Authentic message

  • October 1, 2015

Pope Francis arrived as a first-time visitor to the United States but by the day his Fiat was heading back to the airport the guest from the Vatican had drawn a roadmap to show his hosts the way.

It’s been said that Francis took America by storm. It was more like a tornado. Every stop on his six-day trip to Washington, New York and Philadelphia drew huge, adoring crowds who listened, cheered, laughed and prayed with him.

No one else on the planet has the drawing power of Pope Francis — no world leader, no Hollywood celebrity, no pop star. His appeal is transcendent. He glides from the White House to a centre for Washington’s homeless, from the United Nations to the poor migrants of Harlem, from Madison Square Garden to the prisoners of a Philadelphia jail. He pays respect to the powerful but gives his heart to the downtrodden.

People are drawn to the Pope’s transparent sincerity, humility and compassion. That is good, of course. These qualities are worthy of recognition and celebration. Yet there is something more to the Pope’s mass appeal. Is he filling a void? His popularity suggests a culture that is thirsting for something deeper — perhaps something more spiritual, certainly more meaningful — than what Western society currently offers.

The proof of that is in how people respond to this gentle, smiling 78-year-old who was virtually unknown before he became Pope two years ago. His goodness is infectious. His words ring with conviction and truth and his actions speak even louder as he proclaims mercy and generosity.

In so many ways he is the antithesis of the media-inflated hordes of political leaders, business executives and pop-culture glitterati who elbow their way onto the world stage. Too often the example they portray is that happiness is rooted in power, wealth and fame. Our overheated, self-indulgent consumer culture was not invented by them, but their self-absorbed lifestyles encourage it. It’s a culture fuelled by ego and insincerity, and it often disdains faith.

By his authentic words and joyful deeds during six amazing days in America, Pope Francis repudiated that glib definition of success. Throughout his U.S. journey he drew huge, adoring audiences and pointed them in a different direction. Whether speaking to world leaders or simple pilgrims, he stressed that all of us are called to serve, not be served, and we do this by becoming champions of peace, justice, inclusion, charity, humility and mercy. His message is counter-cultural and, thankfully, it was widely popular.

Pope Francis differs from other so-called celebrities in another important way. For him, it is all about the message, not the messenger.

He may have received pop-star treatment in America but the Pope who arrived in a Fiat left the same way.

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