After Francis’s historic U.S. visit, what are the takeaways—and must-dos?
Pope Francis’s six-day visit to the United States raised questions about the mission of the Catholic Church and everyone’s responsibilities toward the planet and their fellow man.
It was also a rare moment in history, with the eyes of the world fixed upon this simple man delivering quiet yet powerful messages melding consolation with challenge, reconciliation with reproval, and mercy with mandate. At each stop, he generated interest in how his messages both echo and alter centuries of Catholic teaching.
Francis is the first Jesuit pope in history, so the news media naturally turned to faculty, staff, and students from Santa Clara University, the Jesuit university in Silicon Valley, to put his visit into perspective. Here’s what some of them heard as the pope’s calls to action:
Heal the planet and help the poor
Since the pope released his encyclical Laudato Si’ championing the need to address climate change, a vocal minority have countered his efforts. They say that the call to “clean up the planet” will do more harm to the poor by increasing the cost of energy or depriving them of a chance to increase their standard of living.
Thane Kreiner, executive director of the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, told the San Jose Mercury News such critics are missing the point. He argues that when innovative and entrepreneurial leaders put their minds and efforts behind the right goals, previously unthinkable results can happen.
“Individually and collectively, we are huge beneficiaries of the technological innovations we helped to create—and contributors to the ecological degradation,” Kreiner said. “We can decide to direct our creative energies toward achieving the U.N.'s goals and repaying the ‘ecological debt’ that Pope Francis outlines.” That debt falls too often on the developing world.
Religious studies lecturer Sally Vance-Trembath told Bill O’Reilly on The O’Reilly Factor, “The pope says ... very clearly in the encyclical: We cannot solve the climate crisis on the backs of the poor.”
Cease the demonizing politics
Millennials, who have grown up surrounded by polarized politics, fears of terrorism, and climate stalemate, have responded deeply to the pope’s messages of mercy, dialogue, and collective responsibility for one another.
“Our generation has seen a lot,” wrote Megan Brunkhorst ’12, MA ’16 in USA Today College. “Pope Francis reminds us to live in solidarity, respecting the humanity of every person.”
David DeCosse, director of campus ethics at the Markkula Center, wrote about his students’ reactions to the pope’s congressional address for PBS’s Religion and Ethics Newsweekly.
“For a generation that’s only known an increasingly dysfunctional, deeply polarized Congress, the pope’s measured tones seemed almost nonpolitical, [even when he focused] on the reckless, destructive use of categories of good and evil, sinner and righteous, in political discourse,” he said, describing one student’s comments.
And while some saw the pope’s visit to the U.S. Congress as a political stunt, SCU commentators disagreed.
“It’s seldom helpful to measure a pope or Dalai Lama or a religious leader on a right to left, conservative to liberal spectrum because they’ve got their eyes on deeper issues, like human dignity,” Tom Massaro, S.J., dean of the Jesuit School of Theology, told the San Jose Mercury News. The pope, he added, “lets the chips fall where they may.”
Get out into the world and do something
During his three days of commentary on Fox News Radio, Mick McCarthy, S.J., executive director of Santa Clara’s Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education, noted how the pope’s journey to three major U.S. cities, as well as to forlorn areas of the world, reflected a belief that the church must not become too self-referential, imperious, or isolated. The pope, he said, cautioned against “the scandal of narrow petty love, closed in on itself, and impatient of each other…. We have to go out.”
McCarthy also spoke on HuffPost Live, saying “Accompaniment is really a key idea in Jesuit spirituality… To walk with the other and really come to learn who that person is over the course of time—and that is the context out of which we can have really significant change—is so deeply Jesuit.”
Brandon Sanchez ‘18, writing in the #JesuitEducated forum on Medium.com, said “the Jesuits inspire me constantly to do more—to be a light in the global community, to never forget the downtrodden, and to have a voice—because what do we have if not voices?”
The conversation continues at Santa Clara
The pope may be gone from the United States, but the conversation about Laudato Si’ continues. The University will host a number of events related to the encyclical during the academic year, including a conference Nov. 3–4: Our Future on a Shared Planet: Silicon Valley in Conversation with the Environmental Teachings of Pope Francis.
Headlining the event will be a talk by Cardinal Peter Turkson, the Ghanaian who is president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. He is widely acknowledged as one of the most influential Vatican experts on the contents of Laudato Si', for which he was an adviser.
The conference is open to the public. For more information visit the website Our Common Home: SCU Responds to Laudato Si’.