JCU gets up close and personal with Pope Francis

March 19th, 2014


On Friday, March 14 and Saturday, March 15, the Cardinal Suenens Center at John Carroll University sponsored the two-day lecture series “The Papacy: One Year Later.” The presenters discussed the election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis, and his international attention on the world stage.


JCU President, the Rev. Robert Niehoff S.J., kicked off the event on Friday, and engaged this idea of worldwide curiosity.


“I think what you have experienced today is people’s desire to talk about this pope — to learn more about him, and to engage in what might he may be doing,” said Niehoff. “Because they have experienced so much change, so much excitement. That’s what we heard during the breaks [between the different lecturers], and that’s what we heard from each speaker. ‘This is what I’m excited about. This is what I am intrigued about, and this is what I hope might happen.’”


Father John W. O’Malley, professor of theology at Georgetown University, also spoke on Friday. On Saturday, other academics spoke, including Father Bryan Hehir, the Parker Gilbert Montgomery Professor of the Practice of Religion and Public Life at Harvard University; Natalia Imperatori-Lee, professor of religious studies at Manhattan College; and Robert Mickens, award-winning journalist and Rome correspondent of the British journal, The Tablet.


Imperatori-Lee, speaking from the perspective of a Cuban-American theologian, a mother and a wife, relayed her perspective on the first year of the papacy. She placed a focus on the fame of the “humanized church.”


“I don’t know if you know this, but Pope Francis is all over the Internet,” joked Imperatori-Lee. “The weirdest place that I found him was when I was looking up a video for my children. I don’t know if you know the song ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams? So the kids want to hear it all the time and I was looking it up on YouTube, and on the side bar, I see this man, dressed as the pope, who is clearly not the pope. He was a rapper, giving a news report, in rap, about the papal election, that ‘the pope is straight pimpin’ with his rosary, trying to shape religion to what it’s supposed to be.’ Wow. I guess this is the church that we are living in now. I guess this is the world that we are living in now.”



Hehir emphasized that while change is a part of Pope Francis’ mantra, spreading a legacy of tradition is still largely in sync with his teachings.


“The code word for Francis in the press, of course, is change,” Hehir said.


Hehir added, “[Pope Francis] depends heavily on the joy of the gospel, on the teaching of his two immediate predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, which he depends and has already argued for on the Second Vatican Council. He is rooted solidly in the tradition of Catholic social teaching. So, even though he says [the joy of the gospel] is not a social doctrine, he envelops his conception of ministry and evangelization in terms of social means. The ecclesial, the moral and the pastoral come together. What will be the contribution of his teaching style is an open book.”


Many of the speakers emphasized that Francis’ hands-on approach to the papacy has drawn interest.


“We also see in Francis a humble bishop living in community, seemingly leaving behind the royal trackings of the papacy,” said Imperatori-Lee. “The image reinforces the message … Francis’ message goes beyond any ratty shoes he’s wearing, or the banishing of excessive gold from the papal court. What I think we have, in fact, is a global image and message. The church should be for the poor, who God loves especially. Here is a pope whose popularity serves to broadcast themes of openness, forgiveness and humility and joy—all sorts of things that we want associated with the church.”

pope lecture

Niehoff attested to the particular intrigue of Pope Francis in respect to the turn-out of the event.


“This is what the John Carroll community has been very engaged in. As you can see from the average age here, besides a few students, these are people who have been involved with John Carroll and the dioceses over the years, and they are intrigued to learn more,” said Niehoff.


On JCU’s trip to Rome over spring break as a part of the course, “Rome: Emperors, Popes, Saints,” taught by Paul Murphy, junior Kaitlyn Marshaus got the chance to have a first-hand experience with Pope Francis. As she was holding up a JCU t-shirt with the words, “I [heart] the Jesuits,” in the papal audience, the pope looked at Marshaus and gave her a thumbs-up — then gave the shirt to the guards to present to the pope.


“I love Pope Francis,” said Marshaus. “I joke with my friends, I never had that Justin Timberlake-boy band phase, it’s more of a Pope Francis craze. I was crying, I was shaking—it was one of the top moments of my life. I joked that this could top my wedding day. The whole John Carroll group was so exciting for this moment. It is unforgettable.”


Marshaus added how she feels having a Jesuit pope has impacted JCU students.


“He’s a Jesuit, and we’re Jesuits. We practice that in ‘men and women for others’,” said Marshaus. “We have Labre where people go out on Friday nights—Pope Francis will go out on Friday nights and feed the hungry. I think he incorporates that solidarity that the Catholics really try to emulate.”