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Tags: Immigration | Latin America | Pope Francis

Excitement Builds Ahead of Pope Visit

Excitement Builds Ahead of Pope Visit

Gregory Erlandson By Wednesday, 09 September 2015 09:17 AM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

If there isn’t already enough to argue about regarding Pope Francis, now there is a disagreement over crowd sizes.

Depending on who you ask, either the Pope’s audiences in Rome are some of the most popular in recent memory, with 2014 crowds only a smidge less than 2013, as reports veteran Vatican reporter John Allen, or 2014 is down significantly from 2013, as reports Italian journalist Sandro Magister.

Such barometers of popularity seem particularly unimportant when it comes to the Vicar of Christ, but these metrics form the basis of celebrity culture.

Inquiring minds want to know the Pope’s “Q Score” — that metric by which advertisers measure popularity. We will see many such measurements ahead of Pope Francis’ upcoming trip to the United States.

Will he shut down cities or just neighborhoods? Will the crowds turn out for his closing Mass in Philadelphia, or will the scaredy-cats all stay away because of the security perimeter or the traffic congestion?

Will the rumors of crowds keep away the crowds, and what will that tell us about American Catholics? About the Pope? About the state of religion in America? Stay tuned.

Despite the endless stream of interviews and books (yes, Our Sunday Visitor has contributed to that glut, and cheerfully so) including pre-trip commemorative books and post-trip commemorative books. The truth is that Francis is still a bit of a mystery.

We are all trying to get a handle on the pontiff. We want him to be easily categorized, and he seems determined not to be.

A recent daylong series of briefings for 200 journalists held in Philadelphia by the Religion Newswriters Association had an impressive lineup of speakers, but perhaps the most repeated phrase was “we just don’t know.” We don’t know what surprises will take place or what off-the-cuff remark will get the headlines.

We don’t really know if he loves us (birthplace of religious freedom) or distrusts us (unbridled capitalism, throwaway culture).

I’ll go out on a limb and say the surprise may include a lack of big surprises. He may not say anything we haven’t heard before when speaking to Congress. Yet when he exits the Capitol and goes straight to a meeting with poor families arranged by Catholic Charities, the juxtaposition will be surprising.

He may not shake his finger at us the way Pope John Paul II did to Father Ernesto Cardenal in Nicaragua, but when he visits a prison, or meets with abuse victims, or spends time with immigrant families, our consciences may feel a bit like he’s wagged a digit in our direction.

We may have gotten a sneak preview of at least part of the papal agenda during the ABC special report, “The Pope and the People.” The show was brilliantly structured, featuring Pope Francis in a video conference with three groups of people who reside on what the Pope calls “the periphery,” those psychic as well as physical outposts of every society: Latino youth at a Catholic school, homeless in Los Angeles, and recent immigrants in Texas.

The encounters were full of tears, but also showcased the Pope as pastor, giving counsel and blessings to those who were hurting.

He even told a nun that he loved her and admired all that women Religious are doing in this country. This is a Pope whose surprises are often very commonplace and human scale, what Father Tom Rosica calls the “revolution of normalcy.”

What no one is really talking about is the fact that the Pope may himself be a bit surprised. Because despite American Catholics’ constant fretting about the state of the church in our country, the truth is, our spiritual Q score is actually not bad compared to most of the West.

As one British commentator recently told me, we worry here about how the church can have a greater impact on the cultural discussions of our day, while in Europe the church is not even invited to the table anymore. U.S. parishes still retain an extraordinary amount of vitality.

Our numbers may be down, yet we are holding our own quite well in comparison to other churches and other faiths.

This son of immigrants may also be surprised at how much he has in common with the American immigrant spirit, and he may find that our unbridled capitalism is accompanied by unbridled generosity.

This will be a trip of surprises. We’ve come to expect nothing less from this pontificate. It would be a real blessing if we came away from this encounter a bit surprised — and a bit less pessimistic — about ourselves as well.

Gregory R. Erlandson is publisher of the Publishing Division for Our Sunday Visitor, one of the largest Catholic publishing companies in the United States. Erlandson is also an adviser on the U.S. Bishops’ Communications Committee, and has been appointed by Pope Benedict XVI as a consultant to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. Read more reports from him — Click Here Now.

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This will be a trip of surprises. We’ve come to expect nothing less from this pontificate. It would be a real blessing if we came away from this encounter a bit surprised — and a bit less pessimistic — about ourselves as well.
Immigration, Latin America, Pope Francis
Wednesday, 09 September 2015 09:17 AM
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