We have all been witnesses of something amazing. An elderly, smiling man, dressed as if from another world – as he is – has captivated millions of people. How?
Many a leader could profitably study the manner of Pope Francis who has somehow managed to make himself not just the pope of Roman Catholics, but a father figure to the world itself. He has changed no dogma of the Catholic Church, yet he has terrified traditionalists while encouraging those crying out for change. How? By simply looking beyond rules and condemnations and seeing people. Then he asks how can we best help them?
That is his secret weapon. He never sees crowds, but people. He never quotes rules and regulations, but looks at those who are suffering and empathizes with them. He does not condemn, but heartens. He offers a spiritual embrace as broad as the sweep of his arms. He begs us to see the world and find our place in it, not retreat from it to some intangible safe spot far away.
Francis has become an attractive force to whom crowds of every age and description flock. Critics forget that he is also a man of science, so capable of talking climate issues with the brightest among us. He is not an abstract theologian parsing doctrine in an ivory tower. When Francis writes to his people, he wants his words to be read. They are to be lived.
I am writing this before his trip to the USA ends, but I am sure that when the plane takes off for Italy and the last temporary structure is removed and the sighs of relief are heard by those in charge of this incredible visit, something will remain. What is that?
Memories of love and hope and the power of faith. Is there need to remind ourselves that the greatest of these is love? We have seen it, in person, this past week.