From the website Vox, writer Gillea Allison explains:
Just as President Obama provided an opening for an entire generation to get involved in the political process, what we see now in Francis — in a more profound and global sense — seemed to be welcoming people in by looking out. The core strategy of Obama’s campaign was an expansion of the electorate: getting more people involved in their communities and participating in the political process. Francis represents a similar strategy for the Catholic Church: Get out of the institution and into the world; be with the people and invite them into the flock. Here’s the sentence from Francis’s mission statement that sealed the deal: “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” I was reminded of the beauty of the Catholicism that I’d seen in Argentina and in my travels through Central and South America, but that I had closed my heart off to when I rejected the institution itself: the priests, nuns, and laypeople who showed up day in and day out in the hardest of places, prayed for and protected those being persecuted, and advocated for economic equality and justice as the wealth gap widened. This is the faith and the “doctrine” that formed in my heart through college and childhood but that I had distanced myself from. This was the church home I longed for, that I had looked to politics to substitute. This was the true meaning of “Catholic” to me: a love of the universality of our humanity, of our common struggles and redemptions, and of our potential to do good for the world and one another. In the first few months of his papacy, Pope Francis washed the feet of a Muslim woman during the Holy Thursday ritual, defying all tradition by acting out of love. When he invited 150 homeless people for a tour of the Vatican a few years later, the love must have been palpable. And as he continues to speak out for the voiceless and the oppressed (refugees, immigrants, children), we know that the relationships he has with them have transformed him and that he is indeed their father. He is a lover of the things and people that scare us, that wake us up from our complacency and ultimately have a way to transform our notion of what is possible and sacred. Pope Francis’s inclusive message and embodiment of the Jesuit emphasis on service solidified my return to Catholicism. I doubt I’m the only one. Hoards of non-Catholics are moved and inspired by his presence and teachings, and the fervor and“exuberance” we’ve seen during his US visit can only bring good things for the church. I never thought I’d say this, but it’s an exciting time to be a Catholic.