It has been a year since Pope Francis visited Philadelphia and the United States, but has anything changed as a result of his time here?
In the year before the Pope’s arrival in the U.S., the Church was rocked by scandal. Controversy over the Church’s handling of pedophile priests seemed to dominate the media. Many Catholics, at least prior to Pope Francis, saw their faith in the institution of the Church falter and waver.
Then came Pope Francis who was quite distinct from his predecessors. He was humble, and energetic. His small gestures of humanity and mercy reminded us that the Pope truly is Christ’s representative on Earth. He reminded us that the Church is not just about administration but has a pastoral duty as well. He then modeled this behavior for all to follow.
While warm with the people, he was stern on the inside. The Vatican was cleaned up as he dismissed people he felt had the wrong attitude towards their duty. He launched investigations, and staged reforms.
Pope Francis was the breath of fresh air that so many Catholics needed, especially those of us in the United States.
His visit to Philadelphia was an opportunity to give hope to the Catholic community there.
Philadelphia was a sort of ground zero for the clergy abuse scandal. The city is home to millions of Catholics and has a robust Catholic education system. However, decades of abuse and cover up drew attention from both prosecutors and angry parishioners alike. The Church had been slow in dealing with the crisis which was overshadowing all its other important work.
Pope Francis’ visit reminded the people that the Church was much more than what the media liked to sensationalize. The Church was dealing with its problems with great energy and an unrivalled aim toward justice. But that alone was not enough. The poor needed care, the people needed pastoral attention, and the Church needed pride.
Pope Francis ducked out of a meeting with Washington politicians to dine with the homeless. What greater example of how to be could he be?
Following the visit of Pope Francis, it got those things and more.
Monsignor Joseph Garvin of St. Christopher Parish told the “Philly Voice” that, “I used to enjoy just slipping into a sports jersey and going to a mall. Now, I usually wear a collar wherever I go. I’m not ashamed to be a priest. The cordial treatment I would get before is even better.”
According to the Philly Voice, Catholic school enrollment continues to decline. However, other metrics suggest Pope Francis is helping Catholics to get their spirit back. The same associated with the Church and its scandals is evaporating as Pope Francis cracks down on abusers and those who protect them.
Pope Francis, who ate with the poor and destitute, who washed prisoners’ feet, has revived the Catholic pastoral spirit for both clergy and laymen alike.
The pews are not overflowing according to any accounts, but attendance has improved. Activity among Catholics has improved. Pride is back.
Just as with Pope John Paul II’s visit to Denver two decades ago, it can take time for all the benefits of a papal visit to show up. But it is widely hoped that enrollments, vocations and attendance will rise again. We have a pope we can be proud of. We have a pope who is showing us, not telling us, how Christ wants us to be. And that pope has paid us a warm visit. As Americans, we should be inspired by his charity and example, and we should be willing and happy to follow.