The Pope, a Pregnant Woman, and the Americas

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

For anyone interested in more about Time’s Person of the Year, I wrote a piece for the Knights of Columbus website, Catholic Pulse. The main reason I wanted to write it is because I am pining to write more on my trip to Mexico City a few weeks ago (I gave some glimpses here and here) at a gathering of Catholic bishops from the Americas; there were 73 bishops (including some familiar names: cardinals Dolan and O’Malley, Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia, Bishop Olmsted of Phoenix), eight of them cardinals, and 300 priests, religious, and lay participants.

The two occasions for this particular piece were Our Lady of Guadalupe’s feast day yesterday. The Marian Guadalupe image has been an inspiration for the pro-life movement, because Mary appeared to the Indian peasant Juan Diego as pregnant, tender (look at the eyes), and joyful (her leg is in a dance position).

Anyway, what I wanted to share here is:

Time magazine has named Pope Francis its “Person of the Year” for 2013. Maybe that selection is due to an American Idol-conditioned celebrity effect, an unread and misunderstood exhortation, Rush Limbaugh, or the wishful thinking of “progressives.” Whatever the motivation for the honor, it presents an open door and an opportunity. Back when the horrid scandal of sexual abuse was unveiled in the Archdiocese of Boston two decades ago, George Weigel, biographer of soon-to-to-be-canonized saint Pope John Paul II, thanked God for the media and their role in exposing this evil and forcing it to be confronted. The healing from this crisis continues today, and the apostolic gifts of Pope Francis are no small balm.

There’s a spiritual dimension to this that most of us miss in headlines and op-eds, in all the selective gushing, gloating, condemnation and citing by the president of the United States (whose relationship to freedom of conscience is in some question).  If you’re feeling affirmed in your political persuasion or endorsed in your ideological comfort zone, then there’s probably much more for you to encounter here.

This is our first pope from the Americas — and here he is, drawing people’s rapt, furious, and nervous attention. Not everyone is listening, and many of those who are listening don’t listen to every word, for sure. But people are looking in his direction, and they are paying some attention. There is healing happening as people wonder whether perhaps there is something in the sacraments for them to encounter — whether there might just be a call for them to answer.

In a message to the Americas this week for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Pope Francis said Wednesday:

Mary’s embrace showed what America – North and South – is called to be: a land where different peoples come together; a land prepared to accept human life at every stage, from the mother’s womb to old age; a land which welcomes immigrants, and the poor and the marginalized, in every age. A land of generosity. That is the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and it is also my message, the message of the Church. I ask all the people of the Americas to open wide their arms, like the Virgin, with love and tenderness.

As I point out in my piece, Pope Francis is way into another e-word: encounter, and the world has seen that in photos that have gone viral. But this doesn’t mean wanting to get a phone call from the pope, but to encounter Christ through the ministries of the Church — most importantly the sacraments. This ain’t ideology or politics, though our politics and culture should be nourished by these things. Not to continue a rant from yesterday, but this is why this religious-freedom issue is, again, so important: A flourishing civil society needs people who take the radical demands of the Gospel seriously. Otherwise the government is going to start thinking it’s the only one who can or should provide — and people are going to start to buy in to that – until it’s clearly a disaster.

Anyway, here’s that piece if you’re interested.