Everybody Loves Pope Francis!

Gushing About Pope Francis

Pope Francis visited the USA this past week and it is clear everyone loves him, well almost everyone—including many Jews, Muslims, and atheists. I find it unfortunate that his highest disapproval rating, at 22%, comes from white evangelicals. Well, ‘bah humbug’ on white evangelicals! But then I remember that not even Jesus had a 100% approval rating.

Nevertheless, I must say we Hispanics got it right with Pope Francis. He is one of ours. I find it strangely wonderful that his visit coincided with National Hispanic Heritage Month. I don’t know if it was purposeful or not. I’d like to think so and it would be very symbolic if it did.

I’ve been thinking a lot about why all sorts of people dearly love Pope Francis, even people who staunchly disagree with some of his and the Catholic Church’s teachings. President Obama summed it up well, I think. In fact, he took the words right out of my mouth when he welcomed the pope to the U.S.:  

The excitement around your visit, Holy Father, must be attributed not only to your role as pope, but to your unique qualities as a person. Your humility, your grace, and simplicity, in the gentleness of your words, in the generosity of your spirit, we see a living example of Jesus’s teachings—a leader whose moral authority comes not just through words but also through deeds. You call on all of us, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, to put the least of these at the center of our concerns. You remind us that in the eyes of God our measure as individuals, and our measure as a society, is not determined by wealth, or power, or station or celebrity. . . .

Put differently, the excitement surrounding Pope Francis’s visit to the U.S. is due to the light of Christ shining so brightly in and through him that people see his good works and cannot help but give glory to our Father in heaven (see Matthew 5:16).  Pope Francis intentionally embodies the gospel of joy. He himself has said in one of his homilies, “We evangelize not with grand words, or complicated concepts, but with ‘the joy of the Gospel’, which ‘fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.’”

We love Pope Francis because in him we encounter Jesus! His words, demeanor, and behavior radiate the joy of the Gospel. And they should since the gospel is good news! We love Pope Francis because in him we encounter Jesus! His actions radiate the joy of the Gospel. Click To Tweet

Though Pope Francis is the most powerful Christian in the world, he does not revel in his power or lord it over others. Instead his aim is to be like Jesus, a slave to all. There are many examples of him being a slave to all before he became pope. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he rode public transportation, traveled to the poorest areas to serve the poor in person, and criticized the extravagant lifestyles of fellow clergy. No doubt he is thoroughly convinced of the truth of Jesus’s words:  in the kingdom, many of the last shall be first and many of the first shall be last (see Matthew 19:30).

I can’t help but observe that his life is in stark contrast to our evangelical celebrity Christian culture and to our consumerist American culture. For that I say, ‘Thanks be to God!’

So I love Pope Francis because he is the kind of evangelical leader I crave, a living icon who continually reminds me it is possible to live like Jesus here and now. He loves God and loves others. And he is brimming with wisdom and humility. All this combines to give him great credibility, or “a moral authority,” as President Obama put it.

Does that mean he is a teddy bear of a person but a weak leader? Certainly not. Around Christmastime in 2014, he blasted the Roman Curia for spiritual diseases such as hypocrisy, “spiritual Alzheimer’s” (forgetting one’s salvation history and encounter with the Lord), and vainglory. He included many others. It was a face-to-face rebuke of the Roman Catholic Church’s top leaders. Surely it surprised, humiliated, and angered some of them. No doubt he made enemies even though he spoke the truth in love. I compare his blasting of the Roman Curia to a good parent who will not turn a blind eye to his or her child’s evil behavior. Pope Francis named the wickedness for what it was and called the Curia to repent.

Moreover, he continues to strongly condemn the Roman Catholic Church’s handling of clergy sexual abuse and cover-up and find ways to address it.

He further demonstrates his strength of leadership by initiating financial reforms in the Vatican. His reforms have reportedly rattled the old guard. In addition, he continues to push issues like immigration reform, the abolishment of the death penalty, and to beseech world leaders to take swift, concrete action to stop environmental degradation. He also fully supports the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on women in office (women will never be priests) and the dogma of traditional marriage.  Pope Francis believes he and Roman Catholic Church have the mind of Christ on these issues and so his determination doesn’t flag when he encounters strong opposition to his views.

It’s always fun for me to observe how the Pope eschews our notions of what conservative and liberal views are. Why? Because the Bible defies those categories too. Much to our chagrin, there are ‘liberal’ views that are biblical as well as ‘conservative’ views that are biblical. We kid ourselves in thinking otherwise.

Yes, I have an extremely high view of Pope Francis. Does that mean I think he’s perfect? No. For example, I agree with Mark Charles: Francis should’ve strongly condemned the genocide of indigenous peoples in the Americas at the hands of the Roman Catholic Church and others instead of qualifying his statement with: “Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present.”

Still, I love Pope Francis. He is like a spiritual father to me and a fantastically Jesus-like leader. Can I give any more reasons for my love for Pope Francis?  Maybe two. I love that he says and believes things like this: “Do you know what the title was of the Pope that ought to be used? Servant of the servants of God.”

And finally this. He gets Romans 14:17-18: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.”

I wish more of us evangelicals would emulate Pope Francis by understanding the truths found in Romans 14:17-18.  

— [photo credit: thierry Ehrmann le 112 ème est Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pope Francis), painted portrait DDC_7823 via photopin (license)]