Skip to main content

In his first year, why this Pope has everyone talking

By Grazie Pozo Christie
March 14, 2014 -- Updated 1004 GMT (1804 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie says everyone is talking about Pope Francis, all the time
  • He has stirred hearts and minds of Catholics and non-Catholics, she says
  • People are saying that "we" finally have a progressive pope
  • She says Pope Francis wants Catholics, bravely, out of their bunkers

Editor's note: Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie is a member of The Catholic Association Advisory Board

(CNN) -- Last Sunday, a group of us sat on the beach, watching the children play, when the talk turned, as it often does, to Pope Francis.

"The Pope said the loveliest thing yesterday. My father in Porto Alegre called me to tell me about it," my Brazilian friend Bete told us. My Swiss friend Diego chimed in with another charming anecdote, and everyone remarked how warm and affectionate Francis is.

I was pleased to hear all the comments, but not surprised, since it's been like that all year. Everyone is talking about him, all the time.

In this first year of his papacy, Francis has stirred up hearts and minds, not only among his flock, but also among a wider culture that is generally inhospitable, if not downright antagonistic, to the teachings of the Church of Rome.

Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie
Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie

He has sparked admiration and consternation, and most of all, he has inspired wide-flung interest and debate. It seems the voice of the vicar of Rome, even in this secularist age, has tremendous carrying power.

People who long ago dismissed the church as a hidebound, irrelevant institution seem to be irresistibly drawn to the captivating Francis. I was stunned, recently, to have a very liberal acquaintance of mine, who happens to be Jewish, tell me we finally have a progressive pope.

A priest reflects on Francis' first year

He used the word "we."

To my acquaintance, "progressive" is high praise, as it describes a belief in the growing wisdom of mankind and the inevitable improvement of our culture, resulting in welcome human flourishing. It was clear to him that both he and Francis share the same desire, to see all people living more joyful, fulfilling lives.

My friend's comment illustrated the peculiar power of Francis: that of presenting the central message of the church -- that God loves every man and woman passionately and desires their good -- in ways that those quite outside the influence of the church can recognize and warm to.

Pope Benedict: Papacy rumors 'absurd'
Pope Francis appoints new cardinals
Funny or Die: Alec Baldwin & Popetastic!

Pope Francis has been at pains to explain what he is about, which he characterizes as a new chapter of evangelization for the church.

His task is to find ways, and help the rest of the church find ways, to transmit the joy which so obviously fills him and sustains him. He calls it the joy of the gospel, which perhaps might be explained as the joy of knowing that we are truly loved, although all of us are completely undeserving of that kind of sacrificial devotion. He is the first one to declare himself a sinner, and undeserving, with an utterly disarming humility.

He writes, in Evangelii Gaudium, "I dream of ... a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church's customs ... can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today's world rather than for her self-preservation."

This is quite a statement. It seems he understands that too many Catholics today find themselves with a bunker mentality, hoping to "get by" without calling too much attention to themselves. They feel beleaguered by those who no longer have the philosophical and religious education that would enable them to understand social doctrine, especially sexual, as anything other than stuffy nonsense that has outlived its usefulness.

The church has found itself, understandably, in a defensive posture. It has been greatly exacerbated recently by a new tendency in modern culture to decry an adherence to age-old, universal attitudes toward marriage and sexuality as intolerance and bigotry.

But that defensive posture, Francis seems to say, is not courageous and outward-looking, and not worthy of those who have been charged with the sacred mission of spreading the good news.

Of course, there are many who hope that he will repudiate some of those social teachings, and thereby change the character of the church itself.

Again and again he is asked why he doesn't emphasize those difficult matters, like abortion and marriage. He didn't mention them in Brazil, during World Youth Day. He explained then: "The Church has already expressed herself perfectly on this. ... It wasn't necessary to talk about that, but about the positive things that open the way to youngsters." When pressed for his personal position, he answered with direct and perfect simplicity: "That of the Church. I am a Child of the Church!"

Francis wants Catholics, bravely, out of their bunkers. He is telling them that there is tremendous power in the knowledge that believers carry within them.

The joy of the gospel, as Francis sees it, is capable of setting us free from sorrow, loneliness and inner emptiness. Aren't those exactly the torments that plague modern people, satiated with material goods like never before but atomized and radically alone?

It would be criminal for Catholics to hide it away because they are fearful of criticism or just lazy and unmotivated.

The Pope tells us to put joy into action, in service to the poor, love of the sick, going out to meet our brothers and sisters at the crossroads and bringing them home. He personally and infectiously shows us exactly how it's done.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2152 GMT (0552 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2121 GMT (0521 HKT)
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
ADVERTISEMENT