Recently, Pope Francis, the influential political leader of the oldest Christian church in the world and spiritual guide to its 1.2 billion members, got a new car. It’s not new, actually, but new to the pontiff. The 20 year-old Renault 4, given to Francis to symbolize his efforts to fight poverty, has 186,000 miles on it, according to the Catholic News Agency. The reception of this old vehicle is the most recent action during Francis’ papacy that solidifies his ushering in of a new age of the Catholic Church. After the popular papacy of John Paul II, Pope Francis has once again brought the world back to realizing all that is good about the Catholic faith. Although some of Francis’ actions may seem revolutionary in contrast to those of his ostensibly bookish and aloof predecessor, they simply embrace key aspects of Catholic social teaching that have been in the shadows for too long.
Francis has been raising eyebrows since he first stepped out to face the faithful on the day of his pontifical election. Unlike Benedict who, while scholarly and knowledgeable about the faith nonetheless drew criticism for his strict adherence to pompous dress codes, Francis’ first appearance as pope was refreshing. Dressed simply, Francis looked uncomfortable in his new position of power and while he now seems more at ease with his new role in the Church, he continues to startle the world with his “revolutionary” actions. In late June of this year, Francis caught the attention of many Vatican observers when, in response to a reporter’s question about gay priests, he responded: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Many people saw this comment as revolutionary to the Church, and in comparison to many of the things Pope Benedict said concerning the same issue, it is. However, a closer examination of Church teaching reveals that this comment is not a turnaround of Church doctrine. According to writings by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “The Church seeks to enable every person to live out the universal call to holiness.” While further research will expose that other Church teaching on homosexuality is questionable, unreasonable and possibly discriminatory, Francis preaches the best the Church has –that God loves everyone and that holiness can be achieved by all–and leaves out the rest.
The recent events of chemical weapons use in the Syrian civil war have also given Francis the opportunity to demonstrate his style of servant leadership. Pope Francis truly lives out that which he preaches. On a recent Saturday, Francis led a group of hundreds of thousands of the faithful in a five hour long vigil of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria. The Pope, a one-lunged man in his late seventies, fasted the whole day and prayed for five continuous hours during the public vigil. In a truly powerful demonstration of Francis’ dedication to promoting peace and spreading the Good News of God embedded in the Catholic faith, the Pope asked the crowd:
“Can we get out of this spiral of sorrow and death? Can we learn once again to live and walk in the ways of peace? Invoking the help of God under the maternal gaze of Salus Populi Romani, the Queen of Peace, I say yes it is possible for everyone. From every corner of the world tonight, I would like to hear us cry out: Yes it is possible for everyone!”
What Pope Francis says and does is not revolutionary. Instead, his words and actions represent what the Church has finally gotten in this modern age: a humble man who, reflecting on the ministries of Jesus, demonstrates all that is good in the Catholic faith.