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Editorial: To be like Francis

Before and after Pope Francis' U.S. trip, some may view him as a star, but he's made it clear that true power lies only in serving others.

by Editorial Board, OSV Newsweekly

For six straight days at the end of September, all eyes in the nation, it seemed, were on Pope Francis. Major cable networks and local media offered round-the-clock coverage. Mass was celebrated on CNN; blessings were given on ABC. News anchors and journalists went gaga. Thousands of people, both Catholic and non-Catholic, took to the streets in Washington, D.C., and New York City — and hundreds of thousands in Philadelphia — to catch a glimpse of the man in white as he cruised the streets in his white, open-air Jeep Wrangler or waved from the window of his small, black Fiat.

For six straight days, America was transfixed by the 78-year-old Argentine who both captivated hearts and challenged the status quo. Many people interviewed said they braved long lines and big crowds just for a chance to see him, wave at him and receive his blessing.

The intense, overwhelmingly positive attention from both the media and the vast majority of the American people throughout Pope Francis’ pastoral visit begs the question: What is it about this man that makes him so universally attractive?

Francis is, in one word, authentic. If we saw nothing else from his journey to Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia, it’s that he not only “talks the talk and walks the walk” but walks the walk first — and with joy.

For Catholics, we see in our Holy Father a model of what we know we are called to be. We are captivated by his embrace of the disabled child and his interaction with the homeless or the prisoner. In Francis, we are drawn to the authenticity and the truth that can emanate only from one who is fully in love with the Truth — the person of Jesus Christ and his command to love one another as he loves us. We know that is our call, we see it modeled in Pope Francis, and we are anxious to embrace our own missions.

But, as we know through polling numbers and anecdotal remarks, it is not just Catholics who are enthralled by Francis. Non-Catholics recognize in him a leader who acts on what he believes. They see his great gift for zeroing in on and empathizing with human experience in all of its complexity. And they see how he is able to live a life of “encounter,” no matter with whom he comes into contact. To them, this is a man who leaves behind no one, and this is a man to whom each person matters. In short, though they might not use these terms, they recognize that this is a man who captivates because of his ability to love as Christ loves. What is more universal than that?

When Pope Francis left on Sept. 27 to return to Rome, he left behind a country in awe of what some might call his “star power.” But the Holy Father, in a news conference on the return flight, reminded reporters that his title is “servant of the servants of God” and made it clear that “the true power is to serve.” It is in this truth that the authenticity of Francis can be found — and it is here that our challenge lies.

American Catholics would be extraordinarily remiss, now that Francis has left and the media spectacle has ended, to let any impact from his overwhelmingly successful pastoral visit exit stage left with the next news cycle. As Russell Shaw says in his excellent analysis (Pages 3-4), Francis has called us to action, and it’s now up to us to respond.

We, too, must follow his example and become authentic, countercultural servants who, in every moment, seek to love like Christ.

Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor

This article comes to you from OSV Newsweekly (Our Sunday Visitor) courtesy of your parish or diocese.


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