“What’s so special about the pope?” was a question posed on Facebook by one of my former students, who is now in her early twenties.
“I don’t know who he is, but I don’t want my roads to be shut down. Kids shouldn’t be missing school for this,” said a student who moved to Philadelphia after high school.
“He’s only important to Catholic people,” another student replied.
“Catholics worship him instead of God,” said a friend I didn’t know.
“He’s probably the anti-Christ,” was the reply that triggered my emotions. It was from the student who posed the question.
How could someone say something so terrible about someone so wonderful? I decided to walk away from my computer before my fingers punched out something that could destroy the close relationship I have with my former student. How could someone say something so terrible about someone so wonderful?
I wanted so badly to rush to Pope Francis’ defense, but I knew that I as a representative of the Catholic church, I couldn’t allow myself to show rage. That would only push all of them further away. Instead, I chose to address my student directly, with patience and love.
Her question was one of innocent curiosity, while the misinformed responders led her down the wrong path. They didn’t understand my faith. They didn’t understand that the leader of my Church is also a leader of the world. So, I decided to say something wonderful about someone so wonderful.
“He has major influence on decisions that impact many, many people in the world. Take the time to read his views. I think you might be surprised that you agree with some of the things he has to say.”
I sent a link of his address to Congress, adding that he chose to have lunch with the homeless, rather than politicians. “He’s a pretty cool dude.”
The negative comments stopped.
Pope Francis is a living example of what it means to be like Christ, and more and more people are recognizing it. I’m not a big fan of the door-to-door variety of evangelism, but I do feel that the positive reputation that Pope Francis is creating for himself offers Catholics an excellent opportunity to discuss our faith with people who are confused by or curious about Catholicism, but who recognize the goodness in our Holy Father’s words and deeds. We should vigilantly watch the horizon for situations where someone of another faith (or an absence of faith) actively wants to discuss Pope Francis. He is the living face of our Church and the perfect place to start a larger conversation about what it means to be Catholic.
“Catholics don’t worship Pope Francis,” I explained in my final post to my students and their friends. “We look to him for guidance.” Perhaps they will, too.