The following is an account of a Feb. 12 colloquium led by Siena College president Kevin Mullen, OFM, and a colleague. This article originally appeared on Siena’s website and is reprinted with permission.
Since being elected pope last March, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now known as Francis, has been making people reconsider their perceptions of the leader of the Catholic Church.
Francis is a man of firsts. He is the first Latin American pope, hailing from Argentina, where he served for 15 years as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. The 76-year-old is also the first Jesuit pope, and the first to take the name Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi.
Pope Francis was named “Person of the Year” by Time and by the influential LGBT news magazine The Advocate. He interacts with the public on Twitter, often departs from his prepared remarks to speak off the cuff and is remarkably frank in interviews. But does all that make Pope Francis the people’s pope?
That was the question Siena College president Kevin Mullen, OFM, ’75, and professor of religious studies Tom Dickens analyzed during a colloquium titled “Pope Francis: The People’s Pope? A Look Back at His First Year.” The colloquium, which was sponsored by the college’s religious studies department and the Franciscan Center for Catholic Studies, discussed various aspects of Francis’s actions since he succeeded Pope Benedict XVI one year ago.
Kevin and Dickens agreed Pope Francis has captured the imaginations of millions across the globe.
Reflecting on his leadership style, Kevin explained that Pope Francis is not afraid to take risks, adding that the pope seems to be a fellow human who is spiritual, compassionate and wise, with a wisdom based not only on religious tradition, but on his personal experience and example. According to Kevin, Pope Francis demonstrates his humanity by turning down the trappings of his position and choosing to live a more ordinary life. For example, Pope Francis makes his residence in a humble apartment, not the papal palace, and drives a Ford Focus instead of the Vatican’s Mercedes.
Dickens spoke about the pope’s commitment to social justice, his desire to create a culture of encounter and his insistence that the Church and society must accompany the poor. He explained that Pope Francis believes that we can learn from others and be corrected by them. He also talked about the pope’s willingness to embrace everybody and to try to reduce suffering in all forms.
“He has a willingness to encounter the sick, poor, and migrants, and he is not afraid to express this,” said Kevin, who added that Pope Francis has captivated the world, especially young people.
The students who attended the colloquium seemed to agree. “I was interested to see how Pope Francis’s goals closely align with those of Siena College. As a young person, I am hopeful to see what our new pope has to offer,” said Caroline Bertholf, ’15.
After the formal presentations ended, attendees asked questions and commented on their own feelings about the pope who, if nothing else, has certainly captured their attention.
— Mary Barrett is a senior at Siena College.