Pope Francis has come to these shores and gone. The evening news can return to over-emphasizing other stories. What did the papal visit mean to Catholics and others in the U.S.? That was the topic of a lively discussion this weekend by a dozen friends.
Our group included one person who grew up as a Catholic, has left the church, and is unlikely to return. Another was once married to a Catholic and has many Catholic friends, although she is an Atheist. The rest of us had various religious backgrounds that did not include Catholicism; most now are Unitarian-Universalists.
Now the question is what, if any, lasting positive effects will the papal words have. Our discussion group members advanced several ideas.
One with considerable expertise on environmental matters thought the Pope's statements that global warming is a fact and human activities are a principal cause would help move reluctant members of the U.S. Congress to see the light. Another said any advances toward more humanitarian and less dogmatic characteristics in the Catholic Church were welcome, and Pope Francis is steering the church in that direction.
I thought the most insightful comment was that Francis' appearance at this time in America was a masterful stroke of public relations. The church as been hard-hit by membership and financial losses in the wake of revelations of priestly misconduct. Exposure to a new leader who exhibits personal warmth, tolerance, and a gentle spirit was a positive thing for an organization very much in need of some warm fuzzies.
I agree that Pope Francis, with only a few minor exceptions, rather expertly delivered the right messages at opportune times. There is hope that some of his words will promote lasting changes.