why do people love and hate pope francis?

priests’ days for the seattle archdiocese began yesterday– on zoom. austen ivereigh, a journalist and biographer of pope francis is our presenter. the topic: “understanding pope francis”

to talk about the pope is to enter into an arena that runs the full gamut of opinion. the voices come from all over the world and can be easily shared—especially in our instant access, internet age. through these priests’ days, i realize anew that we are human and our opinions on pope francis are quite varied too. so i am thankful for our bishop, paul etienne, for choosing mr. ivereigh who has extensively researched the life and ministry of the present pontiff.

we are all products of our personal history; including pope francis’ whose voice is highlighted because he is the head of 1.3+ billion catholics worldwide. there is much to understand about pope francis and at the same time it is easy to comprehend him. of course, in the usa we see things through our lens of a developed and rich country. in seattle, all the more.

in a word, francis (i feel close to him so i just assume we are on a first name basis; in spanish, i call him paco) wants us to encounter jesus personally. consistent with ignatian spirituality, francis knows well that jesus of the gospels is walking with us now; he wants us to open our eyes and hearts to Christ’s presence in the world and respond to God’s love. by extension, the dark places where the evil one dominates are better seen too. love is absent in many places in our world

francis is helping us go back to the foundation of our faith in Christ. for example, this is seen in the themes of mercy and joy. it is no wonder that for most catholics and non catholics alike, francis is beloved– he exemplifies jesus.

this might sound trite– to be like jesus. is this not self evident for any christian? well, with two thousand years of history, theological evolution, saints and church teaching at various levels, and so forth, we catholics can be quite confused about who we really are.

it seems that francis’ role as pontiff has been to contextualize our catholic faith and bring us back to the foundations found in the gospels. his formation and life as a jesuit and their ignatian spirituality is a framework for this foundation.

in 2007, pope benedict gathered the bishops of latin america. for francis, the conversion experiences that came from working on the aparecida document from latin america were formative to who he is now. it was a different way to be the People of God. this synodal process of discernment was a type of “new pentecost” for the latin american church. this process and its outcome now serves as a spark for the universal church.

for example, this statement captures a highlight of the Spirit from aparecida:

“…helping each Christian have a personal encounter with Christ -living with the simplicity and humility taught in the Gospel-a preferential option for the poor and marginalized -a serious concern for the environment -prayer, especially popular cultural devotions…”

we can see these aspects of the gospel being taught and lived by pope francis now. he is unpacking the essentials of the gospel and offering these teachings for our faith and our church. it is bold, it is joyful and it gives clarity as to the fundamental mission of the followers of jesus.

a personal encounter with Christ. what is your experience? tell me your story! these are the questions of ministry and faith. the Spirit is working through the sharing of these gifts. without these conversions, we might primarily serve ourselves and our ideologies and give jesus lip service.

francis is urging us all, clergy included, to be pastoral in our relationships– to be like jesus. perhaps there is no better visual image that exemplifies this attitude that jesus washing the feet of his disciples.

so it is no wonder that francis has also shown a light on the areas of our church that go against this type of servant ministry. he has taken to task the abuse of power that exists in our church. this abuse of power comes in various forms– sexual, financial, self-righteousness, corruption, etc– and is contrary to the mission and message of love that jesus taught. clergy abuse of power is seen in clericalism and elitism. francis want us clergy to serve in our roles with, not above, the People of god.

jesus faced the self righteous and sinners of his day. some repented but some persecuted and then killed jesus. ultimately, resurrection and pentecost prevailed. my guess is that francis knows well this dynamic. being like jesus is very difficult at times.

some people fear that francis is throwing away tradition that has come down to us over the centuries and it will be detrimental to the church. for me, francis is being like jesus and offering the sinner a chance at repentance so that God’s grace and mercy can break forth and heal the wounds of sin. this is very traditional.

francis is attempting to renew our worldwide communities of faith in various ways by rooting out the evil within the church and there will be push back. but francis knows the Spirit is with our journey as a People of God. together, as church, we step forward with francis as the bishop of rome. ultimately, we will be blessed and graced.

i am looking forward to day two today and understanding paco a little better!


  1. DC says:

    “ being like jesus is very difficult at times…”
    Great observation… maybe for me it’s “being with Jesus is very difficult at times…”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. frarthurcmf says:

      yes don

      seems like it is so easy to forget to just be with jesus… sts. martha and mary, pray for us

      btw, austen ivereigh gave our reflections for priests days here in seattle on monday and tuesday– he was excellent!


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