After being Pope for two years, a look into the legacy Pope Francis is creating is one of change and unity. Contrary to the media reports, however, Pope Francis has not changed doctrine. He has only enhanced the Church and its influence. Additionally, the Pope has ensured the poor are not only taken care of, but are treated with respect, dignity, and honor. He has also worked diligently in bridging the increasing gap between the Church and Protestantism.
Pope Francis told a group of Pentecostal Anglican bishops in Rome during a meeting in October 2014, that Catholics and Evangelicals should pray and work together and to stop focusing on differences. To continue focusing on differences, according to the Pope, is ‘sinning against Christ’s will,” because, according to Pope Francis, “our shared baptism is more important than our differences.”
The Pope put his beliefs of bridging differences and building a bridge between Evangelicals and Catholics by inviting Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Church, and Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission, to meet with the Pope at the Vatican regarding beliefs in marriage and the gospel. Pope Francis has also interacted and discussed views and beliefs with notable Protestants Geoff Tunnicliffe and Brian Stiller of the World Evangelical Alliance, Pastor Joel Osteen, Kenneth Copeland and James Robison, as well as members of the Green Family (founders of Hobby Lobby) and Westmont College president Gayle Beebe. Regarding why the Pope was reaching out and meeting with these top Protestant leaders, Francis told Pentecostal leaders at a Kenneth Copeland conference, ‘we are brothers.’ Pope Francis has made progress in these attempts by receiving public support from Protestant leaders such as Luis Palau, who described Francis as a personal friend and a ‘very Bible-centered’ and ‘very Jesus Christ-centered man.”
In addition to his work toward bringing unity among the Christian family, Catholics and Evangelicals, Pope Francis has increasingly reached out to the poor and has cared for social outcasts.
Francis and the Vatican gained a lot of press when a homeless man, referred to only as Willy, was buried in the old Germanic cemetery in Vatican City State in January 2015 after his funeral was held in the chapel of the Teutonic Cemetery. The homeless man, who reports said was always faithful to attend Mass, share his faith, and encourage others to attend daily Mass, encouraged and increased the spiritual lives of those he encountered.
However, Francis also takes a personal attention to the poor by joining Archbishop Konrad Krajewski in nightly trips into Rome to give alms to the poor after leaving the Vatican at night, dressed as a regular priest, to meet with the homeless men and women of Rome. It is not unusual, however, for the Pope to take nocturnal wanderings since the Church’s history records stories of Pope John XIII sneaking out at night to enjoy the beauty of Rome in the evenings and Pope Pius XII dressing as a Franciscan during WWII to help smuggle Rome’s Jewish population to safety. Howeve, there have not been reports of a Pope venturing among Rome’s poor at night to give alms and meet with the homeless…until Francis. Prior to becoming Pope, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Pope Francis), was regularly known to sneak out at night to sit with the homeless, break bread with them, eat with them, and just love them. He carried that behavior into his papacy.
Additionally, the Pope recently reached out to the homeless by donating funds for two busloads of homeless and sick pilgrims to be transported to visit and venerate the Shroud of Turin. The homeless were given a small amount of money to purchase drinks of they chose during the long ride on the bus and were housed at two charitable centers which offer shelter to the homeless in the winter.
The Pope’s actions, concern, and care for the poor has gained him some praise and acknowledgement from Evangelical leaders, after Russell Moore said he admired the Catholic leader’s track record of caring for the poor and social outcasts and said he prays the pope’s example will touch Evangelicals.
“I pray that his example spurs Evangelicals like me to remember our mandate to love the least of these, the hurting and the vulnerable, the brothers and sisters of our Lord,” Moore said.
Lastly,Pope Francis has created a change of tone during his papacy by referring to himself as ‘a sinner’, asking ‘who am I to judge?’ and encouraging Christians to go out to ‘the peripheries’ of life. Pope Francis has also denounced a society where things and people are considered ‘disposable’. Bringing a different tone and view to the Vatican as a pastor, instead of an academic scholar like his predecessors Benedict XVI and John Paul II, it causes a different style and tone which appears to be working.
He has addressed corruption of the Vatican, tackled financial shenanigans, and increased accountability over clergy sex abuse. Perhaps the most important change is Pope Francis’ overall papacy, with all aspects combined, has helped increase the spirituality of everyday life for people and increased individuals’ personal relationship with God and a deeper experience of faith. He has emphasized a strongly spiritual life for Catholics and began getting rid of Catholicism being perceived as a simple and lifeless set of rules to follow and things to do.
With only two years into his papacy, Pope Francis is set to make leaps and bounds with issues and barriers the Church has faced. Time will tell just how powerful this legacy will be for the Church.