine recently named Pope Francis Person of the Year, and I couldn’t agree more. The man has the ability to become more loved that Pope John Paul II (an impressive feat) and the potential to enact even more change than my beloved JPII.
Pope Francis is the religious leader that the world needs at this moment. He is a good and simple man, able to transcend the doctrine of his own religion and speak to basic, moral truths that those of all religions and beliefs can look to. While he is guided by religion, Pope Francis provides wisdom, pure and simply. He lives the life and example that we should look to. Pope Francis has robbed us of our ability to accuse the papacy of hypocrisy and double standards, because he is so pure, so simple, and so good. He is a man who has inspired me, and while my relationship with the Catholic church may never be mended, Pope Francis has given me hope.
P.S.: As much as I absolutely adore Pope Francis, huge shout out to Malala Yousafzai, who would have been just as inspirational and perfect choice for Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. Let’s get a Malala + Pope Francis powerhouse going to enact change through education and peace.[divider] [/divider]
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