The “People’s Pope” marks ten years of service to the Church faithful and to the world.

Photo by Ágatha Depiné on Unsplash.

“Ten years ago, the world’s Catholics welcomed a new pope: His Holiness Pope Francis,” wrote Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi in an op-ed for the National Catholic Reporter on March 15, 2023. “Pope Francis has truly been a pope for the people. A decade after his election, his papacy remains a beacon of peace, light, love and hope — for the global Catholic community and for all.”

“Pope Francis has challenged us to be good stewards of God’s creation and to be a champion of the poor, the worker, the refugee and the immigrant,” Pelosi wrote. “Pope Francis’ commitment to uplifting the least of these shone through during his historic speech to Congress in 2015.”

“In that speech, he addressed a consequential legacy of the Francis stewardship, with his relentless and outspoken voice to save the planet,” Ms. Pelosi recalled poignantly. “In his groundbreaking encyclical, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis described the climate as a common good: belonging to all and meant for all.”

“Writing with crystal clear clarity and urgency, he called on all of us — governments, industries and individuals — to honor our shared responsibility to care for our common home,” Pelosi reminded readers of the National Catholic Reporter.

“At the same time, Pope Francis often reminds us that we must recognize the disproportionate impact of the climate crisis on vulnerable communities — and with our solutions, pay special attention to their needs,” Pelosi wrote.

“In June 2015, a few months before COP15, the United Nations climate summit that generated the Paris Agreement, Pope Francis issued ‘Laudato Si’, his encyclical on the challenges of climate change and threats to our common home,” added Ugandan activist Vanessa Nakate this month. “His intervention undoubtedly contributed to the diplomatic momentum that got the Paris Agreement over the line that year.”

“The common good also includes the earth,” as Pope Francis himself said in his famous 2015 address to Congress. “I call for a courageous and responsible effort to redirect our steps and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity.”

“I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States — and this Congress — have an important role to play,” he charged.

“Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a culture of care and an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time, protecting nature,” the new Pope told lawmakers at the time.

During his time as Pope, Francis has also been outspoken about the need for more compassionate immigration laws and practices.

“In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom,” Pope Francis reminded his U.S. Congressional audience in 2015. “We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners.”

“I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants,” the Pope said. “Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions.”

As he and others have noted, the election of Pope Francis in 2013 was historically significant in many ways. He was the first Pope from the Americas, the first Jesuit Pope, and the first Pope to choose the name Francis. His choice of name was significant because it honored St. Francis of Assisi, a beloved figure in the Catholic Church who lived a life of poverty and service to others.

Since his election, Pope Francis has become known for his humility, his focus on social justice, and his efforts to reform the Vatican bureaucracy. He has also spoken out frequently against economic inequality and the exploitation of the poor.

He has often warned against the trappings of wealth and power and has urged Catholics to focus on serving the poor and marginalized. His simple lifestyle, which includes living in a guesthouse rather than the Apostolic Palace, has been a symbol of his commitment to simplicity and humility.

Many of his supporters, both within and outside the Church, admire his focus on social justice issues. He has made efforts to make the Church more inclusive and welcoming, particularly for marginalized groups such as divorced and remarried Catholics and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“For so many Catholics, it has been a gift to witness a papacy like Francis’, marked by new beginnings and signaling some endings,” wrote Boston College Department of Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry Chair Hosffman Ospino for the National Catholic Reporter last week.

“Because of his papacy, Catholicism will be significantly different in the decades that follow,” predicted Ospino. “Despite the viewpoints of critics who do not see eye to eye with Francis, this pope has ignited a renewed sense of hope.”

Pope Francis has many supporters within the Catholic Church who admire his leadership style, his commitment to social justice, and his efforts to reform the Church.

These same attributes haven’t earned praise from all of the faithful, however. Pope Francis has faced criticism from some members of the Catholic Church, particularly those who are more traditional or conservative in their beliefs and practices.

One area of criticism has been his perceived emphasis on social justice issues over what some critics see as more traditional Catholic concerns such as doctrinal orthodoxy and the defense of traditional moral values. Some have also criticized his approach to issues such as immigration and economic inequality, arguing that he is too influenced by left-wing political ideologies.

Some critics have raised concerns about Pope Francis’ approach to certain theological and moral issues, such as the Church’s teaching on divorce and remarriage, homosexuality, and contraception. Some traditionalists see his approach as a departure from Church tradition and teaching, while some progressives argue that he has not gone far enough in addressing these issues.

Whatever his detractors in the church say, Pope Francis’ longtime friend, fellow adherent in religious leadership, and frequent co-author Rabbi Abraham Skorka called the man he first knew as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, “A pope who is true to his word.”

“I remember the moment I suggested that we might write a book about God,” recalled Rabbi Skorka. “Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s reply was that we should instead write hone about the things that challenge and confront the everyday lives of ordinary people.”

“It instantly became clear to me that we both shared Jewish philosopher Martin Buber’s vision of the search for God: human beings can only approach God through our relationships with other people.”

“Pope Francis sees life as a path upon which a person must walk with others,” said the Rabbi. “One of his favorite biblical verses is Genesis 12:2, ‘The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country…’. He identifies with it. After all, he was called ‘from the ends of the earth,’ as he expresses it, to travel to Vatican City to lead the Roman Catholic Church.”

“After following that call for a decade, his continuing challenge is to leave indelible footprints on the path he is walking that will guide all humanity to draw closer together and thereby seek the face of God (Psalm 27:8).”

“That is the word to which he will be true,” said Rabbi Skorka.

“Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’,” Pope Francis said during his 2015 Congressional address before he was nearly drowned out by applause. “The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.”

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)