Pope Francis: The challenging pontiff
In the early Church, people lined the streets so that St. Peter’s shadow would fall on them and heal them (Acts 5:15). Not much has changed in 2000 years!
Our Holy Father Pope Francis comes to our shores and his shadow — like that of his predecessor, Peter — falls upon us, healing us with his presence and challenging us with his preaching.
It seems Pope Francis leaves no conscience untouched! From left to right, from Wall Street to Main Street, he is rattling cages and we are made uncomfortable, our lives are disturbed. When this happens in us, it’s perhaps because he is speaking the truth. And in speaking the truth, he is causing us to stretch and grow in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
He is challenging us to be renewed spiritually in our thinking and in our actions — to evaluate anew what we have done and what we have failed to do. Catholics and non-Catholics alike are confused, unsettled and provoked by his words and actions: He stretches each one of us. No “side” can claim him fully except the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the truth of our Catholic faith!
Every papal visit is an extraordinary event, and Pope Francis’ visit was no exception. For five full days, Peter was among us and people from all corners of the country, from all walks of life, and from all religious backgrounds were interested in our Holy Father and in our Catholic faith. We saw politicians moved to tears. We saw the poor and the sick being embraced and loved. We saw a saint being canonized. We saw history being made. (Click here for full coverage of the visit.)
Never before has a pope addressed a joint session of Congress. In that speech, Pope Francis challenged every U.S. citizen to remember the ideals upon which we were founded. He referenced Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. to remind us of the beauties of liberty and freedom on the different planes of religion, politics, as a people, and as individual human beings. He challenged us to live and to uphold our God-given liberty and freedom.
He referenced Catholic Worker cofounder Dorothy Day, laying before us the challenge to care for our brothers and sisters in accord with their dignity. He referenced Cistercian monk Thomas Merton, who argued for peace and brought deep interior prayer to the consciousness of millions through his writing. Through Merton,
Pope Francis challenged us to peace and to openness to God. During his remarks, he also issued a challenge to all engaged in business to continue in their noble vocation. He challenged them to contribute to the common good and to improve the lives of their employees and of those who are impacted by their businesses.
At the Catholic University of America, Pope Francis declared Junípero Serra a saint. Serra’s evangelical zeal for spreading the gospel and his missionary spirit was held up for us to emulate in our daily lives. Serra was a man of great faith and love. This love of God impelled him to move out of the comfort zone of his classroom in Spain and to enter the mission field of the New World.
We are called to follow his example by bringing the good news of salvation to all we meet, whether to strangers in far off lands or to our next-door neighbor, our employees, our spouses and children. This is the challenge of evangelization for every Catholic.
This visit revolved around Pope Francis’ participation in the 8th World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. He called for the strengthening of marriage and the defense of the family, which have been and are under attack in our own country and around the world. By his presence and in his words, he emphasized the richness and beauty of family life while understanding how difficult and messy it can be. He encouraged and challenged all of us to work tirelessly to strengthen and support marriage and family by living according to the truth of the Gospel and in charity — charity in every situation and with every person around us, from our immediate family to our entire human family.
While Pope Francis walked among us and his shadow fell upon each of us, he gave us an example of true fatherhood — he loved us, he led us, and he challenged us to live as the children of God. Through his example and his words, this healing and challenging pope’s shadow found its way down to Savannah, Ga., and touched the soul of this priest and continued, I pray, the renewal of his mind and thinking — and his growth in charity and in the truth of the Gospel.
FR. DANIEL FIRMIN is the vicar general of the Diocese of Savannah, Ga., and the chaplain of Legatus’ Savannah Chapter.