The Francis Effect in Nebraska

From the World-Herald in Omaha:

At his sister’s wedding reception, Taylor Leffler sat down for a friendly chat with friends of hers who are gay.

For Leffler, a 22-year-old Nebraska native studying for the priesthood, the conversation was spurred by a powerful reason: Pope Francis’ call for Catholics to reach out to others, rather than shun them or preach to them because you disagree with how they live their lives.

In a now famous interview this fall with a Jesuit magazine, Francis said the Roman Catholic Church is obsessed with subjects like homosexuality and abortion, and he urged the church and its members to be less judgmental and more compassionate.

Though his papacy is just seven months old, Francis has caused a sensation among Catholics, and some say his call for forgiveness and mercy is changing how they treat others and live their faith.

His comments also have drawn attention from politicians, a group whose decisions have a broad effect on people’s lives.

Previous popes have emphasized the importance of a merciful church. But Francis — while not backing away from church teachings — is expressing that message of mercy in such a conversational way that some Catholics believe he’s providing a how-to guide for compassion and acceptance in their daily lives…

…Leffler said when he saw his sister’s gay friends at the wedding reception, he had a couple choices. In the past, if he had sat down with them, he said he would have felt obligated to tell them that the church considers homosexual acts sinful.

Instead, Leffler followed the words of Francis and reached out in friendship. He asked them about themselves such as where they were from and what they did for a living.

“I felt my mission (should) be to bring Jesus to them and smile and love them in the moment,” Leffler said. “(After) you have a relationship with them, that’s when you can address the moral issues.”

Colleen Halpin, a senior at Omaha Duchesne, said the pope’s comments have had a similar effect on how she treats friends and others who support abortion rights.

Halpin, an abortion opponent, said she has learned from the pope that people are more likely to listen to your message if you aren’t constantly hitting them over the head with it.

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