September 2, 2014

Letter From Paris: A Pope for the People

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

After nine months as the leader of the 1.2 billion Catholics, what changes has Pope Francis made in the people’s lives ? That question can be answered on different levels.

On Christmas Eve, the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris was absolutely packed, with standing (and sitting on the ground) room only. Believers and visitors from around the globe wanted to share the most important time of the church year. The senior prelate of the cathedral, who was celebrating the Eucharist, instead of standing solemnly at the lectern to give his homily chose to walk through the nave all the way to the back of the church. A photographer and a sound engineer followed the priest as he mixed with the people in order to record the event for the nationwide televised program.

From the very start, Pope Francis has been reaching out to the people, with simplicity and a joyful manner. His popularity was immediate and the crowds on Saint Peter’s Square multiplied. There is definitely a heightened fervor among the faithful and his style is spreading through the churches.

To understand the impact of Pope Francis on more substantive levels, one has to study his exceptional background. Born from Italian immigrants in Argentina, he is the first pope coming from the New World. At the same time, he has strong ties with Europe since he wrote his thesis in German. Besides that language, he speaks French English, Italian, Portuguese, and, of course, Latin.

But the most important factor is that he is the product of two intellectual currents existing in the catholic church: Jesuit and Franciscan. To become a Jesuit, one has to study theology and philosophy for 15 years. This Catholic order, founded by Ignatius of Loyola in 1534, follows a strict obedience to the doctrine. At the same time, as a significant departure from his intellectual origins, he chose to be called Francis – a first for a pope.

This symbolic choice made him the spiritual heir of St. Francis of Assisi. This background explains why he combines an unshakable attachment to the traditional doctrine regarding, for instance, the celibacy of priests, the excommunication of divorcees or the rejection of abortion, with his intent to be the “Pope of the Poor” and his openness to others.

His first action will be to put the Catholic Church in order, following a number of human and financial scandals, which have shaken it over many years. Probably the easiest reform to implement will be to reorganize the Vatican’s administration and reduce the size of the Curie. With his own dislike for ostentation, he, himself, will be the best role model.

Finally, he has an immense potential of influence in international affairs. He seeks dialogue with both Judaism and Islam. Vatican specialists describe him as the most charismatic and powerful personality in the world, particularly after Nelson Mandela’s death.

It remains to see whether — and how – he will exercise this influence.

Nicole Prévost Logan, resident of Essex Meadows in the summer, Paris in the winter.

Nicole Prévost Logan, resident of Essex Meadows in the summer, Paris in the winter.

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She will write a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also will cover a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.