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Pope’s visit: A rock star or a prophet?


Pope_FrancisPope John Paul II visited the White House on October 6, 1979, and I was watching at home, because that was a Saturday.
 
After the arrival and initial courtesies among the group gathered in front of the mansion, President Jimmy Carter gave welcoming remarks on the portico as the pontiff waited his turn.
 
At this point, my telephone rang.
 
“Are you watching this?” said the voice of the publisher I worked for at the time.
 
“If you mean the pope, yes I am,” I answered.
 
“Why is he standing up?” my boss demanded. “Why don’t they have a chair for him? Who plans these things?”
 
The publisher was a thoughtful guy, but he wasn’t a Catholic and probably hadn’t paid much attention to the pope before that season.
 
But once John Paul II set foot on American soil, the publisher could think of little else.
 
The same was true of the co-publisher, also non-Catholic, who only grudgingly addressed business topics while the pope was in the United States.
 
She told me so when I went to her office and tried to get her attention away from the television that I had never seen turned on before that week.
 
“I can’t take my eyes off him,” she said.
 
And who could blame her?
 
John Paul II generated a level of excitement that few if any of us had ever witnessed.
 
The phenomenon was distilled in the opening words of a television documentary broadcast after the pope had returned to Rome.
 
The program began with a view of the pope’s vehicle moving through a vast cheering crowd, and the off-camera voice asked, “Who is this? WHAT is this?”
 
But as breathtaking as John Paul’s visit was, we Americans may be about to witness something that exceeds it—the first visit of Pope Francis.
 
The public response in both intensity and magnitude well could be unprecedented.
 
But the question, as it has been from the beginning of this papacy, will be, “What is this?”—what is this excitement really about?
 
Certainly a lot of it will be about the pope’s “star quality.”
 
He is an attractive figure to people of all ages and backgrounds, and this can both help and hinder him in his mission.
 
Francis will have no trouble getting people’s attention in the United States; folks are going to extraordinary lengths to assure themselves an opportunity to get a glimpse of him in the flesh.
 
But some people who profess to “like this pope” may be in love with headlines and sound bites—such things as “Who am I to judge?”—but they may not be absorbing, much less applying to themselves, his exhortations on caring for the poor, extending mercy before judgment, protecting natural resources, curbing reckless consumerism and wasteful lifestyles.
 
What’s more, Pope Francis well understands the contemporary world and no doubt is aware that some if not much of the adulation directed at him is superficial.
 
He knows that alone he cannot make the world more merciful, more prudent, more just.
 
But no doubt he also knows that thoughtful people are listening to him, listening to more than comments reported out of context in the secular media, listening to his challenge to individual men and women to transform the world around them.
 
My guess is that he is banking not on all the millions along his path but on the unknown number who hear and understand his call to bring the Gospel to life, to evangelize the world around them, to evangelize those millions when the cheers have faded away.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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One Response to “Pope’s visit: A rock star or a prophet?”


 
  1. Honora Nolty, OP says:

    It is much easier to see him as a rock star. To be self-reflective and to decide to change my ways is the real challenge of Pope Francis and the Gospel!

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