Tone of Catholic church revolutionized by Pope Francis

Sarah Brewington | News Editor

The white robes of Pope Francis trail the floors of Washington D.C., the halls of congress, and Philadelphia among other locations on the Pope’s visit to the United States of America. The pope has made his first visit to the U.S., after being appointed to the position in 2013.

Pope Francis has made himself a “people’s pope” and a favorite in the Roman Catholic world, as his expressive stances on gay marriage, divorce, contraception and the environment, have aligned the Catholic Church with millions of people, Catholics and non-Catholics, alike.

The voice of Pope Francis has reached far and wide, even to the other side of the continent on our own campus. Our Roman Catholic university has not been exempt from the excitement that comes with the pope and his visit. University Ministry, USD students and the USD community have all been engaged in the discussion of the pope and what his actions mean for the Catholic community.

Michael Lovette-Colyer is the Assistant Vice President Director of University Ministry. Lovette-Colyer has been very involved in the pope’s arrival, from television interviews to managing viewings for the USD community.

Lovette-Colyer explains that Pope Francis is popular because he is altering the Catholic Church, but not in the ways some think.

“He has not changed doctrine,” Lovette-Colyer said. “He has really emphasized the things that are so attractive to some people and a lot of that is what people agree on. There is a change in tone and more than anything that compassion is much more important than judgmentalism.”

The change in tone that Lovette-Colyer is talking about, seems to be the pope’s acceptance of people that were otherwise distanced from the Catholic church.

For example, members of the lesbian, gay, transgender and questioning or queer (LGBTQ) community have been held at arms length. The pope is now famous for his position of “Who am I to judge,”; he has held meetings with gay and lesbian Catholics to demonstrate a motif of acceptance and love.

Additionally, the pope has also welcomed people who are divorced and re-married. These individuals were not allowed to receive the Eucharist at Communion, and Pope Francis explained in previous interviews that he cannot hope to welcome new members into the Catholic community by keeping their parents and friends at a distance.

These are a few of the themes that the pope has addressed since taking office. Such stances have created a thrill amongst USD community members.  

Lovette-Colyer expressed his own zeal in regards to Pope Francis.

“What is so great about Pope Francis, and why I appreciate him so much, is that he emphasizes simplicity, humility and mercy,” Lovette-Colyer said.

Lovette-Colyer explained that it is the pope’s humanity that makes him so appealing.

“Francis writes a lot about his joy,” Lovette-Colyer said. “He comes across as very human and in touch with the brokenness of the world, but still being able to laugh.”

Young and old, religious and atheist, the pope has been embraced by an overwhelming amount of people.

Junior Samantha Seibt is spending her semester in Washington D.C. Seibt divulges some insight on the time in our nation’s capital surrounding the pope’s arrival.

“Everyone was really concerned about traffic being awful,” Seibt said. “A lot of people got work off. My boss let us off early to avoid the bad rush. But really it seemed pretty calm. Lots of security and street closures. The people I know that saw him thought it was pretty cool, some people didn’t care at all and saw him as an inconvenience. I thought it was cool he came and that the city was so well organized.”

Seibt grew up Catholic, but finds that she has never really taken to being more than Catholic in name. She has recently aligned with Christian values and goes to a weekly non-denominational service. Although Seibt herself does not plan on becoming a part of the Catholic Church, she is pleased at the pope’s new stances.

“I think it is good that he acknowledges [remarried citizens, after divorce] because it’s a part of society,” Seibt said. “My dad was Catholic and got a divorce and married my mom, so I think it’s okay.”

While Seibt is amongst many who are pleased with the pope, she finds that he is not enough to sway her back to Catholicism.

“I never really connected with anything they said,” Seibt said. “I support gay marriage so I am against what the Church says.”

However, Seibt added that USD has surpassed the Catholic Church in ways that might even be more admirable than the pope himself.

“USD seems pretty progressive so they may even be ahead of the Church,” Seibt said. “USD already seems to be following his climate change initiative and willingness to help others.”

Other students at USD who identify as Catholic gained enthusiasm for their religion with the involvement of Pope Francis. Junior Brianna Harrington considers herself Catholic. She expresses her admiration towards Pope Francis.

“I love the pope!” Harrington said. “I have never really paid attention to any of the other pope’s speeches or anything, but he is amazing. I honestly think it’s about time for the church to have more liberal minded person in the papacy.”

Similar to Seibt, Harrington is pleased about the pope’s stance on remarried individuals. One of her parents is remarried and considers themselves to be Catholic. In addition, Harrington also admires the pope’s stance on climate change.

The pope even studied chemistry during his academic career, before entering the seminary. His address on climate change has created mixed reactions.

“I call for a courageous and responsible effort to ‘redirect our steps,’ and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity,” the pope said. “I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play.”

This statement captured the attention of environmentalists. Lovette-Colyer explained that the Church had taken a more distanced approach to climate change before, and with the pope addressing it this past week, has solidified a new directive to save the earth. Lovette-Colyer also explained that some welcome the pope’s approach and others think he should stick to religion.

