It has been a remarkable year. For all of us at Our Sunday Visitor, the year began with the swift final illness and death of the longtime chair of our board of directors, Bishop John M. D’Arcy. Hardly had the shock of his passing sunk in when we awoke on Monday, Feb. 11, to the news that Pope Benedict XVI had announced his resignation, the first in more than several hundred years. Who would have imagined then that before the year was out his successor, Pope Francis, would become Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” and, more importantly, would revive the energy, enthusiasm and interest of so many of the Catholic faithful?
The year has been a roller coaster of emotions and a roller coaster of papal actions as well. From the symbolic — paying his own hotel bill — to the powerfully personal — embracing the deformed and the handicapped — Pope Francis has captured the popular imagination of Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
What is most important is whether Catholics are heeding Pope Francis’ call to missionary discipleship, to sacrificial love that is the ultimate tool of evangelization.
He has occasionally stepped into controversies and inflamed passions with his comments, such as the statements in his recent apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” about economic injustice and the poor. But anyone who has been truly listening to him cannot be surprised that he is not overly concerned about such brouhahas. Repeatedly he has said that he prefers a Church of accidents — a Church that takes risks to embrace and evangelize others — to a Church turned in on itself and far away from the people.
Like the Lord he serves, often his kindest words are for those who are themselves far from the Church, while his sharpest words are for those who believe themselves good practicing Catholics. Bishops, priests and Sunday Catholics all are getting an earful from this pope who wants nothing more than a Church that shakes things up.
In the past nine months he has traveled to the Italian island of Lampedusa to pray for the African immigrants who died seeking passage to Italy, and to Assisi, where he met with leaders of other religions to pray for peace. He has traveled to Brazil for World Youth Day. He has led global prayers for peace in Syria and for an end to hunger, and as the Year of Faith drew to a close, he had Catholics worldwide praying before the Blessed Sacrament. While Pope Francis has issued a wide-ranging apostolic exhortation and preached daily homilies, perhaps the most attention has been garnered by his interviews, most notably to a collection of Jesuit publications in September. Some of his comments have created significant pastoral confusion, but they have also attracted an audience far beyond the normal readership of papal pronouncements. Now polls are showing that Catholics are increasingly proud of their pope and their Church. After years of beatings over the sexual abuse crisis and the gay marriage fight, Pope Francis has given all of us something to cheer about.
However, as one year ends and another begins, what’s important is not poll numbers or magazine covers. What is most important is whether Catholics are heeding his call to missionary discipleship, to sacrificial love as the ultimate tool of evangelization. Pope Benedict began the year by modeling his humility and deep trust in the Spirit when he ended his pontificate. Pope Francis has modeled that same humility and that same trust in how he has begun his.
In 2014, our prayer must be that we follow their example of humility, sacrifice and witness.
Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor; Sarah Hayes, executive editor