It may well be that the world and the church have in the past seen a pope become a social phenomenon. But it seems unlikely that there has been a pope who has captured the world’s imagination and interest as firmly and repeatedly as has Pope Francis.
In one January week alone, he was the subject of stories on the BBC, CNN, Reuters, The Associated Press, major newspapers around the world, ABC, NBC, CBS and any other collection of news agencies identified with capital letters.
The subject of those stories was the news that Pope Francis would be producing an encyclical on ecology called “Laudato Si’,” medieval Italian for “Praised Be,” according to the Catholic News Service (CNS).
The encyclical is expected to be released today, June 18, to world-wide anticipation — and even some controversy. Some news agencies and individuals have suggested that the pope would better serve his people by avoiding a controversial subject such as climate change which is likely to be dealt with in the encyclical.
But most of the response to news of the encyclical has been that of anxious anticipation.
The pope is widely popular, especially with those who share little of the world’s financial resources. And others, even non-Catholics, find his social concerns refreshing and hopeful.
Yet even before this latest papal news had been announced in Rome, commentators and news analysts around the world had been examining Pope Francis, his history, his theology — everything about him — with frequency and thoroughness.
A Catholic News Service story back in December noted that in the second year of his pontificate, “Pope Francis is still feeling the love, and not just from Catholics or those from his homeland of Argentina.”
The story noted that a Pew Research Center study released last Dec. 11 “showed that the pope has broad support across much of the world.” Sixty percent of people in the 43 nations polled “had a positive view of the pontiff,” the story said.
That same story quoted our own Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, as saying Pope Francis has “taken the world by storm.”
The pope was even on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in February of 2014. Georgetown University held a forum on
“The Francis Factor” that same month, and CNS noted that panelists had used the words “troublemaker” and “anti-establishment” during their discussions about the pope.
Of course other panelists praised his leadership and management style and couldn’t help but note his popularity.
“Kerry Robinson, executive director of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management, said the pope’s strongest action so far has been urging people to personal conversion,” the CNS story said. “The conversation he seeks in the world, she was quoted as saying, ‘starts now, with us.’ ”
In March of last year, a survey released by Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities and reported on by CNS, said that Pope Francis has even influenced giving — for the better — by U.S. Catholics.
The pope will be paying the United States a visit in September. He will be in Philadelphia Sept. 26 and 27 for the World Meeting of Families. He will meet President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama on Sept. 23, and the next day
will become the first pope to address a joint meeting of Congress.
Pope Francis will also address the United Nations General Assembly during his trip.
Earlier this year, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., was asked about the pope’s visit, his message and his popularity.
“We see in him not just the message, but how you do it,” the cardinal noted. “The way in which he lives, treats people, responds to people says, I think, to many people … he sounds and looks a lot like what Jesus would have sounded like.”
What more could we hope for in a pope?
Record Editor Emeritus