This engaging, yet humble pastor of souls has captured the imagination of so many people around the world. They are touched by his radiant smile, simplicity and pastoral concern. More than being seen as pope for 1.2 billion Roman Catholics across the globe, Francis is welcomed by many as the world’s pope. All of this highlights people’s understanding of his importance.
One of the papal titles is “pontiff,” which in Latin means “bridge builder,” and this is exactly what Francis has been – a builder of bridges between people as he calls us to recognize we are all members of one human family.
Speaking in a simple, inviting way to the hearts of people, he urges us time and again to overcome any indifference and care for one another, especially the least among us. Each and all of us must “hear the cry of the poor,” and embrace the challenge of feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty, of clothing the naked and welcoming the homeless.
In a particular way, at a time when our society seems to be beset with division, questioning the rightful place of faith in the public square, this visit from Pope Francis presents us with a much-needed occasion to enter into a rich dialogue between religion and the secular culture.
The pope in his teaching, entitled “The Joy of the Gospel,” says that we Christians, moved by the example of Jesus, “want to enter fully into the fabric of society, sharing the lives of all, listening to their concerns, helping them materially and spiritually in their needs, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep; arm in arm with others, we are committed to building a new world.”
The timely message that the pope offers the world is not inconsequential to our society. What his popularity says to us is that in the face of today’s many difficulties, there is an underlying hunger for more than what contemporary culture has to offer.
There is a thirst and longing in people’s hearts for the transcendent, for a love which does not disappoint, for mercy and justice. That is what Catholics and other Christians seek to bring to public life, and it is something positive and valuable. It is something that is capable of transforming lives for the better as manifested in the lives of everyday believers and in the many ministries – such as charities, medical providers, schools and universities – that serve everyone in our community regardless of race, sex, sexual orientation, social condition, ethnic background and even religion.
This is seen, for example, in the 120,000 women, men and children helped annually by Catholic Charities, and in the multitude of people of all faiths and backgrounds who have joined together to participate in the Walk with Francis Pledge to pray, serve those in need, and act to build a better world.
Pope Francis never tires of calling for a culture of solidarity and fraternity which sees others not as burdens, enemies or rivals, but as brothers and sisters to be accepted and embraced. He walks and talks, lives and speaks the love of a Lord who is rich in kindness and mercy and in whom all things can be made new, especially our own lives. “How much good it does us to love one another, in spite of everything. Yes, in spite of everything!” he says in “The Joy of the Gospel.”
By what he does and how he does it, by what he says and how he says it, in this providential moment, the pope offers us a new moment of grace, outreach and renewal for our entire human family, each of us a precious child of God. This is the meaning of his visit.
He asks us to reach across boundaries of politics, ideology, and sources of division to seek the common good, especially to protect and enhance the lives and dignity of those who are poor and vulnerable. Why not accept his invitation?
Together we can accomplish great things. Following the example of Pope Francis, let us be urgent witnesses of joy and confident bearers of hope to our community and nation, working as one to build a civilization of inclusion and solidarity, love and peace, freedom and justice.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl is archbishop of Washington, D.C.
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