Pope Francis, I see what you did there

Pope Francis greets the crowd at Castel Gandolfo before the Sunday Angelus on July 14, 2013. Credit: Lauren Cater/CNA.

Pope Francis greets the crowd at Castel Gandolfo before the Sunday Angelus on July 14, 2013. Credit: Lauren Cater/CNA.

By Mary Rezac*

“If someone is gay but tries to follow the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?”

Pope “I don’t do interviews” Francis made this remark to a plane full of journalists on his way back to Rome from World Youth Day in an uncharacteristic 80-minute press conference.

Word immediately exploded across the media, and the reports varied from “There’s nothing new here” to “Pope Francis’ tone shows more compassion” to even “Pope Francis was just ‘on a high.’”

Pope Francis’ remark followed questions about a “gay lobby” in the Vatican and an investigation of a monsignor accused of inappropriate behavior, finding no evidence for his involvement. The comments came in the context of a discussion on the difference between one who has sinned and repented and one who is committing crimes of abuse.

But to dismiss Pope Francis’ words as coming from mere excitement, or to think that he wasn’t really aware of the impact his simplicity and candidness would have, is to miss what the Holy Father is all about, and to give him far too little credit.

I think this Pope, who is so hesitant to give interviews, is well aware of his highly-visible position as the leader of billions of people in a global religion, and thus chose his words very carefully.

And it seems to me that Pope Francis has intentionally created the perfect storm for a “culture of encounter,” a phrase that has been a constant throughout his papacy.

Most recently at World Youth Day, the Pope told the young people present that their task now is to “go,” to evangelize, to spread the faith they have encountered.

“But the experience of this encounter must not remain locked up in your life or in the small group of your parish, your movement, or your community,” Pope Francis told the pilgrims.

And now that his pilgrims are home, Pope Francis has wasted no time in giving them, and all Catholics, a perfect chance to evangelize by engaging curious non-Catholics in conversation about the Pope’s latest remarks.

Most likely, this has already happened without much effort. I’ve personally talked to several friends about this subject since the Pope’s address, and I expect more will come.

Pope Francis intentionally set the stage for us to encounter each other – and through each other to encounter Christ. He has challenged the faithful by giving us an opportunity to explain our faith with compassion to others.

Pope Francis, I see what you did there. Challenge accepted.

*Mary Rezac is an intern with CNA. Next fall, she will be a senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where she is studying Journalism and Education.