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
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1947 GMT (0347 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Jimmy Carter's message about the need to restore trust in public officials is a vital one, decades after the now 90-year-old he first voiced it
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2156 GMT (0556 HKT)
Ford Vox says mistakes and missed opportunities along the line to a diagnosis of Ebola in a Liberian man have put Dallas residents at risk of fatal infection
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2221 GMT (0621 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz says California is trying, but its law requiring step-by-step consent is just not the way hot and heavy sex proceeds on college campuses
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 0217 GMT (1017 HKT)
Mike Downey says long-suffering fans, waiting for good playoff news since 1985, finally get something to cheer about
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2139 GMT (0539 HKT)
Steve Israel saysJohn Boehner's Congress and the tea party will be remembered for shutting down government one year ago
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1856 GMT (0256 HKT)
Yep. You read the headline right, says Peter Bergen, writing on the new government that stresses national unity
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrators are but the latest freedom group to be abandoned by the Obama administration, says Mike Gonzalez
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1423 GMT (2223 HKT)
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1455 GMT (2255 HKT)
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2303 GMT (0703 HKT)
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1859 GMT (0259 HKT)
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT