The Pope has come to America!
Well, at least to DC, Philadelphia and New York.
This is big news, right? The last time a pope visited the United States was 2008. Pope Francis is the fourth pope, out of 266, to ever visit the United States. The Pope’s visit is obviously significant for the country’s 70 million Catholics, 90% of whom give him favorable approval ratings.
But even if you are not Catholic — even if you are not religious — Pope Francis’s trek to the United States offers many important lessons about tolerance and spiritual leadership that we can pass on to our children (and ponder ourselves).
Pope Francis – whose name was originally Jorge Mario Bergoglio – was a priest from Argentina before he became the 266th pope. He’s the first Jesuit pope, the first from the Americas, the first from the Southern Hemisphere and the first non-European pope since the Syrian Gregory III in 741. So this pope, in and of himself, is a lesson in the value of diversity, and trying something new.
Pope Francis’s primary teachings, and many comments he’s made in public and to the media, have shaken up entrenched Catholic hierarchy – and made the Pope extremely popular among the so-called masses. Pope Francis has not changed any church doctrine, but he’s indicated a degree of tolerance and acceptance that, while loyal to Jesus’ teachings, is arguably rare among fundamentalist Catholics. This is particularly true in regard to Pope Francis’ comments about homosexuality, redistribution of wealth, women’s roles in the church and society, climate change, celibacy among priests, marriage, and religious faith itself. All very fine family dinner table and car talk topics, if you are looking for fresh ideas to get your kids talking (and thinking).
However, according to the Washington Post, conservative Catholics “worry that Francis is loosening the church’s strict teachings on morality (he famously told a prominent Italian atheist that “everyone has his own idea of good and evil” and has said “who am I to judge” when asked about gay priests). They accuse him of deserting them on issues such as abortion and contraception (he has said he avoids those issues because the church has become too “obsessed” with them). And they say his attacks on capitalism are ill-conceived and amount to a plea for redistribution of wealth — or worse.”
Interestingly, Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. falls in the middle of the Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Savvy religious leaders are using the Pope’s visit to highlight commonality between Catholic and Jewish values– no mean feat, but a worthy one. As parents, we can use Pope Francis’s visit, and its attendant publicity, to do the same thing, no matter our religion, or whether we actually take our kids to see Pope Francis.
Try these ideas: Show your kids some of Pope Francis’s YouTube videos and media interviews. Read them some of his teachings or quotes. Explain how your religious beliefs are similar, or different. Here are some examples:
Challenging Convention within the Catholic Church
Teaching your kids about another religion, and showing them another religious leader’s ability to broach difficult, controversial subjects with diplomacy and compassion, can teach them an invaluable kind of tolerance, of which Pope Francis, and any parents, would justly be proud.