It’s not just that Time, Inc. has named Pope Francis its “Person of the Year.” And it’s not that every news agency from the New York Times to Fox News has written in complimentary fashion about the pontiff that makes him so beloved.
It’s that every time you read or see or hear something about the pope, it’s heartwarming or reassuring or reaffirming. His very life, even when judged from afar, seems to strengthen our faith — and not just the faith of Catholics, either.
Consider the words of journalist Robert Ellsberg — the son of Daniel Ellsberg who became something of a hero to journalists when he released the so-called “Pentagon Papers” during the Watergate Scandal.
Ellsberg, who is not Catholic, noted that a often-heard radio commentator considered the pope’s comments about the inequities between the rich and poor and decided it was “pure Marxism.”
The paragraph in the pope’s exhortation called Evangelii Gaudium — or “The Joy of the Gospel” noted that “some people continue to defend trickle-down (economic) theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.
“This opinion,” the pope wrote, “which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”
Ellsberg said on CNN.com that what the pope is offering is not ‘Marxism,’ but bedrock Catholic social teaching …”
“Pope Francis has taken it upon himself to speak for those who have no voice, to arouse the conscience of Christians, and to contribute to a culture of solidarity,” Ellsberg said. “He longs, he says, for a ‘Church which is poor and for the poor.’ ”
Ellsberg also noted that Dom Helder Camara, “another prophetic archbishop from Latin America, famously observed that ‘when I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.’ ” Some things never change, said Ellsberg.
Despite the criticism, much of it minor and meaningless, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York notes that Pope Francis has “captivated the world.”
In a story on the Catholic News Service, Cardinal Dolan said that “in all (the pope) does, through his humble ways and simple lifestyle, Pope Francis clearly radiates the joy that comes from loving God and caring for his people. There could be no finer choice for ‘Person of the Year.’ ”
And if that isn’t enough, we’ve learned from the Associated Press in the last week or two that Pope Francis “routinely sends his chief alms-giver and a contingent of Swiss guards onto the streets of Rome at night to do what he usually can’t do: comfort the poor and the homeless.”
A few times a week, the AP reported recently, “Archbishop Konrad Krajewski takes a few off-duty guards with him in his modest white Fiat to make the rounds of Rome’s train stations, where charities offer makeshift soup kitchens that feed 400 to 500 people a night. Often they bring the leftovers from the Vatican mess halls to share” with the poor, the AP reported.
There have even been unverified reports that the pope himself, disguised as a regular priest, has taken to the streets to pass out food and funds to the poorest of Rome’s poor.
“He doesn’t just reach out to the poor, but to the individuals who are poor,” said Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the retired archbishop of Washington, D.C.
“He’s in a category of his own,” Cardinal McCarrick told CNS, “a prophet who sees the world as it is and has the courage to say so.”
He told the Reuters news agency last week that huge salaries and bonuses are the symptoms of an economy based on greed and inequality. “The succession of economic crises,” he said, “should lead to a timely rethinking of our models of economic development and a change in lifestyles.”
It is a depressing sign of the times, the pope told the news agency, that a homeless person dying of exposure on the street was no longer news, but a slight fall in the stock market is.
He is, Reuters said, “a champion of the downtrodden.”
No wonder the world loves him so much.