The charismatic Pope Francis paid a historic visit to the U.S. last week for the first time since he’s held office and people reacted with a case of Popemania. Although El Papa is the reigning leader of the Catholic Church and I do not consider myself very religious, rather culturally Catholic, I cannot help but feel an affinity to this Pope’s outspoken and unapologetic beliefs, deemed “radical” by some critics. And I am not alone. He is wildly popular. In his short 2+ years as head of the Papacy, he’s garnered plenty of attention, both positive and negative, but it’s undeniable that he’s injecting fresh energy to a very stale and dull institution.
Although I grew up in Mexico, where Catholicism reigns supreme, I was fortunate to be raised by religiously lax parents (Gracias ma’ y pa’!). Religious beliefs weren’t imposed on me. My mother wasn’t necessarily a devout Christian, but instead gave me the option to experience it for myself. So I did. As a little girl, I joined my friends for evening mass to ofrecer flores or offer flowers to God (as a symbol of divine worship). I went to catechism and did my first communion. I thought the teachings and stories conveyed had great moral messages and values. But I found myself bored and couldn’t help to notice that the majority of the avid church-goers were ladies that had a reputation for starting rumors or chismes in my rural village. I also had a grandpa that was highly critical of the Roman Catholic Church. He meant everything to me. He was my mentor, my friend and my idol. From a very young age, he instilled in me a sense of skepticism and healthy questioning of established religious ideology. But most importantly, taught me to think for myself. When I realized the teachings of the Bible were not only meant as mythological fables but rather as facts, I decided to focus more on spirituality. However, due to my background I’m closely tied to religion and I have nothing but respect for the views/beliefs of others.
So, why are people making a big fuzz about the Pope? Why is he relevant? Well, to start off, he is the first Latin American pontiff. Ever. He is from Argentina (Represent! #LatAm). Latin America is notoriously religious and Hispanics make up the majority (55%) of all U.S. Catholics. This leader is clearly important to my people. Pope Francis, formerly known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, preaches progressive views for a man that represents the Catholic Church. From his initial takeover of the Vatican, he has opted for a more modest lifestyle and humble demeanor than his predecessors. Instead of living in the luxurious papal apartments and wearing the ornate + lavish outfits traditionally worn by previous Popes, he has decided to live in a smaller guesthouse and don less ornate wear. These small but profound acts have prompted critics and fans alike to call him the 'champion of the poor'. Perhaps he is simply embodying his papal name, St. Francis of Assisi, the 12th century defender of the poor.
Another reason why he's earned my respect? He had the sensibility and humility to apologize to Latin American Indigenous communities for the suffering that Colonization inflicted on their livelihood. While visiting Bolivia earlier this year, he said “I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offenses of the church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America.” The church publicly admitting the despicable acts that have been done in its name? That’s rare. But perhaps the thing that most resonates with people from all over the world is that he advocates for the church to represent and serve the poor, disadvantaged and voiceless masses. It is no surprise, then, that he’s been coined the ‘people’s pope’. He also fearlessly criticizes the inequities of global economics and the greed capitalism breeds. However, some believed that he would change his views on capitalism after seeing the endless varieties of Oreos available in the U.S.! He is also kind of really cool… He is an avid soccer fan and social media advocate. He has a twitter account, takes selfies with people and says that the internet is a “gift of God.” ¡Amen Papa!
During his U.S. visit, he addressed the prevalence of children rape in the Catholic Church as well as the immigration issues our country faces. Regarding child sex abuse, he’s publicly condemned the pedophile priests and the way the church “handled” the crisis by covering it up and keeping it hush hush. During his last mass in American soil, the pontiff stated “The crimes and sins of the sexual abuse of children must no longer be held in secret. I pledge the zealous vigilance of the church to protect children and the promise of accountability for all.” My grandpa would applaud this. I remember the time he was very ill, towards the end of his life and our family thought he would soon leave us. The nursing home he lived at had a priest visit him to confess his “sins”. He greeted said priest by asking him point-blank what his views were on child rape perpetuated by priests. Poor dude couldn’t leave fast enough! Needless to say, my grandpa didn’t confess his wrongdoings.
Most importantly, Pope Francis addressed Congress and spoke out on immigration issues. On his way to the White House, he was stopped by Sophie Cruz, a bad ass 5-year-old immigrants rights advocate. She successfully evaded the Pope's security and managed to hand him a t-shirt and a letter in which she tells Pope Francis she fears the deportation of her parents. Read her touching message here. While addressing the U.S. Congress, he reminded the audience that immigration is an integral part of the American continent’s history, “In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants.” He also shed light on why people emigrate. He explained,
Although this Pope isn’t all of a sudden going to turn me into a devout Catholic, I believe his stance on these issues needs to be heard. He is a figure with power and is rightfully using his platform to raise awareness. He is a beacon of hope for religious and non-religious types. I think we need more people like him. But, I want to hear your thoughts on Pope Francis. Do you agree with his views? Why or why not? I’m all ears!