The American media, Christians of all colors and stripes, and the general public have been swept up by the frenzy of Pope Francis' visit to the U.S. While attending the prayer service at the 9/11 Memorial Museum, I couldn't help but notice the excitement of even some who have substantial theological disagreements with the pope.
The reactions of two people close to me are very revealing. A Catholic relative commented that he is "our pope," as if to say that Protestants have no right to claim his success and fame.
On the other hand, a good friend and colleague in ministry, who happens to be Pentecostal, raised the issue of the fine line between admiring a person and adoring (as if worshiping) that person.
Is all this frenzy about the man — Pope Francis?
It is, and it is not.
The man we are talking about is the supreme leader of 1.2 billion Christians. That in itself doesn't give him any particular authority or assign him any influence over the rest of Christianity or people of other religions. What really makes a difference, though, is when a person representing such a massive following speaks and exemplifies the message of the gospel. I must confess that I "scratch my head" when I reflect on this.
The message Pope Francis is heralding has been proclaimed by so many Christians in the marketplace, in local, state, and national political stages, and in congregations throughout the country. And this message has been proclaimed by churches of all traditions, not just Catholics.
I know Pope Francis would agree that it is not about him. It is not about a persona, not even about the leader of the world's largest Christian communion. It is all about using a very Catholic nomenclature, the " Evangelii Gaudium " (The Joy of the Gospel).
All Christians in our country should celebrate the fact that for a period of five days the national media turned all its attention to this man. His words were broadcast on primetime by the likes of CNN, MSNBC, FOX, Univision, and many other networks. With the power of his humility, he communicated the message of the gospel that speaks not only to our inward spiritual needs, but also to the sociopolitical realities of our daily lives.
His message challenged both conservatives and progressives. In a historic address to Congress, Pope Francis declared:
- "The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes."
- "Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples."
- "In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants."
And during a Mass at Madison Square Garden, the pope publicly affirmed:
- "Knowing that Jesus still walks our streets, that he is part of the lives of his people, that he is involved with us in one vast history of salvation, fills us with hope."
- "The prophet Isaiah can guide us in this process of ‘learning to see.’ He presents Jesus to us as ‘Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.’ In this way, he introduces us to the life of the Son, so that his life can be our life."
Do these words not speak truth? If we put aside the theological and doctrinal differences we may have with Catholicism, I believe we can clearly recognize the message of the gospel through the prophetic preaching of Papa Francisco. At the very least, we may agree with Jesus when he said to John, "Do not stop him…for whoever is not against you is for you" (Luke 9:50).
I have no doubt that this remarkable man and his message have turned the hearts of thousands in our country toward Jesus and the gospel.