A guest post by Gina Loehr
The Pope is an American. It just happens that he’s never set foot in the United States before. His America is not ours. And his leadership is not, well, American (at least not in the US-centric sense of the word). Unlike so many of our nation’s leaders, the Holy Father’s behavior isn’t influenced by the latest public opinion polls. Francis doesn’t tremble before the threat of declining popularity. Francis simply speaks his mind.
But we are a politically correct nation. And although we profess free speech, we are already in the business of silencing Pope Francis’ more controversial comments. We are the nation of Time magazine, the media giant that in a September fifth article censored Francis’ words to the single mother he met via ABC’s virtual town hall. The Time report carefully omitted the Pope’s most poignant words: “You could have killed them inside your womb, and you respected life,” as well as his encouragement to this mother to “Hold your head high. ‘I didn’t kill my daughters. I brought them into the world.’”
We are the nation in which countless news outlets had a heyday proclaiming Francis’ statement to Antonio Spadaro that regarding abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods, “it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.” But we have heard precious little from these same sources when Francis has spoken forthrightly on such subjects. His recent decision to allow all priests to absolve the sin of abortion in the confessional during the Year of Mercy has made headlines, for example, but one has to dig deeper to discover that in the same place he calls abortion a “tragedy” and elsewhere has labeled its effects as “horrific.” One has to actually read Laudato Si to learn that this is not just an encyclical on the environment. Rather, Francis insists “concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion.”
The selective representations don’t stop there. The Pope’s thoroughly Christian remark about homosexuals who seek the Lord (“Who am I to judge?”) has been made into a kind of papal meme. But his advocacy of traditional marriage has been lost – or buried – in the shuffle. Who knew that just days ago, on September tenth, he said that, “the image of the family -as God wills it, made up of one man and one woman in view of the good of the spouses and also of the generation and education of children – is deformed through powerful contrary projects supported by ideological colonizations”?
This is the America Francis is about to visit. An America that is feeding its freedom to the ever-increasing appetite of these “ideological colonizations.” We are no longer threatened by the concrete and tangible presence of Redcoats who want to tax our tea. We are under the attack of a much more subtle foe: the mounting pressure to apologize for traditional beliefs, to keep religious faith locked in a private corner, and to look the other way as our nation divorces itself from its Christian heritage.As a (South) American, Francis has had an entire lifetime to observe his Northern neighbors. He has seen us change over the years and, like any good neighbor, we can assume he is committed to putting the neighborhood watch into effect. When he comes over to visit later this month, I suspect he will not hesitate to share his observations. The question is if we as a nation will really listen to him, or if we will only selectively tune in to the words we like to hear.
From the first moment that this unknown Argentinian stood before the world – still and solemn on that balcony in St. Peter’s Square – we knew something disarmingly authentic was happening. This man wasn’t performing. He wasn’t putting on a show. And since that historic moment, he has continued to captivate and confound believers and non-believers, liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans alike with his spontaneous honesty, his humble simplicity, and his sincere devotion to the radical truth of the Gospel.
And now, America’s Favorite Pope is finally coming to the United States. The opportunity to personally encounter this extraordinary individual stands before us. As long as he remains an image on a television or a photo in a magazine, Francis’ message can be edited, airbrushed and idealized. But for those millions of Americans who plan to stand in his presence later this month, the media will no longer act as a filter. Instead, Americans will be able to behold for themselves the entire Francis, the real Francis, the Francis who is a challenge – as Cardinal Timothy Dolan put it – “like Jesus is a challenge.”
Having had the privilege to meet Pope Francis in person, to speak with him, and to witness him praying over my then-blind daughter, I can attest that he is not just a Holy Father. He is a loving, attentive father who truly desires the happiness of his children. This is why, like Christ, Francis manages to preach mercy while still upholding morality; he loves us and he wants what’s best for us. And like a good father, he is not going to cower under the pressure to be popular – or politically correct. Francis likes to tell it like it is, whether we like it or not.
Gina Loehr is the author of four books, including Saint Francis, Pope Francis: A Common Vision (Franciscan Media/Servant 2014). While participating in a Vatican seminar on women in October 2013, she met Pope Francis in person. She will be speaking at the upcoming World Meeting of Families that anticipates the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia. Visit her website at www.ginaloehr.com.