BY ALEX GRUBER
On Thursday, April 16, Donum Ipsum hosted an evening discussion of Pope Francis entitled “The Francis Effect and You” in the Knight Owl of the Pennings Activity Center.
Donum Ipsum is a student organization dedicated to exploring and explaining the history, traditions and teachings of the Catholic Church in an informal, conversational environment. The group decided to organize the discussion on Pope Francis due to his worldwide popularity and media presence.
Three panelists attended “The Francis Effect and You” to initiate and sustain the conversation. These were Julie Massey, Senior Director for Mission and Ministry, Dr. Erik Brekke, Assistant Professor of Physics and Father Andrew Ciferni, O. Praem., Director of the Center for Norbertine Studies.
The program began at 6:30 p.m. Those present sang the “Hymn to Saint Norbert” and listened to the martyrology, or saint’s biography, for the evening. Then, a short news video on Pope Francis was shown. Afterward, each of the panelists gave a brief introduction to their particular takes on the current leader of the Catholic Church.
Julie Massey started the conversation. She focused on the four main attributes Francis has exhibited while in the papacy and gave specific examples of each trait. The first was approachability, shown by the pope in his down-to-earth attitude toward all people, even a young boy who ran onto the altar platform as Francis celebrated a mass. Francis continued with the liturgy and simply placed the youngster on the papal throne, the best seat in the church. Massey also highlighted the joy, mercy and dialogue Francis has brought to his time as pope.
“That’s something that really inspires me and really challenges me,” Massey said.
Father Ciferni examined the differences between Francis and the two previous popes, Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, from the perspective of a liturgist and an ordained member of the Catholic Church.
Ciferni noted that Pope Francis comes from a religious community, the Jesuits, instead of the diocesan system of the previous two popes. Religious communities, Ciferni stated, place greater emphasis on being personable and humble.
Second, Francis was ordained as a priest after the Second Vatican Council, while John Paul II and Benedict XVI were already priests during it. Ciferni explained that Francis thus more easily accepted the changes and programs created by Vatican II and wants to realize them to their fullest extent.
Ciferni also touched on Pope Francis’ unassuming style. From wearing the same white vestments throughout the year and taking the bus after his election to the papacy to foregoing the opulent papal apartments for a simple residence and creating a council of cardinals as advisors, Pope Francis has displayed humility throughout the past two years.
Dr. Brekke approached Pope Francis from both a non-Catholic and a scientific perspective. He noted that the great media coverage given to the pope has revealed how Catholicism is not opposed to science, a fact of which most of the general public and even a large portion of Catholics, were unaware.
Brekke noted that many people try to separate different areas of their life from each other, such as science and religion. However, each area should really impact the others and form a whole.
“You cannot separate your brain into different categories,” Brekke stated. “Pope Francis does not try to compartmentalize faith from other areas of life.”
Brekke also mentioned that Pope Francis has drawn much positive media attention and has used it in a positive manner. Without changing the teachings of the Catholic Church, the pope has moved its focus from the law and hierarchy so many immediately equate with Catholicism to the Gospels’ message of love and mercy for all people. Francis has also used his prominent position on the world stage to bring to notice worldwide concerns, such as poverty, immigration and the environment.
After the introductions, the panelists and audience shared a dinner provided by Donum Ipsum. The floor was then opened for audience questions and comments. These ranged from Francis’ recent comment on the Armenian genocide in Turkey in the early 1900s to his appointment of cardinals from traditionally underrepresented world regions and countries to the authenticity of the statements ascribed to him by the media.
In response to the question on Francis’ selection of cardinals, Ciferni stated, “We [the Catholic Church] always like to say, ‘We’re so unified.’”
In reality, however, Ciferni explained that Catholics come from a wide variety of cultures and express their faith in different ways. In selecting cardinals from a greater number of countries, Pope Francis is acknowledging and supporting this diversity, while also giving more power to synods (conferences of bishops) and paving the way for a similarly accepting and joyful pope.
The group then participated in night prayer and thanked the panelists for their contributions to bring the event to a close.