We're already starting to hear the stories—like this one from Sister Hosea on Staten Island, about the lady she met in a church parking lot on Sunday. “I haven't been to Church in ten years, but Pope Francis is making such a difference. As of today, I'm back.” Last week in Cleveland, the young woman at the table with me at a fund-raising dinner said that her boss had gone to Mass that Sunday: for the first time in 25 years.
Just a few weeks ago I read something that a Latin American bishop had written in the '70s. It said a lot to me about what we non-Latinos are experiencing with Pope Francis:
A bishop can communicate the things of God and interpret history and human problems only in terms of the depth of faith. To be a sociologist, economist, or political scientist is neither his competence nor his task. He is simply a man of God in the service of all his brothers and sisters.... A bishop is not a technician, an administrator or a boss. He journeys with other people, sows hope along their path shares their sorrow and joy, urges them to seek peace, in justice and love, and teaches them to be brothers and sisters...
I don't know if Jorge Bergoglio ever read those words of Blessed Oscar Romero, but this was the environment of the Latin American church; this is the setting in which the Holy Spirit formed him into the kind of shepherd he is proving himself to be. Maybe that is why before the conclave, when the news media were touting their lists of papabili and seeking interviews of the few Cardinals who were willing to talk, one anonymous Cardinal was quoted in the Italian papers as saying, “I don't know why nobody's talking about Bergoglio. Four years with him would change things.”
“The Francis Phenomenon” seems to be so uniquely captivating... seems to actually take us back to the magnetism, the fascination of the ministry of Jesus.
This isn't at all to to discount the powerful experiences we had as a church in the ministries of JP2 and B16, but now we have social media with millions of active participants, interacting with one another on a massive scale, amplifying the Pope's presence and his message, sharing insights and experiences.
We've been witnessing this for almost three years now, and the secular media, for all the bungled, breathless headlines, has been our ally. Whatever it is, for better or for worse, you know people will be talking about it for days. The whole phenomenon frees us all to be openly Catholic, because Pope Francis is a walking commercial for the Catholic Church.
It's true, the media snap things up and get it mostly wrong in sensationalized headlines. We're all challenged, aren't we, not to react to the headlines but to go to the Vatican news service and read what the Pope actually said (and to whom). As always, of course, the Pope presumes that we will interpret his words through the lens of Catholic orthodoxy. (St Ignatius commented that this is an obligation in charity even in the case of things our fellow laity say, so all the more is it a duty when the words are those of the Pope!)