Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Tuesday 28 September |
Saint of the Day: St. Wenceslaus
home iconSpirituality
line break icon

“America is Hungry for Moral Leadership”: A Rabbi Comments on the Francis Phenomenon

The Drawing Hands

Fr Dwight Longenecker - published on 01/03/14

Pope Francis' refreshment of the Gospel is what draws so many in such a profound way.

“The Francis Phenomenon” is a phrase that is catching on for media pundits to comment on the wild popularity of Pope Francis. Writing in the Huffington Post, Reformed Jewish rabbi Eric Yoffie observes that America is hungry for God, hungry for moral leadership, and hungry for positive role models. Pope Francis is helping to feed that hunger.

Rabbi Yoffie recognizes the spiritual malaise in the United States. Doubt about the country’s future, cynicism about its leaders, and the seeming collapse of organized religion all point to a bleak future without hope and faith. Then along comes Pope Francis.

Yoffie points out:

“Not only does the Pope have an approval rating of almost 90 percent among American Catholics, but among all Americans, nearly 3 in 4 view him favorably. In the very early days of his papacy, the interest and excitement in his selection could be seen as a media-generated blip; but, 10 months later, there is clearly something more at work here. What could possibly account for the affection and regard in which this man – the ultimate "establishment" religious figure, head of the largest religious bureaucracy in the world – is held?”

The rabbi is correct to point out that the Francis phenomenon is more than left-wingers being delighted with what they perceive as the Catholic Church’s shift in their direction. Neither is it merely the freshness of Pope Francis’s style. Something deeper is taking place. What are the crowds attracted to? Rabbi Yoffie puts his finger on it:

“What they do see, I think, is the profound authenticity of his leadership. Hungry for role models and desperate for authority figures with credible values and a true moral center, Americans are drawn to Pope Francis because of their sense that he speaks from principle and actually lives the values that he teaches. And not only that; he also radiates compassion and humility, as well as respect for those in our human family with whom he differs. The result is that for Americans, he generates hope among the murk and morass of everyday life, keeping us facing, even in tough times, in the direction of humanity.”

I agree with the rabbi’s assessment, but there is even more to it. Pope Francis seems to have taken us beyond Catholicism to Christ. What I mean by this is that he has opened our eyes to the charism and person of Jesus Christ himself. We are able to see through Francis the man from Nazareth who heals the sick, welcomes the little children, forgives the sinner and lives with the simplicity, naturalness, and freedom that comes from genuine holiness. Jesus was not all honey. He spoke vinegar to the hypocrites, the rich, the hard-hearted and the religiously self-righteous. So does Francis.

Keep reading on the next page

This refreshment of the Gospel that we see in Pope Francis is what draws so many in such a profound way. When I say that he has taken us beyond Catholicism to Christ, I mean that he has done this without denying any aspect of the fullness of the faith. In saying that he has taken us “beyond religion,” I mean that he has taken us through our religion to Jesus Christ, who is the “author and finisher of our faith.” In other words, he has helped us to use our Catholic religion for its sole purpose: to put us in touch with Christ the Lord.

As others have observed, Pope Francis is putting into action what his two predecessors taught with faithfulness, shrewdness, and love. As he has said numerous times, he is a “loyal son of the Church”. Therefore we can expect in this next year to see him hold firm on the doctrines and moral teachings of the faith while continuing his ministry of reconciliation, welcome, and compassion. In his words and works, we can expect him to continue to point us beyond religion to Jesus Christ himself.

  • 1
  • 2
Pope Francis
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
The Sinai Peninsula and the Dead Sea Rift
J-P Mauro
Experts now believe Sodom was destroyed by a meteor
J-P Mauro
Chicago architect models Vatican City from 67,000 LEGO bricks
Fr. Michael Rennier
The purpose of life according to J.R.R. Tolkien
Giovanna Binci
He’s autistic, she has Down syndrome, and they’re wonderfully hap...
crisis man
Marzena Devoud
Advice from 3 monks for overcoming acedia
Bret Thoman, OFS
Exclusive photos: Meet Padre Pio and the place he lived
Christ and the woman taken in adultery
Daniel Esparza
What Jesus wrote
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.