The Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life hosted a panel discussion on the impact of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States and his message on politics, culture and religion last Monday evening in Gaston Hall.
The panel discussion, which was titled “Francis Factor Revisited,” featured guests such as former spokesperson for the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Kim Daniels, President of the Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities Alexia Kelley, Public Broadcasting Service NewsHour commentator Mark Shields, ABC News political commentator Cokie Roberts and former Chairman of the Republican National Committee Michael Steele.
Monday’s panel was the second installment of a series of dialogues on the effect Pope Francis has had on Catholics around the world. The series began two years ago six months after Pope Francis was appointed.
University President John J. DeGioia introduced the panel and remarked on the many ways that the pope has lived out his call for Catholics to serve those most in need.
“The spirit at the heart of this initiative, spirit animated by a dedication to seeking peace, justice and understanding, resonates deeply within our community,” DeGioia said.
The panel, mediated by ICSTPL Director John Carr, began with a discussion of the pope’s address to a joint session of Congress and the progress Catholics have made within the United States.
“The person most responsible for our remarkable progress has been Pope Francis,” Carr said. “He was this solitary figure in white standing in front of a packed chamber, before two Catholic boys from Ohio and Pennsylvania.”
Roberts said that the papal visit had many implications on the United States.
“The message of the entire week is a challenge to all of us,” Roberts said. “We have to go do something now. It’s a great big challenge and one that we have to think about and find ways to act on all the time.”
Steele said that the papal visit is a sign of the increasing acceptance of Catholicism in the United States over the past decades.
“You think back just 55, 60 years ago at the level of anti-Catholicism that was rampant across America,” Steele said. “Flash forward here, in the well of the Congress is His Holiness Pope Francis speaking to the country, rapt attention. … We have turned a corner.”
Daniels spoke about the significance of the pope’s message to U.S. bishops.
“For the American bishops, he had a message of encouragement and a message of challenge,” Daniels said. “The American bishops have been second to none in their advocacy for and their on-the-ground work for the poor and the immigrant.”
The panel then moved on to questions related to the pope’s message to youth.
Kelley said that the pope’s message is universal.
“Francis’ message isn’t limited to a generation, and he is inspiring people across generations,” Kelley said. “The next generation of younger folks do have particular and unique values. … They want to be invited to participate and are drawn more to causes than institutions.”
Questions from the audience covered a range of issues, including the pro-life position of the church, the death penalty and the role of women in the church.
While Roberts said that women are still treated as second-class citizens within the Catholic Church, Kelley pointed out that women are currently leaders of major Catholic organizations.
“There are women now, there were women then, who are leading really important work, and it’s important that their leadership is visible,” Kelley said.
After the discussion and question-and-answer session formally ended, the panelists remained in Gaston Hall to answer individual questions from members of the audience who chose to remain in the auditorium.
During this time, Daniels said that the pope gave witness to the fullness of Catholic social teaching and the gospel.
“I think Georgetown students can be real leaders on all these issues if they act in their personal lives, deep in their prayer lives as Pope Francis called for [and] in the action they take in response to his witness this week,” Daniels said.
Kyle Rinaudo (SFS ’18) said that the panelists covered the issues with a passion he did not expect to see.
“I got to see some real perspectives by these people who are usually more pithy,” Rinaudo said. “It was interesting to see them talk honestly about these issues.”