Skip to main content

In his first year, why this Pope has everyone talking

By Grazie Pozo Christie
updated 6:04 AM EDT, Fri March 14, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie says everyone is talking about Pope Francis, all the time
  • He has stirred hearts and minds of Catholics and non-Catholics, she says
  • People are saying that "we" finally have a progressive pope
  • She says Pope Francis wants Catholics, bravely, out of their bunkers

Editor's note: Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie is a member of The Catholic Association Advisory Board

(CNN) -- Last Sunday, a group of us sat on the beach, watching the children play, when the talk turned, as it often does, to Pope Francis.

"The Pope said the loveliest thing yesterday. My father in Porto Alegre called me to tell me about it," my Brazilian friend Bete told us. My Swiss friend Diego chimed in with another charming anecdote, and everyone remarked how warm and affectionate Francis is.

I was pleased to hear all the comments, but not surprised, since it's been like that all year. Everyone is talking about him, all the time.

In this first year of his papacy, Francis has stirred up hearts and minds, not only among his flock, but also among a wider culture that is generally inhospitable, if not downright antagonistic, to the teachings of the Church of Rome.

Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie
Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie

He has sparked admiration and consternation, and most of all, he has inspired wide-flung interest and debate. It seems the voice of the vicar of Rome, even in this secularist age, has tremendous carrying power.

People who long ago dismissed the church as a hidebound, irrelevant institution seem to be irresistibly drawn to the captivating Francis. I was stunned, recently, to have a very liberal acquaintance of mine, who happens to be Jewish, tell me we finally have a progressive pope.

A priest reflects on Francis' first year

He used the word "we."

To my acquaintance, "progressive" is high praise, as it describes a belief in the growing wisdom of mankind and the inevitable improvement of our culture, resulting in welcome human flourishing. It was clear to him that both he and Francis share the same desire, to see all people living more joyful, fulfilling lives.

My friend's comment illustrated the peculiar power of Francis: that of presenting the central message of the church -- that God loves every man and woman passionately and desires their good -- in ways that those quite outside the influence of the church can recognize and warm to.

Pope Benedict: Papacy rumors 'absurd'
Pope Francis appoints new cardinals
Funny or Die: Alec Baldwin & Popetastic!

Pope Francis has been at pains to explain what he is about, which he characterizes as a new chapter of evangelization for the church.

His task is to find ways, and help the rest of the church find ways, to transmit the joy which so obviously fills him and sustains him. He calls it the joy of the gospel, which perhaps might be explained as the joy of knowing that we are truly loved, although all of us are completely undeserving of that kind of sacrificial devotion. He is the first one to declare himself a sinner, and undeserving, with an utterly disarming humility.

He writes, in Evangelii Gaudium, "I dream of ... a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church's customs ... can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today's world rather than for her self-preservation."

This is quite a statement. It seems he understands that too many Catholics today find themselves with a bunker mentality, hoping to "get by" without calling too much attention to themselves. They feel beleaguered by those who no longer have the philosophical and religious education that would enable them to understand social doctrine, especially sexual, as anything other than stuffy nonsense that has outlived its usefulness.

The church has found itself, understandably, in a defensive posture. It has been greatly exacerbated recently by a new tendency in modern culture to decry an adherence to age-old, universal attitudes toward marriage and sexuality as intolerance and bigotry.

But that defensive posture, Francis seems to say, is not courageous and outward-looking, and not worthy of those who have been charged with the sacred mission of spreading the good news.

Of course, there are many who hope that he will repudiate some of those social teachings, and thereby change the character of the church itself.

Again and again he is asked why he doesn't emphasize those difficult matters, like abortion and marriage. He didn't mention them in Brazil, during World Youth Day. He explained then: "The Church has already expressed herself perfectly on this. ... It wasn't necessary to talk about that, but about the positive things that open the way to youngsters." When pressed for his personal position, he answered with direct and perfect simplicity: "That of the Church. I am a Child of the Church!"

Francis wants Catholics, bravely, out of their bunkers. He is telling them that there is tremendous power in the knowledge that believers carry within them.

The joy of the gospel, as Francis sees it, is capable of setting us free from sorrow, loneliness and inner emptiness. Aren't those exactly the torments that plague modern people, satiated with material goods like never before but atomized and radically alone?

It would be criminal for Catholics to hide it away because they are fearful of criticism or just lazy and unmotivated.

The Pope tells us to put joy into action, in service to the poor, love of the sick, going out to meet our brothers and sisters at the crossroads and bringing them home. He personally and infectiously shows us exactly how it's done.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
updated 2:18 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
updated 1:43 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
updated 4:28 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 3:39 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:09 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT