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Why is Pope Francis Capturing Hearts, Media and Massive Crowds at World Youth Day 2013?

By Deacon Keith Fournier
July 27th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The name which Cardinal Bergoglio took upon accepting the invitation to be the successor of Peter was so appropriate. The little poor man of Assisi named Francis had a similar effect in his time. This Francis, like his namesake, is a simple, joyful, humble and uncomplicated man, a man so in love with Jesus Christ that when people see him, they see Jesus. He embodies these words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians, "No longer do I live but Christ lives in me". (Gal. 2:20) It is not about Francis - and simple people discern that right away. It is about Jesus Christ.

RIO De JANEIRO, Brazil (Catholic Online) - The crowds swarmed the Pope's open air vehicle the moment he began his trek to the opening ceremony. Vatican Radio reported that not only did the crowds delay his arrival at the event, but the car took a wrong turn.

Through it all, Pope Francis was smiling, filled with Christian joy. He loves to be with Christ's faithful.

It was not about meeting an itinerary for Francis, but about being present in an encounter of love. The faithful wanted to be with him and he wanted to be with them.  What is it about Pope Francis that grabs the heart of a watching world, cuts through cynicism and imparts happiness and hope to so many?

I suggest the answer is simple; it is the character of Christ which he reveals.

The name which Cardinal Bergoglio took upon accepting the invitation to be the successor of Peter was so appropriate. The little poor man of Assisi named Francis had a similar effect in his time. This Francis, like his namesake, is a simple, joyful, humble and uncomplicated man, a man so in love with Jesus Christ that when people see him, they see Jesus.

He embodies the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians, "No longer do I live but Christ lives in me". (Gal. 2:20) It is not about Francis - and simple people discern that right away. It is all about Jesus Christ whom he serves, proclaims and lives.

Like the Lord whom he loves, Pope Francis loves God's people - and they know it. They want to be with him just like they wanted to be with Jesus. That is how it is with holy people. Yet, as it is also with holy people - it is not about him. People are being drawn to Jesus Christ, whether they know it yet - or not.

His message, spoken the same with both lip and life, makes it all so very clear.  He walks the talk.

When he finally made it to the opening ceremony he shared a variation of words spoken by the Apostle Peter to the man lame from birth. The Apostles had encountered him at the beautiful gate (Acts 3) Francis made the words his own, "I have neither silver nor gold, but I bring with me the most precious thing given to me: Jesus Christ! I have come in his name, to feed the flame of fraternal love that burns in every heart; and I wish my greeting to reach one and all: The peace of Christ be with you!"

I thought back to the night when Francis stepped out onto the balcony at St Peters'. I wrote that evening, "As with all Popes, the choice of the name is significant." At the time, commentators were speculating as to whether he chose Francis after Francis Xavier, an early friend and follower of the founder of the Jesuits, the order to which Cardinal Bergoglio belonged, or after Francis of Assisi.

I continued, "Though we await a full explanation as to why he chose Francis, my heart and mind leapt to an obvious conclusion. He took the name of the little poor man of Assisi, Francis. The one to whom the Lord had appeared and said "Go and Rebuild my Church which you can see is falling down in ruins." 

"That humble deacon named Francis Bernadone did what the Lord asked him in the thirteenth century. As a result, both the Church and the world were changed. The Church of Francis of Assisi's time was not unlike the Church which Pope Francis will serve.  The world of Francis of Assisi's time was not unlike the world into which Pope Francis is called to bring the message of the Gospel in its fullness."

"The Lord uses holy and humble men at critical times in Church history to bring authentic renewal.  May the Pope who bears the name of Francis exhibit the humility, deep prayer and level of spiritual gifts which his namesake offered at another critical time in the history of the Church, and the world."

Since then, Pope Francis has made it clear why he chose the name. He has also demonstrated the humility his namesake displayed. Francis of Assisi, by revealing the Risen Christ in both word and deed, helped to bring about a great restoration of the Church of his age. It led to the conversion of Europe.

Watch what happens in Rio this week. The same Lord is still at work and miracles of healing and conversion are still real.

Certainly, the media is enamored with Pope Francis. They do not really know why. Personally, I suggest it is because his evangelical simplicity is so counter-cultural in this age of materialism, libertinism and nihilism. However, many would reject such an evaluation.

Instead, some read his simplicity as a rejection of a caricature of the papacy which they have created in their own minds. They attempt to set up a false contrast between Francis and his predecessor, His Holiness Benedict XVI. Yet, Francis holds the holiness and humility of his brother Benedict in high esteem.

The truth is that Benedict is also a simple and humble man. His manner is just different. One has only to look at the twelve apostles to see that the Lord chooses all kinds of men for apostolic service. Their personalities and unique temperaments are enhanced by His work within them. As the great Western Doctor Thomas Aquinas explained, grace perfects nature.

Others mistake his extolling of evangelical poverty as a rejection of material goods. However, the goods of the earth are just that, goods. It is not whether a man or woman has material goods but rather whether the goods have the man or the woman.  He simply asks whether they see them as gifts given to them with a stewardship attached?

Like millions, I am moved by the evangelical manner of Pope Francis. In a recent article I encouraged our readers to "get ready; this is an Evangelical Catholic Pope" I believe that this World Youth Day will underscore that this papacy presents an evangelical moment for the Catholic Church.

On April 1, 2013, I read the most compelling insight into Pope Francis. It was written by my friend Alejandro Bermudez. It addressed the heart centered Christian vision of Pope Francis. Alejandro wrote:

"For Pope Francis, the heart of the Church is, well, the heart. That is, the human heart and its transformative relationship with God's heart. The heart in Jesuit spirituality is a crucial concept. The Jesuits were the first to promote devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus around the world. Initially, they were accused of heresy for promoting the concept that the human heart of Jesus was a permanent living source of mercy, as revealed by God to St. Marguerite Marie Alacoque in the 17th century."

"Unlike the modern reduction of the heart to the experience of feelings, which are to be followed at the expense of our brains, in the Jesuit tradition, the heart is the core of the human person, the place of the soul, where the encounter between God and man takes place."

"The heart is, in fact, not only the most inner sanctum of the human person, but also the root of the human will. According to the Jesuit understanding, the heart is the source of human action and endurance. Therefore, both personal conversion and solidarity begin with the human heart."

"This is the concept of heart that has formed Pope Francis. In 10 years of written homilies, speeches and pastoral letters, the then-archbishop of Buenos Aires has mentioned the heart from this perspective an average of four times per occasion."

I agree with the analysis given by Alejandro. Pope Francis teaches, preaches and lives with his heart. His gospel simplicity informs an evangelical way of life which speaks through both his words and his actions. He lives in the heart of the Church for the sake of the world. He challenges everyone of us who bear the name Christian, no matter what our state in life, vocation or career, to do the same.

Tomorrow the crowds will gather once again. The joy and promise of the Gospel of Jesus Christ will be proclaimed by a man who was sent by the Holy Spirit in the nick of time. God still loves the world so much that he sends His Son, Jesus Christ - now through His Body, the Church which He established. It is through that Church that the Risen Jesus continues his ongoing redemptive mission.

The Holy Spirit has always brought about a renewal of Christ's Church, just in the nick of time - right when many said she was down for the count. It is that same Holy Spirit which is inspiring the crowds. It is the same Holy Spirit which is winning hearts and drawing crowds at World Youth Day 2013.  Stay tuned, and see what happens next! The Church is rising and a new missionary age stretches out ahead.

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