The Impact of Pope Francis - 1 Year Later

By Matt Manion
President & CEO

It was one year ago that the College of Cardinals elected Pope Francis.  I remember sitting in the conference room at Catholic Leadership Institute with my colleagues anxiously awaiting to see who would walk out on the balcony and wondering what impact he would have on my life and on the Church I love.
As I reflect on his first year, three things stand out to me.

He has captured the world's attention first and foremost by being a man of love.  He exudes the love of Jesus Christ and people are mesmerized by it.  As I walk through the airport, his warm, loving smile greets me at every newsstand and magazine store.  My Catholic and non-Catholic friends all want to talk about him.   When I close my eyes, I see him hugging the infirmed, talking to the homeless, engaging in conversation with those who disagree with him and inviting them to know Jesus, I see him smiling like a grandfather as a little boy sits in his seat in front of millions.  When I close my eyes and picture the Holy Father, I see holiness because I see love…and I am challenged to be more loving.

He has been very clear that our call as Catholics is not simply to be a follower of Jesus Christ.  As disciples of Jesus, we are called to be missionaries.  He writes in Evangelii Gaudium, section 120:

  • "In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples" (cf. Mt28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients.  
  • The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God's saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love. Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are "disciples" and "missionaries", but rather that we are always "missionary disciples".
  • If we are not convinced, let us look at those first disciples, who, immediately after encountering the gaze of Jesus, went forth to proclaim him joyfully: "We have found the Messiah!" (Jn 1:41). The Samaritan woman became a missionary immediately after speaking with Jesus and many Samaritans come to believe in him "because of the woman's testimony" (Jn 4:39). So too, Saint Paul, after his encounter with Jesus Christ, "immediately proclaimed Jesus" (Acts 9:20; cf. 22:6-21). So what are we waiting for?"

Great question--what are we waiting for?  And as I read this, I realized I have no excuses.  And so I have been more aware of opportunities to talk about Jesus and what He means to me.  I have been looking for opportunities to invite others to come and see.  As a small example, last Sunday, I joined my 7 year old daughter, Kathleen, in walking over to our Protestant next door neighbor's home and giving him a copy of the schedule of Lenten activities at our parish.  With Kathleen, I invited them to join us for any of the services if they'd like (full disclosure: it was her idea, but I supported her in it...).

I continue to be stretched by Pope Francis to go beyond my comfort zone and move from simply working on my relationship with the Lord to answering my call to be a missionary disciple and share that relationship with others.  It's been scary and exhilarating and awesome.

The last thing that comes to mind when I reflect on Pope Francis's first year is the tremendous courage shown by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, in resigning the papacy.  I think it was one of the most amazing acts of leadership I may ever see in my lifetime.  To have the fortitude and humility to do something that hadn't been done in 600 years is so inspiring to me.  He prayerfully discerned what he thought was the best thing to do for the Church and the flock he loved and had the courage to do it.  It was Pope Benedict's choice that opened the door for the Holy Spirit to work through the College of Cardinals and bring us Pope Francis.

As a Catholic leader, I remain inspired and challenged by his decision.  As part of my morning prayer each day, I pray, "Lord, help me to know your will and to have the courage to follow it."  In my service to my parish and to Catholic Leadership Institute, I pray for the wisdom to know what parts of the ministry I should let go of, so the next leader can step in.  It's a challenge for every leader to remember that there is a God, and we are not him.  Pope Francis is inspiring me and so many others because of the saintly courage of Pope Benedict XVI.  I hope his papacy inspires other Catholic leaders to the same level of courage to follow God's will, however radical it may seem.

As we mark the first anniversary of the leadership of Pope Francis, I pray that each of us grow in love, missionary zeal, and courage.  May God bless our Holy Father and the people he leads.