By Duke Staff
Pope Francis concluded his 10-day visit to North America last Sunday after visiting several cities in Cuba and the United States.
New York City, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. ground to a halt as they, along with the rest of the country, were captivated by the Pope’s presence. In the first papal visit since Pope Benedict XVI traveled to Washington D.C. and New York in 2008, it seemed as though everyone put aside issues of politics or war for the moment to listen to what Pope Francis had to say.
It’s no question that Catholicism is declining in the United States. Less and less people are affiliating with Christian religions; a Pew Research Center study shows that from 2007 to 2014, Catholic association declined from 23.9 percent to 20.8 percent. Christianity as a whole decreased 7.8 percent, from 78.4 percent in 2007 to 70.6 percent in 2014.
Yet Pope Francis’ image doesn’t seem to be affected by that. According to a CNN article, 78 percent of Catholics and 61 percent of non-Catholics view the pope favorably and were looking forward to his American visit.
What, then, is it about Pope Francis that makes Catholics want to dress up their babies to resemble him? What is it about Pope Francis that makes atheists want to stand outside for hours to watch him drive by? What is it about Pope Francis that makes 20,000 people want to pack into Madison Square Garden to celebrate Mass with him?
For starters, Pope Francis does a lot of things right in a world where many consider the Catholic Church to be wrong. He’s forgiving with matters that are highly controversial, such as allowing priests to absolve women who have had abortions, placing no judgment on homosexuals who love God or reforming the process for married couples to receive an annulment. He’s a friend to the environment, advocating for widespread access to clean water and stronger actions to stop global warming. He cares about all people regardless of backgrounds, visiting immigrant classrooms and calling churches to house Syrian refugees.
Pope Francis isn’t perfect, but he’s making progress. In America today, Christian religion tends to be associated with an old-world, narrow-minded, conservative view. This nation sees so many stories about hatred, exclusion and cruelty carried out in the name of God, like Kim Davis or the Westboro Baptist Church. The American people are fascinated with Pope Francis because he’s reminded them of what Christian religion is supposed to be: loving, genuine, selfless and welcoming.
Pope Francis told a reporter for TIME that he was most surprised by the “warmth” of the American people. The same can be said for what surprised the American people most about him.