Sep 25, 2015
Pope Francis is the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide. There are bound to be some who don't like him. But what is of greater interest is that so many non-Catholics love him. In fact, this week's People magazine features Pope Francis on its front cover and describes him as a saint for all. A local witness to the Pope's visit to Cuba called him "the most loved man in the world." There is ample evidence of Pope Francis' global appeal. No doubt, this church leader has what it takes to be a leader in today's world.
In the US, many of the pontiff's comments have lent themselves to ideological manipulation. Proponents of socialist ideals, pro-life activists, gay rights supporters, environmentalists, all have felt affirmed by the Pope's remarks. Politicians and interest groups are, no doubt, eagerly awaiting further affirmation during his US visit.
But when political-ideological groups attempt to co-opt the pope's words to serve their own interests, it not only cheapens the Pope's intentions, it misses the point entirely. Popes do not fit into American categories of left and right - they transcend them. To be clear, at no point has Francis contradicted or questioned traditional Catholic doctrine, which mostly runs counter to the outlook of particular interest groups. If anything, he has only amplified it. His call for mercy to the marginalized, kindness to the condemned, and hope to the hopeless does not mean that the Church condones the entire spectrum of human behavior and lifestyle choices. The pope's mission is spiritual, not political, and this is what makes his message so powerful.
Pope Francis' popularity is, above all, due to his style of engagement and the powerful humanistic elements of his faith. He moves people to tears when he emphasizes the need for compassion and reaches out to his audience with kindness. Above all, he has succeeded in transcending rigid ideological and political barriers.