RICCARDO DE LUCCA ASSOCIATED PRESS
THE FRANCIS FACTOR
By JoAnne Viviano • THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Jed Hood calls Pope Francis “the clincher.” • Having strayed from the Catholic Church, Hood had considered returning after God answered his prayers to spare the life of his seriously ill mother. • Then came the new pope.
“I felt like he was opening the doors to a new church,” said Hood, 35, who serves as Reynoldsburg’s city attorney. “I felt like he was personally welcoming me back to the church … and I felt a compulsion.”
So much so that he has since been confirmed and his two sons have been baptized at St. Pius X in Reynoldsburg.
Hood’s comments have been echoed around the globe in Pope Francis’ first year as leader of more than 1 billion members of the Catholic Church.
In the months since he was elected pope a year ago today, Francis has gained nods not just from Catholics but also from Protestants, Jews and even atheists. He has appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone and was named Time magazine’s 2013 person of the year.
He has washed the feet of child prisoners and kissed the faces of the deformed. He has called for a church “that is poor and for the poor” and encouraged clergy members to live simply.
He has said that Catholics should focus on more than abortion, gay marriage and contraception. Of gays, he said, “Who am I to judge?”
A Buddhist in Columbus compared him to the Dalai Lama for his commitment to compassion, nonjudgment and service to others.
Religious and community leaders point to several signs that the pope could be making an impact locally:
RIGHT: Jack Beckman has been volunteering at St. Lawrence Haven for 16 years. Local Catholic charitable organizations report an increase in volunteers and donations.
• Volunteer numbers have jumped at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which serves poor people through 62 parish chapters in the Columbus diocese, society President Bill Sparks said.
• The Catholic Foundation, which administers grants for ministries in the diocese, saw a 42 percent increase in gifts in the past fiscal year, said Amy Parker, vice president of grants and diocesan partnerships.
• Catholic Social Services is addressing the pope’s call to care for the poor by bringing in speakers on “Building Bridges out of Poverty” to this year’s Breakfast with the Bishop on Oct. 3.
Bishop Frederick Campbell said younger Catholics seem more energized since the pope was elected. A new Bible-study program at St. Joseph Cathedral, the mother church of the diocese, has been popular, and increased inquiries about religious vocations are a “sign that some kind of deep interest has been piqued.”
Sister Margaret Ormond, prioress of the Columbus-based Dominican Sisters of Peace, said the pope’s words have encouraged volunteers to contribute more to the order’s outreach programs.
“People are inspired and challenged to follow his example,” she said. “He has a way of being a walking Gospel, spreading the good news of God’s love and motivating us to do the same.”
COURTNEY HERGESHEIMER DISPATCH PHOTOS ABOVE: Bill McLoughlin hands out soup to the needy at St. Vincent de Paul’s St. Lawrence Haven Downtown. He says Pope Francis has given him a new outlook on the church.
His main reason for volunteering was a promise to “pay it forward” that he made to his father, who volunteered for years before Alzheimer’s disease restricted his activities. But he said Pope Francis has had an influence.
“I think he’s opening a brand-new window on the church,” said McLoughlin, 63. “I haven’t been a real ardent Catholic for the last few years, but I think Francis could get me back to being a more regular Catholic.”
Others are not as supportive of the pope and the path of the church.
Ann Brown, 70, said she stopped attending Catholic church about two years ago, and she and her husband have no plans to return. She said she has seen no change in the church’s position on such key issues as birth control, ordination of women, same-sex marriage and celibacy requirements for religious vocations.
“It pleases us that the Roman Church is presenting a more favorable ‘face’ to the world, but the changes have been cosmetic rather than substantive,” Brown, a Northwest Side resident, said.
Pope Francis has been criticized for what victims see as his lack of response to the clergy sex-abuse scandal. Just this month, victim advocates called him out when he told an Italian newspaper: “The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution that moved with transparency and responsibility. … No one else did as much. And yet, the church is the only one being attacked.”
A recent poll from the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Research Center found that U.S. Catholics view the pope favorably, but that’s not translating to seeing more people in the pews.
Although 40 percent of Catholics said they were praying more often, and 26 percent were “more excited” about their faith, the poll found no significant increase in the number of Americans identifying as Catholic or in the frequency with which Catholics attend Mass, go to confession or volunteer at church.
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Rachel Lustig, the president and chief executive officer of Catholic Social Services in Columbus, said numbers aren’t the only way to measure the pope’s impact.
