The Fascination with Francis

Photo by Kevin Fuhrmann
Photo by Kevin Fuhrmann

New Yorkers are certainly not rookies when it comes to having celebrities around, but Pope Francis might be the exception.

“I think he’s kind of a rockstar. For some people, this is the closest thing they have to seeing God,” Claudia Setzer, religious studies professor, said.

Roads were closed. Extra police officers were brought in. Extra television stations were added in order to devote media coverage during his visit.

People got riled up with the pope’s long awaited visit to New York City. But why?

“He’s doing things that are inviting more people in rather than just preaching things,” Brother Robert Berger said.

Reproductive health, sexual orientation, the definition of a family, divorce and environmental impact are just some of the topics that Francis has commented on during his short two years as a pope.

“I think the older population gets concerned about some of his statements. I think they’re not used to someone like him who says it like it is,” Fr. George Hill said.

One of Francis’ most memorable moments occurred less than six months into his papacy when he commented on sexual orientation saying, “Who am I to judge?”

This was just the beginning of a long list of subjects that he has since brought up in conversations about the Catholic Church.

“I think there’s been a spark of hope. People have been intrigued by his sense of dignity, welcoming people and not putting obstacles in people’s ways,” Berger said.

The Catholic Church has been known as being a conservative institution, unwilling to change.

Francis is bringing many subjects to the forefront that have long been swept under the rug and ignored by the Catholic religion.

“He doesn’t seem to worry about tackling touchy subjects,” Setzer said.

Before Francis even arrived, the preparations surrounding the Mass held at Madison Square Garden revealed a lot about the kind of pope he is.

One would expect the leader of the Church to sit in a very ornate chair for Mass. Francis’ chair for the mass at The Garden, however, was handmade in Port Chester, N.Y. by skilled immigrant workers.

It is important that the chair is made by immigrant workers because it reflects Francis’ views on the important role that immigrants have in society.

According to a New York Time’s article from August, the Vatican wanted the chair as simple as possible. The chair is made from oak plywood with hardwood trim and thin white cushions.

This request is not shocking because Francis has been known to reject all of the lavish things that most Popes use. Francis does not live in the Papal apartments at the Vatican or adorn himself with much jewelry.

“I think that’s what’s really appealing. He’s so positive, authentic and real. He’s someone who really walks the walk and talks the talk,” Setzer said.

Throughout his visit Francis reached out into crowds in order to bless people. There are even stories of him sneaking out at night in the past to minister to the homeless.

“There’s a breath of fresh air in terms of his outreach and his spontaneity. He wants the upper part of the church to rethink stiffness,” Berger said.

He has made his goals clear by demonstrating how moral people, not just Catholics, should act.

“This washing of the feet of prisoners, Muslims and women was really a statement of what it means to be a servant of Jesus. That really transcends the boundaries of religion,” Setzer said.

“I think there’s an authenticity to him and so far I don’t think he’s disappointed in that way. He’s not a phony in any way,” Setzer said.