The Pope Francis Effect

By Judie Brown

Over the last week, considering all the events that Pope Francis participated in during his six-day visit to Mexico and the many lives he touched with his words, his actions, and his very presence, it seems so sad that only one or two sentences from one interview captured our attention.

It is as though nothing else happened that week.

During the interview in question—given on an airplane as he was travelling back to Rome—the Holy Father was speaking off the cuff. What he said or didn’t say really isn’t the problem, though. The difficulty is that his political comments overshadowed an entire visit filled with charitable works done for the indigent in a nation fraught with problems of poverty, drug cartels, human trafficking, and all manner of illness.

Thirty-one years prior to this visit, Saint John Paul II spoke these words, calling to mind the role not only of the pope but of each one of us in a world too quick to create controversy and too blasé to confront the real challenges we face in our national crisis of faith: “We need heralds of the Gospel who are experts in humanity, who know the depths of the human heart, who can share the joys and hopes, the agonies and distress of people today, but at the same time contemplatives who have fallen in love with God.”

Today we should think about those words in view of the papal visit to Mexico versus our societal propensity to feed on scandal or Catholic bashing rather than love for our fellow human beings.

If we reflect on the message Pope Francis brought to those in Mexico rather than focusing on an interview question, we might have a better perspective on what his mission, as a herald of the gospel, actually was last week.

In a homily given in Juarez, Mexico, the pope encouraged the people saying, “This time for conversion, this time for salvation, is the time for mercy. And so, let us say together in response to the suffering on so many faces: In your compassion and mercy, Lord, have pity on us . . . cleanse us from our sins and create in us a pure heart, a new spirit.”

In Morelia, the capital of the Michoacan State, a place at the heart of Mexico’s drug-trafficking route, and a region wracked by poverty, unemployment, drug violence and corruption, he addressed the throngs of people telling them that their lives “speak of prayer” and that “the school of prayer is the school of life.” He encouraged them to avoid the temptation to become resigned to the horrors that surround them there.

He spoke often during his visit, formally and informally, about the need to care about others, to provide for their bodily and spiritual needs, to respect their dignity, and to be wellsprings of happiness and hope.

In fact, during his six days in that nation he never mentioned the word “condom,” nor did he refer to anyone by name who is running for the presidency of the United States. He focused on being that “herald of the gospel” Saint John Paul II spoke of many years ago.

It is therefore troubling to realize that all the good Pope Francis did during his visit to Mexico was so easily overshadowed by one or two silly comments made informally to reporters. Pope Francis did not change the infallible teaching of the Church on the use of contraception, nor did he alter the American political scene. He simply created confusion and fed the media exactly what it needed to create “news.”

It makes me sad that we are always so prone to jump on something negative rather than embracing the positive. No, the positive will never take top billing on the nightly news, but then again it never has.

Pope Francis, thank you for lifting the spirits of the poor, the downtrodden, the hungry, the frightened, the homeless, and the sick throughout Mexico.

The Pope Francis effect was surely felt and appreciated by millions in that nation.