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Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Pope Francis’ Influence Reaches Georgetown

COURTESY GEORGETOWN Fr. Matthew Carnes, S.J., has found that Pope Francis has affected discussions in his courses, including “Comparative Political Systems"
Fr. Matthew Carnes, S.J., has found that Pope Francis has affected discussions in his courses, including “Comparative Political Systems”

Already nicknamed “Francis the Frugal” by international media in the 11 months since his elevation to the papacy, Pope Francis has influenced global political thinking and prompted interfaith conversation within the Georgetown community.

Born Jorge Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1936, Francis became the first South American as well as the first Jesuit priest to hold the position of pope when he was chosen March 13, 2013.

Pope Francis’ influence on the American political dialogue has been especially visible in his increased emphasis on legislation regarding poverty, according to Fr. Matthew Carnes, S.J.

“Some people who have been talking about poverty and inequality for a long time have been vindicated by Pope Francis. Other people have been challenged,” Carnes said. “Poverty seems to be something that everyone seems to be on the same side on. That’s a remarkable change.”

Professor of ethics and global development Fr. Drew Christiansen, S.J., concurred, noting Francis’ seamless ability to transcend the religious realm and enter the political.

“World leaders need a way to express their conviction in a way that takes hold. Moral authority in this world is very fragmented, and politicians have lots of competition for attention from other politicians and from the media and entertainment. The pope seems to gather attention the way few others have done, and so he has such a decisive impact that politicians want to go to him,” Christiansen said.

Carnes, an assistant professor of government at Georgetown, has observed Francis’ rhetoric affecting dialogue in his classrooms.

“I think he’s opened [students’] eyes and given them a chance to look at the Church again and understand it in a new way. I think people actually find a hope in Francis, a reason to open up and maybe believe,” Carnes said.

Patrick Denenea (COL ’17), who is Catholic, said he has seen a notable influence outside of the classroom as well.
“I definitely think that his teachings and actions have noticeably influenced how Catholics at Georgetown describe their own faith with each other and with others. Francis’ example is often turned to in homilies and spiritual discussions. I’ve also heard a lot of, ‘I’m not Catholic, but I really like your new pope,’” Denenea said.

Outside Guard for the Knights of Columbus Pat Brookhouser (SFS ’15) credited Francis’ positive influence on the Catholic community to his Jesuit roots.

“I’d say that Francis has been a great blessing for the Church. He has lived out what he said upon the announcement of his election; he has shown that the Church is not just another [nongovernmental organization]. Ultimately I think it goes back to his Jesuit formation where he experienced Christ’s infinite redemptive love and was set ablaze with the desire to proclaim that love in deed and word to the entire world,” Brookhouser said.

According to Carnes, whose research focuses on Latin America, Francis’ Latin American origins have also had a significant influence on his papal agenda.

“Historically, Latin America has the highest degree of income inequality in the world. In the pope’s experience, he regularly saw the wide wealth disparity between the poor who were living in what Argentinians call villas miserias and the big city, and these are often within a hundred yards of each other,” Carnes said.

Liberation theology, a Catholic movement that interprets Catholic teachings in relation to the poor’s suffering, has also played a decisive role in Francis’ actions as pope. Liberation theology gained popularity in Latin America throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

“You can know a man by his friends. A lot of his friends — theologically, socially and otherwise — are people who embraced a critical version of liberation theology — not the first raw versions that were more Marxist than they were Gospel, but the second-generation thinkers that took what was best with those movements and combined them with the love of Jesus,” Program for Jewish Civilization professor Fr. Dennis McManus said.

McManus said Francis has clearly demonstrated Jesuit philosophy in the way he has presented himself.

“The Jesuit way is the way he integrates everything in his life; it is the key to everything. He says, ‘I’m human, I’m imperfect, I love people, I try hard, but it’s really God who’s looked on me in my misery and lifts me up.’ That’s Jesuit life,” McManus said.

In contrast to his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, Francis has placed an emphasis on using his personal instinct in the papacy — leading many to categorize him as more radical.

“Pope Francis’ mind works in a pastoral rather than an academic way. Pope Francis is trained in theology like any bishop, but he operates intuitively with people. Because he sees things through the heart, his answers are often radical compared to Western political thinking,” McManus said.

Christiansen agreed.

“He’s speaks out so strongly and does it so vividly that it’s out there in a way that has a lot of conviction. It’s no longer a teaching. It’s the pope expressing his deepest convictions,” Christiansen said.

Carnes pointed out that while Francis’ rhetoric about poverty is no different from that of his predecessors, he has managed to bring more attention to this rhetoric by backing it up with action.

“You understand Francis’ concern for the poor not just because of the words he says, but because you see him walking into the favela or the poorer areas of Rome. You see it and it gets you in the gut. The words are similar, but the gestures mean a lot, too.”

Francis’ reach is not limited to those within the Catholic faith. Muslim Students Association President Erva Khan (NHS ’15) applauded the pope for his promotion of interfaith dialogue and cultivation of Catholic-Muslim relations.

“As a Muslim, I commend Pope Francis for the work he has done, especially in terms of promotion of conflict resolution and interfaith understanding. I look forward to seeing the progress made by Pope Francis and the Church in the coming years, and I have high hopes that there will be great strides in Muslim-Christian understanding,” Khan said.

Secular Student Alliance Member Nicolò Donà dalle Rose (SFS ’15) echoed support for the pope’s social-justice-motivated rhetoric.

“I’m very curious to see what he will do. I think he’s changed the conversation. There’s a more open-minded approach to a lot of social justice issues,” Rose said.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Fr. Dennis McManus as a Jesuit.

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    rev. dennis mcmanusSep 20, 2015 at 7:58 pm


    Thanks for this wonderful article. May I ask if one small error might be corrected? Since I am not a Jesuit, the initials “S.J.” should be removed from after my name.

    Again, thanks for quite a well written piece. Much appreciated.

    Fr. Dennis McManus