Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Year of Pope Francis

The Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life held its third event in its series on Pope Francis on Monday in Gaston Hall, entitled “The Pope, Politics, and Policy: The Continuing Impact of the ‘Francis Factor’ and Catholic Social Thought on Public Life,” which took the form of a retrospective on the pope’s first year.
The event focused on the effect of Pope Francis on both the Catholic Church and political and social life since his election, after the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI a year ago.

“He has completely revolutionized the image of the papacy in whatever world we’re living in, in a way I could never have imagined possible,” Ross Douthat, a columnist for the New York Times, said. “The change has all been at the symbolic level.”

The Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life aims to promote knowledge and dialogue about Catholic social teaching in relation to economic, social and political issues facing the United States today.

The participants in the panel included Douthat, John Allen, associate editor of the Boston Globe, and Kerry Robinson, the executive director of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management. John Carr moderated the event, in his role as Initiative director.

The panelists discussed how Pope Francis is perceived by the world. According to Carr, after Francis was elected to the papacy, his friend hugged him and reminded him not to forget about the poor, thus inspiring the pope to choose the name Francis.

“At the end of the day, Francis is going to be remembered as the pope of mercy,” Allen said. “It’s there in his signature phrase, ‘The Lord never tires of forgiving.’”

The discussion additionally focused on how the church views Pope Francis and whether the cardinals believed they made the wrong decision when they look back on his first year as pope.

“There are some things that are exactly what they thought they were getting and some things that were a surprise,” Allen said.

According to Allen, the cardinals knew they were getting someone who was a man of the poor and someone who was a good manager, but did not know that he held more moderate views than those of the traditional church. The cardinals also did not predict how popular he would become.

“The verdict on Francis is a masterpiece of media management when we didn’t know how to manage the media,” Douthat said.

Panelists broached the question of the possible relationship the pope may foster between liberals and conservatives in the Church.

“The election of Francis is a real opportunity on both sides to see if it’s possible to have a Catholic moment again, on the left and on the right alike,” Douthat said. “But this is not going to take the form of a total revolution in political ideology.”

Those in attendance filled more than half of Gaston Hall.

“I came to the event because I really like Pope Francis and I agreed with how inspiring he’s been, especially for liberal Catholics,” Virginia Parks (COL ’15) said.

The event concluded with the question of whether Pope Francis is asking people to change on an individual level.

“He’s talking about direct personal engagement,” Allen said. “It’s not enough to feel bad or advocate policy issues, you have to get out there.”

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