By Dylan Jennings ’14, Staff Writer
When I went back home to Connecticut, my family attended Christmas Eve mass at St. Margaret Mary Church as per a family tradition. This was probably the first time I had been present at church since the new Pope, Pope Francis, was elected as pontiff.
As mass was ending, the priest told the parish he was happy to see so many people and, while he liked his new boss, “had the Catholic Church in any way wronged you, we are sorry and hope you will consider coming back soon.”
As strange as it was to hear such words from a priest of the Roman Catholic Church, it was also quite refreshing. But over this past year, the words coming out of the Vatican from the new pontiff have been equally as refreshing.
The new pontiff has gone about changing the tone and gospel that has come out of the Vatican. He has also refocused the mission of the Catholic Church less upon the divisive cultural and social issues that have dominated the church — like same sex marriage and abortion — and instead refocused on helping the poor, the needy, and the sick.
Pope Francis’ tone since his ascension has led many to believe that the second liberalization of the Church is upon us, much like when the Vatican II reforms were enacted during the 60s. Pope Francis has already begun to enact reforms to rid the Vatican bank of the corruption that surrounds the ancient institution; he has formed task forces to root out priests who shame the church and their vows by engaging in illicit behavior with children; he has gone about establishing a group of cardinals who will provide him advice on ways to improve the bureaucracy of the Vatican to better serve the 1.2 billion Catholics around the world.
But the biggest changes have come in his own behavior as pontiff, in a new model of Pope that has Catholics all over the world swooning; He goes out in the middle of the night to feed and aid the homeless of the Vatican.
For his birthday, the Pope invited four homeless people to eat lunch for him. He broke tradition on the last Holy Thursday by going to prison and cleaning the feet of Muslims and women instead of washing the feet of priests and cardinals. When asked about gays and bisexuals and how the church views them, Pope Fran-cis said, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”
Such actions would have been earth shattering under the former Catholic leader, Pope Benedict, but Pope Francis feels no qualms about making such a statement and has made similar comments about atheists as well. Such tone coming out of the Vatican has been both refreshing and badly needed for the Catholic Church.
But for me, what I have found most interesting about this pope has been his desire to refocus the church upon its original mission, which is to aid the less fortunate and the needy. The Pope rightfully recognizes that the teachings of the Church were always more about aiding those unfortunate souls who are stuck in poverty, those who struggle to get by.
It is this charity and desire to aid others that has begun to make many see the Catholic Church as a positive force in the world. If Pope Francis is truly successful in reforming the Church and shifting its focus to the poor and the needy, then he may very well go down as one of the most consequential popes in our lifetime.