The Pope is the supreme leader of the Catholic church. He is the voice of the church and sets the tone for what he wants to accomplish while he holds the office of Pope. After Pope Benedict XVI abdicated the throne, the leaders of the Catholic Church elected a supreme leader that pours over with humility. Now, I’m a political guy, not really a religion-kind of guy, but for some reason I have found myself drawn to Pope Francis since I first heard about him while sitting at the airport in Tokyo, Japan earlier this year. I follow certain religious leaders to supplement my desire to become a better person in every aspect of my life. I’m not a Catholic, nor do I believe in any God. I never felt any sort of connection between Pope Benedict XVI and me, and yet I find myself so intrigued by Pope Francis. He chose his name in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi – a man that stood for peace and poverty. Throughout the last few months I have seen such a sense of humility from Pope Francis that almost no other major leader has shown in modern times. There are so many stories out there about how Pope Francis has stood up to his desire for peace, poverty and a better tomorrow.
They say he wanted to be the “People’s Pope.” He wanted to be portrayed as a servant for the people and not the ruler of the people. Within weeks of the Pope’s rise to the Papacy, Pope Francis visited women in a prison. He didn’t just visit ordinary women, but criminals – those that many believe to be the lowest class of people. He kneeled down before a few women and washed their feet. Washing of the feet has been a common practice in Catholicism to signify humility, but the Pope’s predecessors had limited it to male priests. Not only did the Pope wash the feet of female criminals, but he washed the feet of two Muslim women. It raised the ire of many within the Catholic church.
Last week, Pope Francis embarked on his first trip since being elected Pope. He flew to Brazil, a part of the world the Argentinian-born Pontifex is familiar with. Security found themselves in a nightmare as the Pope was bombarded by faithful believers once he arrived in the country. He rode in the infamous Pope mobile that is usually surrounded by bulletproof glass. His Pope mobile had opened sides allowing the Pope to reach out, touch people and kiss babies.
As most high-ranking officials are only taken to the highlights of a country they are visiting, the Pope had a different agenda in Brazil. He chose to visit one of the poorest parts of the country. Pope Francis walked among the poorest and provided them with a glimmer of hope. He let them know they are not the forgotten caste of people they always seem to internalize.
Probably the biggest event from this week came during the Pope’s flight back to the Vatican. He held an unprecedented press conference that lasted well over an hour. During that time he was asked a question about gay celibate priests and the rumors of “gay lobbyists” within the Vatican. His response captured headlines across the world.
“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge? You can’t marginalize these people.”
Those with more liberal understandings of the Bible proclaimed his answer to be a major shift within the Catholic Church. Many literalists stated this is nothing new and isn’t really news. And for those stating he was only talking about celibate gays, the Vatican confirmed this is not true. I don’t believe his proclamation was a major shift, but I also disagree with the notion that what he said shouldn’t be news. Too many people marginalize gay people as “homosexuals, ” “sexual deviants,” “sinners,” or having “same-sex attractions.” Pope Francis said none of these things. He used the word “gay.” While this may seem trivial to most, it does show the Pope using words to describe us in a more human way. “Homosexual,” is a scientific term, as is “same-sex attractions,” but he didn’t say these words, he said, “gay.” When many Christian leaders are asked questions about gay people, they typically invoke the Bible and say the generic line, “I love gay people, but I hate their sin.” The Pope failed to take this path either, reinforcing a human response to the issue of homosexuality. In what I felt was the most humble of things said yesterday, the Pope, the leader of the Catholic church said, “Who am I to judge?” Pope Francis is the man that is most knowledgeable about Catholicism, he is the one that so many turn to for answers and yet he says he is not here to judge. Too many people do judge on the basis of sexual orientation and attempt to say homosexuality is one of the biggest sins to commit. While I personally don’t believe homosexuality is a sin, many others do and instead of showing love and compassion, they forget their own transgressions in the name of Christianity. The Pope sent the message that gay people are human and should be revered as such. This wasn’t a major victory, but it is a small, a very small step in the right direction for the Christian faith to treat gays and lesbians with the dignity we deserve.
There are a lot more changes that have to be made in the attitude religions take in the way they treat gay people. I am glad to see the Pope open that dialogue yesterday, even if he never says another positive thing about gay people. I feel refreshed to see a humbling Pope and I look forward to seeing what Pope Francis has up his robe while he speaks from his pulpit in the future. I know there will be plenty of differences in ideals in the future between the Pope and I, but I enjoy what I have seen so far.