Protestants, Catholics, and everyone in between all seem to agree on one thing: the new pope is the real deal and is working hard to give the church a shiny new coat of paint. His emphasis on caring for others and living like Christ has managed to impress most of the religious world and even many secular (former) critics of the church’s practices.
Pope Francis has made it a point to reach out to non-Catholic Christians and build bridges between the two often tense communities. Juan Pablo Bongarrá, President of the Argentine Bible Society, remarked that Francis would end his conversations with evangelical pastors by requesting that they pray for him.
Northwest University students are especially excited to see what Francis has in store for the church. Annaliese Herms, a student of Religion and Philosophy, said she is impressed with Francis’ emphasis on helping and ministering to the poor and homeless. “Being from Argentina, he has a different cultural perspective than past popes. He puts a heavier emphasis on ministering to the poor and underprivileged.” In fact, Francis has been known to take to the streets personally to speak with his people in Rome and invited a party of 200 homeless men and women into his home for dinner.
Many Christians have expressed amazement at the Pope’s origins, which may have something to do with his compassion for the poor. Francis (formerly known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio) is a Jesuit, a member of a congregation known as The Society of Jesus.
“Jesuits don’t try to get promoted in the church,” said Catholic NU student Marmar Castro. “They’re happy where they are. He [Francis] never wanted this position. People saw something in him and prayed about it and elected him pope. He didn’t come out right away because he was crying. He never wanted this.”
In addition to the touching story of his origin as pope, Castro loves the stance he takes on big church controversies and issues. “He’s taken a stance against the child molestation issues in the church. He’s actually formed a board of people to oversee and double check, because there is no way we can turn a blind eye to this.” As a pre-med student, Castro also appreciates Francis’ educational background. “He’s a chemist! Look that up, he has a degree in chemistry!”
“Benedict XVI had sort of a stodgy, academic approach, and one notable thing about Francis is he does definitely seem to have more of the pastoral approach, which is an encouraging thing,” said Northwest’s own resident church historian Professor Joshua Ziefle. Francis’ ‘preach-by-living’ lifestyle supports Ziefle’s claim. Besides the aforementioned work with the homeless, Pope Francis also refuses to live in the traditional Apostolic Palace, choosing instead to stay in the Vatican’s guest house so he can personally receive guests. He has also refused to wear the ornate clothes commonly associated with the pope, defaulting instead to simple white garb with the same cross he wore as a cardinal.
Ziefle does caution Christians caught up in pope-mania, though. “One thing we ought to be careful about is this. He’s a really great guy, and everything he does seems to be perfect, but we know that no one is. He’s going to make a mistake at one point, there’s going to be something in his past, blah blah blah. Feel free to like him, but be careful about this, sort of, hero worship that we have.” It’s a good point we would all do well to remember and doesn’t simply apply to the pope.
“Whether you’re a Judah Smith fan, attend Mars Hill with Mark Driscoll, enjoy Tim Keller or Joyce Meyer, vesting the entirety of what Christianity stands for in that one question is never a good idea.”
While Ziefle is absolutely right, it’s impossible to deny that Pope Francis is changing the way Northwest University—and the world—views the Catholic Church. NU Psychology graduate Joseph Coburn said it best: “This new pope has swag!”
Written by Zachary McGuirk