Duke Divinity School’s Faith & Leadership asked me for some thoughts on how Pope Francis’s model of leadership might affect everyday Catholics, both those working in the church and those sitting in the pews. What immediately came to mind: if this pope’s model of humble servant leadership prompted even a tiny fraction of the world’s one billion Catholics to adjust how they love their neighbors, the cumulative effect would be transformative. Here’s a snippet of the essay:

Finally, out onto the balcony stepped Pope Francis, formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina.

And at once, in our office and throughout the world, a single question rang out: “Who?”

Since then, we’ve witnessed Francis eschew fancy dress, decline an opulent apartment and speak repeatedly of the need to remember the poor. On Holy Thursday, we saw him wash the feet of young men and — even more significantly — young women, all residents of a juvenile detention center in Rome. Two were Muslims.

Watching this new pope — my new pope — I have felt like a political junkie whose candidate just won the big election. For years, some Catholics have felt marginalized, or at least ignored, by the Vatican bureaucracy. Francis’ pontificate seems to be saying, “I hear you!” in ways unimaginable even weeks ago. As one friend who works in the church put it, “It’s like Lent ended early.”

So what does this all mean for the millions who support the church around the world, either as ordained leaders, consecrated religious, or lay employees like me who work within or alongside the church?

Francis’ first few weeks as pope have been filled with powerful examples of humility and charity. They compel all Catholics, indeed arguably all Christians, to look at our lives and ask: How do I serve the poor and marginalized? Am I too attached to material goods? And a question particularly addressed to Catholics: Do I care and worry and argue more about the church and its politics than I do about Christ’s radically simple message of loving God and neighbor?

If the pope can convince even a tiny fraction of the world’s Catholics to focus on these questions — and then to act on their answers — imagine the profound impact he will have on the whole of humanity.

Read the rest here.

Categories: Beliefs

Michael J. O'Loughlin

Michael J. O'Loughlin

Michael J. O’Loughlin writes about religion and politics from Washington, D.C., paying close attention to the role of the Catholic Church in public life. His writing has appeared in Religion & Politics, the Jesuit magazine America, on BustedHalo.com, and in Duke Divinity School’s Faith & Leadership.

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