Harrington was extremely pleased with the pope’s stance on climate change.

“I literally whooped for joy when I read his statement on climate change,” Harrington said. “His argument is that God gave us this earth, therefore we need to care for it, not mistreat it, and make it last as long as possible.”

Harrington expands her opinion saying that his voice will expand beyond the Catholic community.

“I thoroughly agree with him, and I think his saying that, will have a tremendous impact within the faith community, and even without, because he has such great influence,” Harrington said.

While Harrington is a faithful Catholic, she reveals this was not always the case.

“There was a period of a few years where I did [stray from the Church],” Harrington said. “I was diagnosed with an eating disorder and all the things that come with it (depression, anxiety, etc.) I couldn’t understand why God would let something so horrible happen to someone like me, and for the longest time I hated the idea of an all-loving, all-powerful being that would let me suffer and live through that. I refused to go to church, I openly admitted my hate for God and I couldn’t stand people talking to me about the subject.”

While Harrington has since returned to Catholicism with the influence of friends, she finds that the appeal of Pope Francis might not be enough to summon ex-Catholics back to the Church.

“There are some people that have had experiences that have just pushed them to far,” Harrington said. “From personal experience, I can tell you that it is really difficult to return to the church after you’ve had an issue with it. However, I do think that the Catholic Church being lead in a less conservative direction will bring more people back and maybe even bring new people in.”

The only thing that Harrington disagrees with is the Catholic Church’s stance on gay marriage.

“My qualm with it is that we still won’t allow couples to be married within the church,” Harrington said. “The pope has made clear that we should be accepting of everyone regardless of sexual orientation, but it’s still maintained that they cannot get married. That is just wrong to me, because what happens when you’re a gay couple who loves their faith and their church, and wants so desperately to get married in the church, but you’re turned away? I can’t imagine anything more painful than that. I think it’s also hypocritical because we have so many teachings on love and acceptance, and yet we can’t put that positive energy out in the world.”

Michael Lovette-Colyer appeared on a news station last week to discuss the pope. He explained that he is in awe of how simple yet encompassing the pope has been.

“It is so important that he cannot be reduced to being progressive or liberal,” Lovette-Colyer said.

Monsignor Daniel Dillabough is the vice president of mission and ministry at USD, working for the university since 1998. He believes that it is important to recognize Pope Francis for what he is actually doing, rather than what people think he is doing.

“It is important to begin by realizing that the pope is not coming from a place of trying to lobby for political positions but rather for a pastoral visit to a country he has never visited,” Dillabough said. “He will be emphasizing the theme of mercy that he has chosen for the upcoming Holy Year. Related to this the Holy Father has addressed some processes or practices in the Catholic Church trying to bring home the message. He has simplified the annulment process, made absolution for abortion more pastorally sensitive, and called for care for creation and the dignity of all persons. Various groups have tried to politicize some of these or read more into his statements.”

Dillabough explains his own opinion of Pope Francis.

“I think Pope Francis has been a gift to the Church and to the world,” Dillabough says. “His gift of compassion and mercy for all is so visible that he has captured the attention and imagination of all people. His example of gospel simplicity and care for the poor has challenged us all to think about how we care for people especially the disenfranchised, the marginalized and the persecuted.”

Dillabough continued explaining how USD being Catholic ties into the pope’s messages.

“As a Catholic university I think that the pope’s witness challenges us to do what we are called to do, what a university is supposed to do: search for the truth, a truth that ultimately leads us to God,” Dillabough said. “I hope that our attention to Catholic Social Tradition is already ingrained in the many ways. We already recognize the dignity of every person and the service learning that helps us recognize our responsibility for the planet and all who live on it.”

Dillabough elaborated, explaining that even beyond past even the walls of USD, the pope causes reflection into many outlooks, some close to the San Diego community.

“As a Catholic university on the border he particularly invites us to look at the immigration question that confronts not only in our country but the world,” Dillabough said. “As he opens the World Conference on the Family I would be surprised if he says anything radically different about basic teaching on marriage or family but rather I suspect he will emphasize the need to support healthy marriages and families by helping poor families, right to work, emigrate, and freedom of religion.”

Dillabough then elaborated on his own opinions of Pope Francis.

“In my opinion,” Dillabough said. “Pope Francis invites us to dialogue, not blind obedience, to discuss these challenging issues not accepting solely what our secular culture might suggest. I think it is a wonderful and exciting time for the Church and Catholic universities because we have a pope who calls us to discernment and who models what he teaches by challenging the status quo within the church and in the world.”

Even though Pope Francis has now left America, his impact on the USD community will continue to grow. USD students who want to become more involved with following the pope can go onto USD’s new website link that discusses all things Pope Francis.

The pope’s humanity permeates the hearts of many American citizens, and while not all students are aligned with Catholic doctrine, many Catholic students and faculty at USD are pleased with the pope.

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