Pope Francis, Our American Pope

I just arrived in Portland, Oregon. It was a long, beautiful train ride. My pope alarm was rendered useless by rural Montana, but I eventually got the word, narrated over the phone by my wife. Since then, I’ve consumed news in the patches of 3G service available.

Needless to say, I’m not very well informed. But I do hope to read some of his works in Spanish and provide some commentary in the months to come, before the translations begin to pour out. As usual, this isn’t journalism. Just thoughts.

My first reaction was surprise and delight at the election of a Latino. Call it tribalism or whatever, I suspect I experienced something like what Eastern Europeans did when John Paul II was elected. Within a few minutes I was also struck by the fact that Pope Francis is not only a Latino, he is also an American — Latinoamericano, Latin American.

Here in the U.S. we often think, or at least speak, as though we have a monopoly over “America,” but geography and common sense teaches a very different lesson. There is something to learn here, I think. It begins with an unprecedented sense of American solidarity: Francis is our pope, an American pope.

Even George Weigel seems to understand this.

The Americas are a wildly diverse flux of nations and peoples. There is no singular blueprint for an American, from Canada to Haiti to Panama to Argentina. Pope Francis, an Argentine through and through, embodies this through his Italian genealogy. (And, of course, there is a good argument to be made for why Italians ought to be considered Latinos, too — but certainly not Americans.) In a way, he provides a perfect link between the two continents.

If there ever was a moment for continental solidarity, this seems to be the time for it among American Roman Catholics. This might be hard to swallow in the United States. It is not a common experience for us to associate the United States of America with the Americas. Our bishops — especially Dolan — have made a good example for us and I think there is a sense of real solidarity there already.

There are far more important things to think about in these momentous times, but I don’t think this call for American continental solidarity is entirely beside the point. Pope Francis is a humble man. Whereas Benedict XVI showed us a profound humility of spirit, Francis shows us an embodied humility — a man who, like St. Francis’ embrace of the leper, washes and kisses the feet of the poor and the infirmed. He brings a quiet sense of humility to an overly prideful Roman Church.

I hope this extends to the United States, where we suffer from an even worse imperial pride and often struggle to see our fellow Americans as continental kin. Not only as kin, but as Christ among us.



  • Bob

    What do you think about the different sides who are already claiming the pope for their own ideology? “The pope of the 99%” etc etc.

    • srocha

      They’re all wrong, of course. More on this later…


  • Bob

    Are we doing it when we call him American? Or are we just being descriptive?

    • srocha

      Oh no, I don’t think so. At least I do not mean to imply that by calling our Pope “American” we are somehow importing US ideological (or even continental American geopolitical) ideologies. I simply think that it is descriptive way that we might endear ourselves to him — and to each other.

  • Petro

    The United States has a lot more in common with many South American countries than it does much of Europe. Yet, for some reason, we often look to Europe more than South America. While Europe shares in the wealth and imperialist history that we have, South America shares many more values with us.

    It will be interesting to see how this affects the global Church.

    • Theodore Seeber

      I sincerely hope Latin America doesn’t share United States screwed up Americanist values- though I must admit, in the clashes Pope Francis had as archbishop with the government and even his own priests, it does appear that they do.

  • arty

    So Sam, you should check out Conrad Black’s article on National Review today, about why the new pope ought to allow contraception. The article is unintentionally hilarious, and is no doubt the kind of thing that will make Pope Francis, “Proud to be an American” so to speak. My favorite part is the part where Black points out that he isn’t qualified to comment on the theological issues involved in the church’s prohibition of contraception, as though there were some other pertinent grounds for discussing the matter.

    I pity the new Pope: and the jackassery has no doubt only begun. I hope he unplugs his internet and throws his television out the window.