The Francis Effect

There's something about him that has caught our attention. Upon his election as pope and continuing forward, Pope Francis has become a symbol of unity among people of differing backgrounds and faith. Across denominations, he is 'our pope.' But what is it about this man that is inspiring, compelling and attractive to so many?

His popularity across every generational group, Boomers, X’ers, Y’s and M’s, would make every entertainer or politician green with envy. He has one of the most widely reached Twitter audiences of any world leader with over 6M followers.

From the moment we first met Pope Francis on the balcony above St. Peter’s Square, he let us know who he was and what he stood for. Instead of the traditional gold papal cross, Pope Francis continued to wear his iron cross.  And before imparting the traditional Papal Blessing over the pilgrims, to Rome and the entire world, he bowed down and asked the people to bless him, to give a benediction of the people toward their bishop of Rome.  I remember being moved to tears at this profound act of humility. I sensed God doing something new through this man.

In the following days, we were offered more insight through his acts of humility.  Whatever he did - from taking the name of Francis, a name always associated with the poor, to the simplicity that marked his life - we were intrigued by his words and actions. Even in his small decisions, to pay his own hotel bill and move into the Vatican guesthouse instead of the papal palace, we saw his heart. We were rapidly being introduced to him, and we loved what we saw.

Pope Francis has also started a reform of the governing structure of the Vatican and one of the most troubling institutions, the Vatican bank.  Bringing transparency and accountability there is a fresh breeze blowing through-- a renewed hope in the institutional Church.

The world is hungry for honesty and authenticity, and this man of God offers that to us; “what you see is what you get.”  In the mold of Mother Theresa, Pope Francis' love and care for the poor is manifested in his lifestyle and the priorities of his papacy. Most recently, beautiful showers were built and opened for the poor, located just beneath the windows of the Papal Apartments of the Apostolic Palace. I don't believe the placement of these showers for the homeless was an accident. It seems clear to me that this man is intentional about his every move. The poor will ever be before the watchful eye of future popes and be a witness to our first priorities. 

“Who am I to judge” is the quote that highlights the seemingly controversial statements coming from Pope Francis, causing a bit of stir among Catholic hierarchy and many faithful Catholics. Is he about to make radical changes in Catholic teaching on marriage, ordination of women and some of the other hot topics of our time? I don’t think so, but what Pope Francis has done is open up a conversation.  During a recent gathering of Catholic leaders in the Vatican on the subject of marriage and family, deliberations were made public and opinions from every corner were heard. In a 2000 year old institution that is hierarchical, this type of questioning and dialogue, especially the transparency of it, was unprecedented. Of all things that this pope is, first and foremost, he is a pastor who cares for the little ones God places in front of him.

This is the embodiment of Alpha DNA. Taking special individual care of the guests that God leads to a local Alpha gathering. Meeting and accepting people where they are and creating an opportunity to listen to their struggles concerning the big questions of life and faith. Regardless of how uncomfortable the topic, the opinion or the difficulty of the questions, Alpha is that place to come and dig in without fear or judgment. “Who am I to judge?”

 

Written by Steve Mitchell | National Director | Alpha in a Catholic Context

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