Usually a new pope stays in the news cycle about a week and the world moves on. But Pope Francis is a different breed. March marked the two-year point of his papacy and he’s still turning heads with every move he makes and grabbing headlines nearly every time he speaks. He takes the very Jesus-like approach of speaking the Truth in Love and answering a question with a question. (For example: His “Who am I to judge?” response when asked about homosexuality.) He seems to be a man of the people, eschewing the papal palace for a simple apartment and taking a bus instead of the traditional motorcade. The world is waiting to see what he’ll do or say next.
American Catholics in particular are excited to welcome Pope Francis to the states when he attends the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia this September. Owensboro Living sat down with Bishop William Francis Medley, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Owensboro (Western Kentucky) to reflect on Pope Francis’ first two years.
OL – It’s been an eventful first two years.
Yes it has. Most priests I know are enthused with what they’re seeing. He’s so candid it’s refreshing. But it makes him an easy target for hysteria too.
OL – Looking back, what’s your personal favorite moment or quote from Pope Francis?
There have been so many. I suppose a couple of photographs really struck me. That first Holy Thursday when he went to wash feet. And the picture of the man in St. Peter’s Square with the tumors on his face; when Pope Francis bent down to kiss that man on the head, it almost chokes me up to think about it. That’s the heart and soul of the man. That’s the man that I love and admire and want to be like. The warmth of Pope Francis is authentic. The cameras catch who he really is.
OL – What is your overall impression of Pope Francis so far?
My overall impression is that he is truly an embodiment of the Holy Spirit. What’s really impressive to me is that the Cardinals met for 10 days before the conclave and they spoke very candidly with each other about what was going on in the Church (around the world) in 2013 and recognized that some changes needed to happen. So the Cardinals basically said whoever walked out of that room as pope should recognize the need for reform and a re-balance between the curia and the local churches around the world. So to me, that’s the key. He’s doing what he was asked to do and he’s fulfilling that. He’s doing it in a different style because of his personality and how candid and charismatic he is, but he’s doing what he was charged to do.
His background is interesting, he was a superior of a religious order at a very young age; at 36 he was the superior of the Jesuits in Argentina. Even then he was trying to walk this delicate line between the Church, the government, and serving the poor.
But you can’t talk about Pope Francis without talking about how he has brought the theme of divine mercy to the center of everything. That’s the prism through which he preaches the Gospel, through which he hears the Gospel, through which he wants to be a priest, a bishop, and pope – is to bring the Gospel of the Lord to bear on every situation.
So when he talks about Israel-Palestinian conflict, when he talks about the Islamic-Isis situation going on, when he’s talking about healing families – he’s not going to get two sentences in before he starts talking about mercy. If we cannot come to these conflicts with a sense of mercy guided by the Gospel, we’re not going to solve these situations. You don’t have to be a scripture scholar to know that mercy was pretty important to Jesus. And that’s the Jesus that Francis is preaching.
OL – Have you had a chance to meet him yet?
Not yet. I’ll get to see him when he’s here for the synod in Philly in September. The schedule’s not released yet, but he’ll celebrate Mass in the basilica with the U.S. Bishops and I do look forward to being in his presence. I was with Pope Benedict twice and I cherished those moments. I will attend the large Mass too, but there will be a million people and they’ll have the bishops off in a certain section.
OL – What do you expect at the World Meeting of Families?
There are going to be questions about how to relate to people who are not married in the Church. Pope Francis is saying, ‘How do we approach them with mercy? How would Jesus approach this person – whether they are divorced and remarried, whether they are in a same-sex union, or whatever their state in life – how would Jesus relate to that person?’ And why would the Church relate to that person any differently? Yes you have your rules – and we do define marriage a certain way. But Francis is saying, ‘Look at the person.’
Pope Francis has well over 10 million Twitter followers worldwide, including 5.7 million on the English language account.
Pope Francis’ Top Ten Tips to Happiness
1 – Live and let live
2 – Be giving of yourself to others
3 – Proceed “calmly” in life
4 – Have a healthy sense of leisure
5 – Sundays should be holidays
6 – Find innovative ways to create dignified jobs for young people
7 – Respect and take care of nature
8 – Stop being negative
9 – Don’t proselytize; respect other’s beliefs
10 – Work for peace