“Having Pope Francis take over the leadership role of our church has re-energized me in ways I don’t know if I could quantify,” she said. “His witness calls me and so many people … to do more, to be more, to make their lives extraordinary, to be an expression of God’s love to the world.”
Similar energy was expressed at recent conferences for women and men in the diocese.
Michele Faehnle of Upper Arlington, the co-chairwoman of the women’s event, said T-shirts and sweat shirts with Pope Francis’ quote “Be Courageous” were ordered for the men and were such a hit that the women wanted them as well. An initial order sold out, so the supplier established a page on its website to sell the items.
Anthony Agra, 44, a German Village resident, said he had not been a practicing Catholic since becoming disenchanted during the past 10 years or so, but he started to pay attention again when Francis became pope.
He now attends the Landings program for returning and inactive Catholics at the St. Thomas More Newman Center near Ohio State University.
“I still have questions and issues regarding the church,” Agra said. “It was the pope’s initial actions, followed by his words, that gave me hope.
“Perhaps I may yet still be welcome in the church. At least now, due to the pope’s example, I am more willing to find out.” firstname.lastname@example.org
Much like most others, I am truly impressed with Pope Francis: a genuine ‘hero’ in a great time of need. He just could not have come to us at a better time. There are few who have not heard of him and his words, style and mannerisms . . . to so many, the embodiment of what Christianity is about.
When the lord Jesus walked among men, he spoke great truths; people responded. He pointed the way. The illuminated consciousness exudes great influence, a powerful presence one can feel. It is not unreasonable that the great love he generated and demonstrated, was in fact gratefully returned. The miracles they witnessed while in his presence, also had to have a powerful influence. This Messiah was clad simply, demanded no show of his ‘specialness’. . . he taught by example, service and love, knowing why he was there and he accepted it. So, with all his pre-ordained status and power, the lord Jesus was obedient to a higher (plan, authority, reason ?) calling. . . . I and the Father are one. . .ergo, he was in accord.
Now to this grumbling that many within and outside the church are expressing – it is certainly understandable, there has been no greater dissenter than me. It is inconceivable that it has been allowed to taint the Church as it has and not be corrected for a VERY long time. Priests were simply shunted around (which was no solution at all). And the reason was patently obvious – – shame, embarrassment and not knowing what to do about it as it had been going on for so long. Therefore, it appeared to be condoned which may be the most unpardonable sin of all. Now, arriving on the scene comes perhaps the most pious, loving, kind and wisest man to wear this mantle. And the fed-up and disgusted dump on him. . . . an he deserves not a trace of it, but it’s his, even so.
If I may offer an opinion (that’s all it is), I don’t believe Francis has come to start breaking his Father’s house, for that would serve no purpose whatsoever. Look at the progress made already in infusing new energy, an open understanding and a genuine, thrust of loving service to those in need which has already become the new M.O. around the world. There is genuine global enthusiasm for his leadership; Francis is on the right path. It just might be that the Church will become open to upgrades in attitude or modern thought, because lets face it; all stuff is premised on the principle of change — that’s how it works.
Some things are just fundamentally fair, such as equality amongst all people and inclusiveness.
When I was a Bible-thumper back 50 – 60 years ago, I didn’t go knocking on doors or anything like that, but I did manage to rile a number of my friends. My husband had a more live and let live attitude, but I was a sharer, so. . anyway, in those days I believed that every word in the Bible came straight from God’s lips. . . and I just about wore the print off those precious pages. I no longer think the same.
Came to understand that the bible was actually put together by clergy hundreds of years after those early Christians were here. There has long been much question why the elders included some books while ignoring others There has been much ‘esoteric’ discussion about Jesus being married to Mary Magdalene and how he regarded her worthiness as equal amongst the other disciples. Also perturbing to one like me, is the ongoing ‘finding’ of still more sacred volumes of contemporaries of that time which never see the light of day. Why not? Is the truth so fragile or easily debased? I never seemed to cotton to Paul’s writings; they seemed sterile and puritanical compared to ones of St John who so loved Jesus. And yet Paul wrote a number of books even tho he was not there at the time nor had the benefit of knowing Jesus. He didn’t really approve of marriage and deemed it useful only to the extent that it kept good men from fornicating which is disgusting to even contemplate. So Paul was not my favorite pencil-pusher of the bible – he had been after all, a tax collector.
Don’t knock it old girl — you were a numbers person too!. . .ooh, right. Sorry all, I do get carried away. . .Jan)