As crowds gathered down the sides of Constitution Avenue, one would almost believe a president was being inaugurated or be reminded of the historic speech given by Martin Luther King Jr. less than two miles away. The occasion today will most certainly be talked about for years to come, but the historical impact has yet to be determined.
Pope Francis, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was elected to the head of the Roman Catholic Church in 2013, and only two years into his service the Church has seen much controversy with this man at its helm. Growing up in Argentina in an immigrant family, Pope Francis worked many jobs including a janitor, bouncer, and even worked in a lab after receiving his master’s in chemistry until he found the priesthood. This unusual past is perhaps an indicator as to why Pope Francis’s papacy has included many “firsts” for the church. Nothing seems a greater symbol than the fact that he is the first pope from the Americas, and with that, Pope Francis has taken stances on many issues in stark contrast to his predecessors. As a young Catholic, I have welcomed many of his stances and objections to the current status quo, but I am not blind to the many changes that still need to happen going forward.
The name Francis was taken from Saint Francis of Assisi, a friar who helped the poor and cared deeply for the environment. The Pope has adopted the passions of his namesake and advocates for the helping the poor, even going as far as to criticize capitalism in the United States for creating large income inequalities. As both a scientist and moral leader in the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has called upon the protection of the environment, and to increase awareness for climate change.
Social issues are a specialty for Pope Francis, breaking far from classic teachings by calling for a greater acceptance of gays in the church, saying, “Who am I to judge?” However, my disappointment lies in the shadow of these words, where he denounces gay marriage, still calling what many know to be genetic a sin. While progressive, the double-edged sword that is Pope Francis lingers in the back of my head, where we see him stay silent on many important women’s issues. Abortion, contraceptives and female priests still remain harshly prohibited by the Vatican, where Francis stands front and center.
It was this vast split in ideology that made the most recent visit to the United States so interesting where he seemingly had one foot in both major political parties. Touted as the “People’s Pope,” giant crowds gathers at his every stop. In an address to Congress he talked about immigration, climate change and the Golden Rule, where he then left, opting out of a dinner with Congress, to feed the homeless. Hearing these stories of this pope who rides in a Fiat, forgoes the lavish robes and pays for his own hotel bill on the day of his election is inspiring to say the least, but then I wake up to the reality that is a man who is not supporting LGBTQ rights and women’s social issues. The true effects of the pope’s recent visit stateside are yet to be seen, his place in the history books is not sealed, but for a church not known for its evolution in policy, the changes Pope Francis has made are very welcomed.